A proper wheel alignment will help your tires last longer, improve fuel economy and protect your suspension, keeping you and your passengers safe. It makes steering less tiring and ensures your car goes straight instead of pulling sideways.
A front-end alignment typically costs between $65 and $100 (some brands are more, of course). At this price, it should be a regular part of your car care routine. To make alignment even more economical, some auto detailers offer lifetime alignment packages for around $200. Your car will receive a scheduled alignment every 6,000 miles (or as needed) for as long as you own it.
What Is a Wheel Alignment?
A wheel alignment is a service where a specially trained automotive technician angles your vehicle’s wheels to meet the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications. The three most important measurements that the mechanic takes and adjusts are toe, camber, and caster.
Toe refers to the direction your tires are pointing. It’s the most critical part of your alignment, but also the easiest to customize. Correct toe helps you stay straight despite the constant, slight adjustments you make to the steering wheel while driving. The correct toe also helps you to turn safely and prevents premature wear of your tires.
- Toe-in alignment means your tires point inward, toward each other.
- Toe out means your tires point outward, away from each other.
For most passenger vehicle, the correct angle is usually a slight toe-in alignment.
Camber describes whether your tires are leaning inward or outward. You can also think of camber as the angle your tires sit at relative to the flat axis of the road surface. If the angle is outside of the manufacturer’s specification, the inner or outer edges of your tires may wear out sooner.
- Positive camber means the tires tilt outward, away from each other.
- Negative camber means the tires tilt inward, toward each other.
Negative camber on the rear wheels helps the car turn corners more easily by increasing contact with the road. But too much negative camber makes the car difficult to steer and wears out the insides of your tires excessively. If one wheel is positive and one wheel is negative, the car pulls to the positive side.
Caster describes the angle of the steering axis or front-wheel suspension. Caster affects how your car steers, but not how your tires wear.
- A positive caster means the steering axis is tilted a few degrees toward the back of the vehicle. This is the position you want. It helps your steering wheel return to the correct position after you turn it.
- A negative caster can happen if you hit something with your car. Your car will pull toward the more negative side.
Your left and right caster angles usually need to be equal or nearly equal. It’s important to remember that even if you can’t visually see the tires at seemingly odd or wrong angles, differences of fractions of an inch can cause component wear.
Factors that impact alignment cost
The cost of an wheel alignment depends on several factors:
- The number of wheels: A front-end alignment, which involves only the two wheels on the front of the car, typically costs anywhere from $50 to $75. Four-wheel alignments cost more, usually $100 to $150.
- Type of car: Luxury cars will have more expensive tire alignments, as will models that require specialized equipment or have a design that makes the job more difficult and time-consuming.
- Extra services: Services like tire balancing or car suspension repairs, which the mechanic might need to complete before the alignment, increase the cost of the alignment.
- Local labor costs: The cost of alignment depends on your location, and it can also vary from mechanic to mechanic.
Wheel Alignment Cost Near Me
You may be able to get a free alignment check. However, the cost of the wheel alignment itself starts at around $90. The price may vary by location, but some national chains charge the same price everywhere. Here’s an example of what it would cost (parts and labor) to do a wheel alignment on a 2020 Ford F-150 pickup truck in various cities across the country, according to the Kelley Blue Book (KBB).
In addition to location, there are a number of factors that affect how much you’ll pay to get your vehicle’s wheels aligned.
|City||State||KBB Fair Repair Estimate|
|Katy||Texas||$70 – $84|
|Corona (Queens)||New York||$89 – $108|
|Los Angeles||California||$77 – $93|
|Chicago||Illinois||$89 – $108|
|Lakewood||New Jersey||$89 – $108|
|Antioch||Tennessee||$87 – $105|
|Lawrenceville||Georgia||$82 – $99|
|San Juan||Puerto Rico||$81 – $98|
|Summerville||South Carolina||$83 – $101|
|Dale City||Virginia||$88 – $107|
How to Know if Your Car Needs a Wheel Alignment?
It can be difficult for an average person to know if their vehicle needs alignment or not. Unlike many other vehicle systems, there is no warning light to tell you that your car, truck or SUV needs good straight-line alignment.
You may need an alignment if you start seeing any of these:
- Your vehicle drifts to one side or the other.
- You feel the vibration through the steering column.
- You hear a squeal when cornering.
- Your tires are wearing unevenly or worn more on the inside than the outside.
- Your steering wheel isn’t straight, even though you’re driving straight.
How often do I need a wheel alignment?
You should have your car’s alignment checked every six months or every 6,000 miles, whichever comes first. Never drive more than 10,000 miles without alignment.
Have your tires rotated? Has the alignment been checked?
Has a tire (or more than one tire) been replaced? Alignment is necessary to ensure tires wear evenly.
Proper alignment will save you money in the long run by not changing tires prematurely, and you can help prevent other problems that may arise with the steering or suspension.
The bottom line
If getting an alignment seems expensive, keep in mind that skipping it could end up being more expensive. Not doing this preventative maintenance means you’ll need to replace tires more frequently, and driving with misaligned tires could also wear out components like your suspension. If you spend about a hundred dollars on tire alignment every year, you can end up saving a lot more on costly repairs.