Getting new tires is an exciting time. You get to upgrade your vehicle’s grip and ride quality with fresh rubber. But should you get an alignment beforehand? This is a debated question among mechanics and drivers.
An alignment refers to adjusting the angles of your steering and suspension to manufacturer specs. Proper alignment is crucial for even tire wear, optimized fuel economy, and ideal handling.
Misaligned wheels can cause your new tires to wear out faster. So logically, it makes sense to get an alignment with new tires. But other factors are at play. Let’s dive into the details and explore both sides of the argument.
- Alignment refers to adjusting the angles of the steering and suspension to manufacturer specifications. Proper alignment prevents uneven tire wear and improves handling.
- Getting an alignment when you install new tires helps them last longer by preventing premature wear from misalignment.
- Alignment also enhances fuel economy, handling, and control by keeping the tires at their optimal contact patch.
- Some argue to delay alignment until after replacing worn suspension parts that can throw off alignment. But modern vehicle designs reduce this impact.
- Most experts recommend getting an alignment when you get new tires to maximize their lifespan and performance. The minimal cost is worth it for protection.
What is a Wheel Alignment?
Before deciding on alignment timing, you need to understand what an alignment is. Your wheels, tires, and suspension work together to keep your vehicle driving straight and maximize grip.
An alignment ensures all these components are positioned correctly relative to each other and the road:
- Camber – The inward or outward tilt of the tire from top to bottom.
- Caster – The forward or backward tilt of the steering pivot.
- Toe – The inward or outward angle of the tires from front to back.
Each angle is calibrated precisely by the manufacturer. Alignment gets your wheels back to these specs if disturbed.
Out of spec angles will cause uneven and accelerated tire wear. It also hurts fuel economy and handling. So alignment is critical, especially with new tires.
Should You Get an Alignment With New Tires?
Installing new tires without an alignment is like buying a tailored suit without getting it fitted. You want your fresh tires to last and perform properly.
Here are three benefits of aligning your vehicle when you get new tires:
1. Extend Tire Life
The #1 reason to get an alignment with new tires is preventing premature wear. New tires represent a major investment. An alignment helps maximize their lifespan.
Misalignment wears tires faster by scuffing and dragging them across the pavement. This abuses your tires and destroys tread life.
Alignment paired with new tires provides a clean slate for even wear. Your tires will meet their mileage warranty instead of requiring early replacement.
2. Improve Fuel Economy
Alignment specs are engineered to optimize tire rolling resistance. This means properly aligned wheels cut down on drag and friction.
Less drag equals improved fuel efficiency. Aligned wheels can give you up to 10% better gas mileage. That saves you money at the pump.
3. Enhance Handling and Control
Proper alignment gives you better handling and braking. The tires meet the road at their ideal contact patch for grip and stability.
With new tires, alignment dials in optimal responsiveness and control. Your vehicle will drive and handle like it’s supposed to.
Why Some Say Delay the Alignment
Getting an alignment with new tires seems logical. But some argue you should wait. Here are their reasons why:
Suspension Wear Can Throw Off Alignment
Worn suspension and steering parts alter your alignment over time. Bushings, ball joints, and bearings all loosen.
If these components are sloppy or damaged, getting an alignment first can provide false specs. The worn parts will throw it off again.
Some techs say to replace these items first. Then get your alignment along with the new tires.
It Depends on Tire Wear
Certain tire wear patterns indicate alignment issues:
- Feathering or scalloping – Toe misalignment
- Inside or outside wear – Camber misalignment
If your old tires show no alignment-related wear, some argue there’s no immediate need to align. Installing new tires without aligning could be fine in that case.
But it’s impossible to predict future alignment changes from potholes, collisions, or suspension wear. Even with perfect old tires, an alignment provides cheap insurance for new ones.
Vehicle Design Advancements
Cars before the 1980s had fully adjustable alignment angles. This allowed misaligned tires to throw off settings.
Today’s vehicles have limited front-end adjustments. Most angles are fixed from the factory. Tire conditions don’t affect them as much.
This is especially true with modern strut-type suspensions versus old double-wishbone designs. The limited flexibility reduces the impact of worn tires on alignment.
The Verdict: Align First for New Tires
While the delayed alignment case has some merit, most experts still recommend an alignment when you get new tires.
The minimal effect of worn parts and tire wear on modern alignments may not justify postponing it. The benefits of aligning first far outweigh any downsides.
Plus, an alignment check before new tires only costs $50-100. That’s cheap insurance to optimize new tire performance and durability.
Here are some final tips on aligning with new tires:
- Get an alignment anytime you replace 2 or more tires, not just when you replace all four. The new ones will wear faster if the others are misaligned.
- When buying used tires, definitely get an alignment right away. You don’t know their wear history or how they’ll interact with your existing tires.
- Ask for a print-out of your alignment specs from the shop. This gives you proof it’s within OE guidelines and provides a baseline for the next check.
- Come back annually to recheck alignment, even if nothing seems wrong. Small unnoticed changes over time can ruin new tires.
Proper alignment is a key part of maximizing the life and performance of your new tires. Don’t cut corners here. Get those specs dialed in. Your tires and wallet will thank you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I get an alignment when I rotate my tires?
Tire rotation helps distribute wear evenly across your tires. It’s not necessary to align every time you rotate. But do get periodic alignments even if tires seem fine, around every 1-2 years.
How often should I get an alignment?
You should get your alignment checked once a year or every 10,000-15,000 miles. More frequent checks may be needed if you drive on rough roads or notice wear on your tires. Any collision also requires rechecking alignment.
How much does an alignment cost?
An alignment typically costs $50-100. High-end alignment checks with more adjustments can run $150-200. It’s a small price to pay to maximize new tire life and prevent uneven wear issues.
Can I drive with bad alignment?
You can drive with mild alignment issues, but it’s not recommended. Severe alignment problems make the vehicle unpredictable and unsafe. Even slight misalignment reduces your tire life, fuel economy, and handling. Get alignment problems fixed ASAP.
Do tire rotations require an alignment?
Not usually. Tire rotations themselves don’t affect alignment. But if you notice wear patterns on rotated tires, it could indicate an alignment issue. Always inspect your tires closely whenever doing rotations or replacements.
How can I tell if my car needs an alignment?
Signs you may need an alignment include:
- Uneven tire wear like inner or outer edge wear
- Steering wheel off center when driving straight
- Vehicle pulling left or right on flat roads
- Abnormal tire noise or vibration
Any of these warrant having your alignment checked by a professional.
Proper wheel alignment is crucial for safety, performance, and maximizing the life of your new tires. While you can delay alignment in certain cases, most experts recommend doing it when you get fresh rubber. The minimal cost is worth protecting your investment in new tires. With proper alignment, you’ll get the full performance and longevity your new tires are designed to deliver.