5 Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Alignment

Wheel Alignment Car

When you’re driving down the road, and your vehicle is continuously pulling to one side – it’s more than just an annoyance. It’s the chief sign that you need a wheel alignment, and if you ignore it, you’re just inviting more problems.

In this guide, we’ll go over the top five symptoms that your vehicle needs a wheel alignment. From there, we’ll break down different kinds of wheel alignments and why they’re so crucial for your vehicle.

Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Alignment

  1. The Vehicle Pulls to One Side While Driving
  2. Your Steering Wheel is Not Properly Aligned
  3. Uneven Tire Wear
  4. Squealing Noises While Driving
  5. A Vibrating Steering Wheel

While a bad wheel alignment can lead to increased maintenance costs, if you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll never know that you need to fix it.

Here is a more detailed list of the most common signs of a bad wheel alignment:

The Vehicle Pulls to One Side While Driving

Driving Highway E1609861365670

It’s by far the most common symptom that your vehicle needs a wheel alignment. If you’re driving straight down the road and take your hands off the wheel, your vehicle should continue to head straight. While this might vary from time to time due to the road’s condition, it shouldn’t always pull in the same direction.

If your vehicle is consistently pulling the same way when you’re not actively holding the steering wheel in place, chances are you need a wheel alignment.

Your Steering Wheel is Not Properly Aligned

Turn Steering Wheel E1609947180429

When your steering wheel is completely centered, your front wheels should be too. If you center the steering wheel while you’re turning the vehicle, that’s an alignment issue.

This specific problem could be an issue with your wheel alignment, steering wheel alignment, or steering column alignment. No matter what the problem is, an alignment should take care of the problem.

Uneven Tire Wear

Uneven Inner Tire Wear E1609864079396

If your vehicle’s tires are misaligned, and you don’t correct the situation, you’re going to get uneven and unusual tire wear. While properly rotating your tires will help mitigate this problem, it won’t save your tires from the unusual wear and the quicker than average wear.

Since one tire isn’t straight while you’re driving, it’s continuously rubbing at an angle while you’re driving. This leads to a ton of premature and will have you replacing your tires far sooner than usual.

In addition, you’re putting extra stress on your steering and suspension components at that wheel, and they’ll wear down prematurely too.

Squealing Noises While Driving

Noise From Car

If the misalignment is bad enough, you’ll hear a squealing noise as your driving. That noise comes from your tires dragging across the pavement instead of rolling as they should. You’ll likely only hear these squealing sounds if the alignment is particularly bad, and if this is the case, you need to get it fixed immediately.

A Vibrating Steering Wheel

Vibrating Steering Wheel

If you need a wheel alignment and it’s bad enough, you might feel vibrations in the steering wheel as you drive.

Those vibrations are caused by the tire skipping across the pavement as you drive. That skipping is putting pressure on all of the steering components between the steering wheel and the tires, and the end result is the vibrations you’re feeling.

Related: 5 Causes of Steering Wheel Shakes While Driving

Types of Wheel Alignments

There are three different alignments that you can make to your tire – and while some drivers will intentionally create these conditions, they’ll always lead to premature wear and reduced performance. The three types of wheel alignments are:

Camber Angle

Camber Wheel Alignment

Camber refers to the way the top of the tire tilts in relation to the bottom of the tire. If the top of the tire is sticking out farther towards the car’s edge, you have positive camber. If the bottom sticks out farther, you have negative camber.

Both positive and negative camber reduces the amount of traction each tire gets and leads to premature tire wear.

RELATED: Why Do Tuned Cars Have Very Inclined Wheels?

Toe In & Toe Out Angle

Toe In Toe Out Wheel Alignment

Toe refers to the way the front of the tire tilts to the rear of the tire. If the front of the tire points in, you have “toe-in.” If the front of the tire points out and away from the car, you have “tow-out.” Incorrectly aligned tow will lead to premature tire wear, and your tires will “skip” as you drive.

Caster Angle

Caster Angle Wheel Alignment

Finally, the last major wheel alignment is caster. Caster refers to the way your vehicle’s suspension mounts to the hub. If the upper point leans towards the rear of the car, you have negative caster, and if it leans towards the front, you have a positive caster.

Unlike the other alignments, which you always want straight up, you actually want a slight positive caster to help control your vehicle.

Why Wheel Alignments Are Important

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignments are a critical part of your vehicle. While you might think that’s alright if the alignment is a little bit off, what you might not realize is that the longer you let it go, the worse it will get and the more damage you’ll cause.

Tires wearing down prematurely is just the start. You’ll also wear down your suspension and steering components, and if the alignment is bad enough, you’ll end up breaking things.

Just as bad is the reduced performance that bad wheel alignments cause. You’ll get worse traction, which will keep you from accelerating as quickly, and more importantly, will increase the necessary braking distance.

For all these performance and premature wear concerns, you need to get your alignment fixed as soon as you notice a problem. While you might think this is an expensive process – this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Learn more about the cost by checking our other article: Wheel Alignment Cost.

Either way, it’s a small price to pay to get a few thousand more miles out of your tires and save your suspension and steering components for a few extra years. It’s a small price to pay now that more than pays for itself down the road.

Written by: Magnus Sellén

Founder, owner & main author of Mechanic Base. I have been repairing cars for more than 10 years, specialized in advanced diagnostics & troubleshooting. I have also been a drifting driver and mechanic for over 7 years.