You’ve probably heard of front-end alignment before, but you might not be as familiar with what it is or why it’s so important. When you own a vehicle, routine maintenance is crucial to keeping it in good condition and preventing major problems. This service is part of the routine maintenance that all vehicles require to ensure they remain operational.
Front End Alignment vs. 4 Wheel Alignment
In addition to “wheel alignment,” you may have heard the term “front-end Alignment”. Do these two things basically mean the same thing? For all intents and purposes, yes.
Wheel alignment may refer to the alignment of all four wheels, especially in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Front end alignment only references the front two wheels. But no matter what you call it, getting your wheels aligned is something every vehicle owner should invest in from time to time.
A front wheel alignment, also known as a 2-wheel alignment, means the technician performing the alignment adjusts only the front wheels related to the caster, camber, and toe.
The front wheels are adjusted so that they run parallel to the center of your vehicle. While this is the most simplistic alignment, this service is not recommended for modern vehicles as it excludes the rear angles of the wheels.
In most cases, the main difference between the two services is that a front-end alignment focuses on the two front wheels, while a wheel alignment refers to all four wheels. Overall, the services are usually the same in terms of process, importance, and when the service should be performed. Your technician can help you determine if you only need to align your front wheels or if it’s a good idea to take care of all four when you go in for an inspection.
How to Do a Front-End Alignment?
Aligning the front end is a matter of adjusting the caster, camber, and toe. Caster is the forward or backward inclination of the steering axis when viewed from the side. Camber is the tilt of your wheels when viewed from the front or rear. Toe is how far in or out (toe-in/toe-out) the front of your wheels is when viewed from the top.
If your car is front-wheel drive like most cars are today, a front-end alignment will help with any pull or bumps you feel in the steering. But many cars, especially SUVs of all sizes, have all-wheel drive. These need to be aligned front and back at the same time, which is usually best left to the professionals.
No matter what type of car you have, it’s best to have a proper wheel alignment done by a professional auto mechanic. However, with the right tools, you can try it yourself on a front-wheel-drive car. Here’s how:
- Raise both front wheels on jack stands.
- Turn on the vehicle’s electrical system, but not the engine, to move the steering wheel. This is sometimes marked on the ignition as an “accessory”.
- Look at one wheel at a time from the front of the car. Check which way it is pointing. If it points toward the center of the vehicle, it means the outer tire bar needs to be tightened. If it points outwards, the tire bar must be loosened.
- Loosen the nut connecting the outer and inner tire rods. This allows you to loosen or tighten the tire bar.
- The outer hoop bar must be turned counterclockwise or loosened if the wheel needs to be turned inward further. If it needs to be rotated further outward, the tire rod should be rotated clockwise or tightened.
- After the adjustment, spin the wheel straight and check if the wheel still tilts in the wrong direction. When that wheel is straight, repeat the process with the other wheel.
What Is the Purpose of a Front-End Alignment?
The purpose of a front-end alignment is to ensure your suspension components are set at the correct angles. It is important to ensure that you can drive your vehicle safely.
Getting your wheels aligned properly can save your tires and reduce their overall wear, and it can also help improve your fuel economy. These reduce steering column wear and help ensure your vehicle has the right level of handling, making it easier and more comfortable to drive.
There are many reasons why your front end could be out of alignment. These include frequent driving on roads that are not well maintained, hitting curbs, potholes or certain driving habits.
Is It Time to Get a Front-End Alignment?
The general recommendation for a front-end alignment is about every 50,000 miles. However, there are also some signs that it is time to have this service done on your vehicle, including:
- Your tires have uneven tread wear when comparing both front wheels
- You notice a passive pull, which means the car tends to drift in one direction when going straight
- Your steering wheel is no longer perfectly centered when driving straight ahead
- In some cases, you may experience a feeling of vibration when riding
- When driving your vehicle, the handling may feel looser than usual
If the alignment issues are moderate to severe, you may notice a left or right pull, requiring more effort to keep the steering wheel in the correct position.
Front End Alignment Cost Near me
A front-end alignment usually costs between $65 and $100 (some brands, of course, are more). At that price, it should be a regular part of your car care regime. To make an alignment even more economical, some car care facilities offer lifetime alignment packages for around $200. Your car gets a scheduled alignment every 6,000 miles (or as needed) for as long as you own it.