When you drive down the road, you expect that the steering wheel will be perfectly aligned and straightened. However, there are certain circumstances that lead to the steering wheel getting off-center. What causes your steering wheel to not be straight while driving?
If the steering wheel is not straight, it means your vehicle needs a wheel alignment. The alignment might have been thrown off by hitting a curb or an accident, but it is an easy fix to correct. With aligned wheels, the steering wheel will once again be able to center in your hands.
What is a wheel alignment and why does your car need one? We look at this vital service and determine the other symptoms you might be noticing.
What is Wheel Alignment?
When the car is sold new from the dealership, the wheels are aligned to the manufacturer’s specifications. With aligned wheels, the vehicle can properly steer and maintain control with a minimal amount of effort.
Over time, the wheels become misaligned from hitting bumps. As the wheels fall out of alignment, the wear to your vehicle’s steering and suspension system becomes greater. The tire life may also be shortened during this time.
Wheel alignment service puts everything back to the factory specifications. This regular service ensures that the wheels travel in the direction that was intended, thereby increasing the life of the other vital car components and improving the ride quality.
RELATED: 5 Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Alignment
Reasons Your Car Needs a Wheel Alignment
1. Hit Curb or Bump
Any heavy impact while driving can cause the wheels to become misaligned. If you have hit a pothole, curb or another object while driving, it’s time to have the wheels aligned.
Additionally, if the car was recently involved in an accident, the wheel alignment should be checked after the other repairs are made. The suspension system may also have taken a hit in the process.
2. Worn Parts
Your car’s suspension is made up of many parts that will fail over time. As the parts start to wear, you might notice a difference in the handling and alignment.
If the vehicle is pulling to one side and the steering wheel is off-center, you know that some parts might be failing, causing the alignment to be off. With the regular alignment service, you also want to have the suspension inspected and any worn parts replaced.
3. Adjusted Height
If you have recently adjusted the height of your vehicle, the wheels may no longer be straight. Adding a lift kit is a sure-fire way to change the alignment.
The factory suspension is designed to work at a particular height. When you raise or lower the vehicle, you likely need to change these parts as well, which can lead to misalignment.
4. Technician Failure
If you have had the car in for an alignment, but the steering wheel is still not straight, you might be dealing with a technician error. Most repair shops will perform the wheel alignment and straighten the steering wheel at one time.
However, technicians can get busy and often forget this vital step. If the wheel is still off-center, take it back to the shop for them to finish.
Additional Signs Wheel Alignment is Needed
1. Uneven Tire Wear
By looking at the tire tread, you can tell a lot about the alignment of the vehicle. If certain areas of the tire appear to be more worn than others, it’s likely the vehicle needs a wheel alignment. In normal driving conditions, the tires wear down evenly because they make contact with the road at even pressures.
However, bad wheel alignment and using the wrong tire pressures can lead to uneven wear. In fact, scalloping and feathering could be indications that the toe adjustment is off.
2. Car Pulling to One Side
When the car is aligned, it’s easy to drive the vehicle in a straight line, even if you take your hands off of the wheel. If the vehicle feels like it’s pulling to either side, you might want to have the wheels aligned.
Of course, you must be careful when determining the need for a wheel alignment based on one road alone. Some roads are designed to pull cars to one side or the other. But, if you are noticing a pattern in the vehicle pulling, a technician should take a look.
3. Awkward Handling
When the alignment is off, the handling of the vehicle can become loose. If you are pulling the steering wheel to one side or the other without a response, it’s time to have the vehicle checked.
When the car doesn’t respond, it can lead to a lot of anxiety. This fear is valid since you won’t be able to respond quickly enough in an emergency situation.
How Much to Repair Steering Wheel That’s Not Straight?
A front-wheel alignment costs between $50 and $150. If you require a four-wheel alignment, you will spend between $150 and $250, on average. However, if the misalignment causes excessive tire wear, you might also need to replace these for a safe drive.
You should never drive with the wheels out of alignment. Not only can this condition cause suspension parts and tires to wear prematurely, but it can dramatically affect the handling of the vehicle, thereby putting you at risk on the road.