When Should you Get a Tire Alignment

Written by: Rick Popely on

If your car drifts to one side and you have to turn the steering wheel away from the center position to drive straight, that is a good indication that your wheels are out of alignment. Perhaps it is the result of hitting a deep pothole or scoring a direct hit on a curb while parking.

Before you head off to a repair shop to have your wheels aligned, a job that typically costs about $60 to $100 for most vehicles, it would be a good idea to check your tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can also cause a vehicle to pull to one side, so eliminate that possibility first.

You might also want to inspect your tires to see if there is uneven tire wear, such as the tread being worn off along one edge, another sign of an alignment issue. However, it can be hard to separate normal from excessive wear, so unless you're well trained in "tireology" you shouldn't jump to conclusions.

Vibrations in your wheels are different from alignment problems. Vibrations are probably caused by wheels being out of balance or bent (potholes can do that) or because suspension parts are worn, and getting your wheels aligned won't solve those problems.

Some vehicles require only that the front wheels be aligned, but many car-based models require four-wheel alignment. Alignment specifications differ by vehicle, and it isn't as simple as just making sure all four wheels are pointed straight ahead.

Depending on the vehicle, proper alignment involves setting the camber (inward or outward tilt of the wheels when looking head on), caster (wheel tilt front or back looking from the side) and toe-in or toe-out (looking down at the wheels from above). The adjustments are measured in fractions of an inch and require specialized alignment equipment.


Auto Repair Costs Broken Down by State

When that “check engine” light comes on, there’s a good reason to get worried. Even if it doesn’t leave you stranded in an unfamiliar part of town after dark it’s likely to take a bite out of your savings, especially as recent studies have indicated automotive repair costs rose by about 10 percent last year.

That is, of course, an average that varied significantly by region. Vermont saw repair costs decline last year, according to a new study by automotive service site CarMD, making it America’s most affordable place to take your car in. At the other extreme was New Jersey where the typical visit to a service shop cost almost 50 percent more than in Vermont.

Traditionally, the West Coast is the place where repairs have been most expensive. But in its latest annual car-repair cost survey, CarMD found California among the Top Five, with the rest of those spots filled by states along the Eastern Seaboard, including not only The Garden State but North Carolina, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Repairs in the Northeast rose 11.6 percent in 2012, faster than the rest of the country, according to a study of 161,000 repairs.

"In 2012, we saw a dramatic shift in the top five most expensive states for average car repairs, as many drivers along the East Coast incurred rising auto-repair costs, while they simultaneously contended with Hurricane Sandy's aftermath," CarMD CEO Leon Chen noted. "Car owners in many states also continued to put off small repairs, contributing to cumulative failures with increased repair costs."


Irregular Tire Wear: Cupping

One problem that happens when tire rotation suggestions are not taken seriously is irregular tire wear. Irregular tire wear happens on the front tires of some cars, but usually happens on the back tires on vehicles with front-wheel-drive. If two tires remain on the rear of a car too long, they can develop humps and valleys in the tread pattern. This type of wears is usually called cupping. Cupping is also known as heal and toe or high low wear. This wear can cause a rough and noisy ride. The noise sounds like a roar from big mud tires. You can feel this issue with your hands when the problem is really severe. It isn't clear what causes this wear. The problem started appearing in auto shops during the eighties and some Denver auto repair shops say that the problem is caused by shocks, or car design. Although we do not know why this problem occurs, it is possible to know when it happens. Cupping occurs when the tires are run too long without being rotated How long is too long? This figure varies from car to car, but this wear usually shows up at 10,000 miles. The important thing to know is that proper tire rotation will almost always prevent this problem from ever occur.


How to Determine Auto Repair Labor Costs

Have you ever wondered how a shop determines how much labor to charge for a repair? Most service centers use a book, or computer software called a labor guide. This book lists practically every repair, for almost every car. This guide lists how long a specific repair should take for any make and model car, which allows a shop to estimate the labor charge before a hob is started. The guide gives the labor in time, not in dollars. The service center must multiply the hourly rate by the number of hours listed in the guide. For example, if a labor guide shows the number of hours it takes to rebuild a transmission, the service center would multiply its rate per hour by the number of hours to complete the job. Some shops consider their own experience when estimating the time for a specific repair. Look for a shop that specializes in the car or specific type of repair you need. If the repair you require is the shops specialty, the time it takes to complete the job can be cut in half.

If you are in a Denver auto repair shop for a repair and you suspect that you are being overcharged for the labor, try calling several other shops to ask them for an estimate on the amount of time they have listed in their labor guide. Most service centers will be glad to help you because they have a chance of getting a new customer. Ask them for the amount of time for the repair you need and the name of the labor guide they are using. If the labor price you are being charged does not agree with the labor guide, stop the repair before it starts and ask the service manager how he determined the labor price. If he cannot offer a good explanation, get out of there.You are the one in control. Make sure to get the repairs you want and nothing more.