Wheel alignment should be a normal part of your car's maintenance routine. Even if your car is relatively new, it's a good idea to have a shop check your alignment during routine service appointments, such as when replacing your tires. Checking and adjusting your alignment as necessary can help keep your car tracking straight while helping you avoid uneven wear on your tires.
However, there are certain situations where an alignment may be necessary, even if it isn't part of your upcoming maintenance schedule. If your car needs any of the following three repairs or service items, it's probably a good idea to have your suspension aligned at the same time.
1. Suspension Modifications
People modify their suspensions for many reasons. Whether changing your suspension to achieve better performance, more comfort, or for some other goal, you'll typically need to adjust your alignment after installing your new parts. Suspension modifications that alter your ride height are particularly likely to impact your alignment geometry, so ignoring this requirement can be a serious mistake.
It's also worth keeping in mind that aftermarket parts may impact your car's alignment geometry, even if your intention isn't to modify your car's handling. For example, you may choose an aftermarket coilover kit to save money, but that kit may include springs with a different ride height from stock. In these cases, you'll need an alignment to account for the change in your car's camber angle.
2. Spring Repairs
As noted above, changing your vehicle's ride height will affect its camber angle. Camber is the angle of your wheels relative to the car's vertical orientation. In other words, camber is the amount that your wheels "lean" into or away from your car's body when looking at it from the front. Camber angle can substantially impact cornering, acceleration, and grip.
Your car's springs help maintain its ride height, so old and worn-out springs may cause it to "sag." Installing new springs, even factory replacements, will affect your car's overall camber geometry. Correcting this problem will require you to schedule a wheel alignment along with your suspension repair.
3. Steering Component Replacements
Your steering and suspension contain several parts that impact your wheel alignment but may wear out over time. For example, the tie rods connect your steering rack to the knuckle behind the wheels, but they also typically control your car's toe angle. The toe angle is the angle of the wheels relative to the front of your car, and proper toe is critical to avoid causing severe tire wear.
Unfortunately, tie rod ends can become loose and wear out over time. Potholes and similar road hazards can also damage them. As they wear out, your alignment angles typically drift, and you may experience other symptoms. Since technicians use these components to adjust your car's toe angle, you'll usually want to schedule an alignment if you replace them.
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