A frustrating number of drivers completely ignore their tires. Why? After all, safety is at risk. It’s paramount to take these things seriously.
If you’ve ever experienced unusual steering behavior, such as the car pulling to one side while trying to go straight, your tires may need adjusting.
A visit to the mechanic will do the trick. But in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, it’s tempting to not make time for these things. After all, how long does a car alignment take?
Aligning your tires isn’t the quickest fix, but as automotive work goes, it doesn’t take long at all. You should expect a typical job to take between 30 and 60 mins (provided there are no complications).
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What Is Wheel Alignment?
Wheel alignment, otherwise known as tracking, is a job carried out by a mechanic in the workshop. They’ll adjust the wheels to ensure they’re parallel.
Mechanics will work to the mechanical specifications as detailed by the manufacturer. Usually, this means the wheels toe in by a fraction of a degree. Setting a car up this way improves handling.
Each manufacturer’s requirements are different.
Why Align Tires?
You should have the alignment checked at every service, and every time the wheels and tires are worked on.
When your car tires need to be aligned, you’ll probably notice the car pulling to one side.
Ignoring these warning signs will result in severe issues like a tire blowout. In turn, this could cause a potentially fatal accident.
If something isn’t quite right, please don’t bury your head in the sand. Trust your gut and go to a mechanic. It’s probably not nothing/ — they’re there for a reason.
What Does A Mechanic Use For A Wheel Alignment?
Mechanics use a special set of alignment tools to do this job.
As such, this isn’t something you can do at home. Yes, YouTube videos might say it is. They’re wrong,
There are two mainstream ways to do it: lasers and Bluetooth. The Bluetooth kits are newer and more accurate but extremely expensive. The laser machines do the job just as well.
With your car up in the air (on a four-post ramp), the mechanics will clamp the steering wheel to its “straight” position.
They’ll then adjust the front wheels. They’ll loosen off the tie rod nut and use grips and spanners to tighten or loosen the tie rods themselves.
This adjusts the toe of the vehicle. They then tighten everything back up and take the car for a test drive to check everything’s in order.
The front and rear wheels might also need camber or caster adjustment, although this isn’t as common.
These procedures can be quick – and they can take a long time. It depends on your car and its condition.
All mechanics will be trained in wheel alignment, but some technicians and fitters might not be. Some shops don’t offer it either. Phone ahead to make an appointment before taking your car for wheel alignment.
How Long Does A Tire Alignment Take By Type?
The tire alignment will take between 30 and 60 minutes. However, it’s impossible to give a completely accurate estimate. Times vary on a job-by-job basis.
Some cars are just rustier or more challenging to work on than others. It’s only possible to tell once it’s up on the four-post ramp.
You have the option of one of the following options:
- Four-wheel alignment
- Two-wheel alignment
Let’s have a closer look at how these alignment types affect the duration of your wheel alignment.
How Long Does A Four-Wheel Alignment Take?
The four-wheel alignment is recommended if you don’t have any solid axles.
The mechanic will align all the wheels on your car. This helps prevent uneven wear on the rear (non-steering) tires too.
Although the rear wheels aren’t thought about as often, they must still be checked for camber and caster angles. They don’t always need adjusting, but it’s certainly worth checking.
A four-wheel alignment is the most extensive form of alignment. If you choose this option, you’re looking at the highest price (around $200) and longest duration (up to 60 minutes).
In generic terms, four-wheel alignment takes twice as long as two-wheel alignment. That’s because there’s twice as much to do. In reality, it’ll take a little longer – but not too much.
Two-Wheel Alignment: How Long Does A Front-Wheel Alignment Take?
The other option is two-wheel alignment.
When talking about alignment, most cars only need the toe adjusting on the front wheels. Camber and caster don’t usually need altering.
It’s usually cheaper than four-wheel alignment simply because there’s less to do.
A front-wheel alignment will take around 30 minutes, of which up to 20 minutes are dedicated to the setup and clear-up of equipment.
The mechanic will also take your car for a quick test drive to check it’s set up correctly. Sometimes, they’ll need to put the car back on the ramp two or three times and realter the tie rod positions.
Can Complications Arise?
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Murphy’s Law doesn’t cut corners in auto repair shops, sadly.
Things go wrong and will cause delays. Once your car is on the ramp and being worked on, you can’t drive it until the job is done.
Mechanics could abandon the job halfway through, although the tires wouldn’t be straight. As soon as you drove it on the road, they’d be under pressure and wearing unevenly.
For this reason, they probably won’t let you have your car back until they’re done – even if you’re in a rush. While this might be irritating, it’s for your safety (and their liability).
Ensure you leave enough time to account for complications when you go for alignment.
Rust can complicate the alignment process. Rust gets on the nut and cakes up the thread on the tie rod. In most cases, the mechanic will need to remove it before starting.
Rust-eating lubricants and wire brushes are often in order.
Sometimes, the tie rods are completely seized. While technicians can usually loosen them up with heat, lubricant, or brute force, they might need replacing.
Replacement tie rods will be expensive. However, they’re needed. Your wheels will be stuck out of alignment otherwise.
In some cars, the tie rods are more challenging to work with. They’re too close to the car’s underside or other suspension components. This is particularly true of older models.
This makes it very difficult to loosen the nuts and adjust the tie rods. The job will take longer.
When Should You Align?
Now that you know all about wheel alignment, should you align your wheels immediately?
Mechanics will look for any signs of uneven tire wear whenever your car is in the shop. It’s always worth explicitly asking them to have a close look, though.
In general, there’s no need to worry unless you face the following symptoms.
Hold the wheel straight when you’re on a flat, straight road. Do you feel your car pulls to the right or left of the road?
If so, this is usually a sign of your wheels being out of alignment.
Increased Wear On Tires
If your tires are wearing out quicker than usual, it might be time to visit your mechanic. Usually, you’ll only need new tires every six years. Check your tire alignment if you’ve only recently replaced your tires and noticed reduced tread.
The typical wear pattern for alignment problems is a strip of worn-down tread on either the left or right side.
Check your tire wear every month or so by leaning down under the car. Sometimes, if the two wheels are out of alignment at precisely the opposite angles, you won’t notice any problems with driving. However, you will see strange tire wear.
Misaligned wheels will have a small and often negligible effect on fuel economy. If your car doesn’t have an mpg gauge on-screen, you probably won’t notice.
Your car uses more fuel because of the extra resistance from the tire not being straight.
To combat all these issues, the 30 to 60 minutes you spend visiting your auto repair shop are a worthwhile investment.
You’ll usually get the wheels aligned along with any tire work or services anyway.
Save yourself unnecessary danger by getting the alignment checked regularly and adjusted whenever necessary.