Wheel alignments frequently ignored

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Avoiding wheel alignments leads to increased tire wear and less safe driving.Avoiding wheel alignments leads to increased tire wear and less safe driving.

For safer driving and longer tire life, consider routine wheel alignments and wheel balancing.

Most OEM manufacturers recommend an annual wheel alignment. However, well-traveled trucks, especially those that traverse bumpy roads, may require additional attention.

Unfortunately, fleet trucks don’t often get the alignments they need, according to Gary Simon, manager of Goodyear Auto Service Center in Houston, Texas.

“In my 26 years, my experience with fleet companies is that unless they do work that requires an alignment they won’t do them just based off a recommendation or off of tire wear,” says Simon.

An alignment is required when replacing suspension or steering parts. Not doing so will make a vehicle more difficult to control and thus more dangerous.

In aligning a vehicle’s steering, a technician ensures that tires are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other, otherwise uneven tire wear and difficulty in steering can occur.

Goodyear and other auto service companies recommend getting an alignment under the following conditions: vehicle has been involved in a collision, vehicle pulls to one side while driving, steering feels unstable, vibration is detected in the steering wheel, tires show signs of uneven wear, or vehicle has struck a large pothole.

Pickups, especially those that frequently carry heavy loads, inflict more stress on suspension and tires, which makes getting an alignment even more important, according to Simon.

“One of the benefits of wheel alignments is that it saves on tire wear. The whole basis for an alignment is to keep the vehicle rolling straight down the road,” says Simon. “When you have an out of aligned vehicle, it’s going to wear tires, it’s going to cause the vehicle to pull, so periodically throughout the year having it checked and re-done if it’s out, it saves wear and tear on both the tires and the vehicle.”

Having the wheels balanced will also help promote tire life and make for a smoother ride.

“As far as wheel balancing goes, it keeps the tires rolling true down the road,” says Simon. “When you have a tire out of balance and it’s not taken care of, it could cause the tire to hop and vibrate as you’re driving down the highway which could wear uneven wear patterns into the tread which would then cause damage to the tires. It’s uncomfortable.”

Goodyear Auto Service Center offers a three-year alignment program. Under the program, a vehicle’s alignment is checked during a routine oil change and corrected if necessary.

Tackling a truck’s alignment often varies from other vehicles.

“With most trucks, there’s no adjustment on the rear. It’s called a thrust angle alignment. We would align the tow in the front to line up with the rear tires, and basically that straightens out the thrust angle, so a truck won’t dog track down the road,” Simon explains.

“Basically what that means if you can picture a truck running down the road straight, but the truck itself is a little diagonal, that’s what’s called dog tracking. So we do a thrust angle alignment which keeps the truck itself straight as it’s going down the road.”

Interestingly enough, though fleet managers in Houston often avoid alignments, they’ll usually opt for wheel balancing instead.

“It’s easier for them to understand the need for wheel balancing because of driver complaints,” says Simon.