What is alignment, and why is it necessary for safe driving? When driving, your vehicle’s suspension systems undergo a lot of strain. For most driving situations, nothing major changes; however, some events can throw off the direction the wheels are pointing. Hitting a pothole, getting in a collision, or extensive off-road driving can cause the wheels to change the direction your wheels are pointing. Even a slight change in angle can cause your tires to wear unevenly, your steering to pull, or make it off-centered.
Why is alignment important for your Jeep? Well, your Jeep alignment is crucial because Jeep vehicles are among the most popular off-roading vehicles. Off-roading can cause misalignment to occur because of the added strain driving off the pavement puts vehicles through. Even though Jeep provides some of the best off-road suspension and wheel options, there are still situations that can misalign your wheels. Alignments can be done easily at your local Jeep dealer, where they can adjust the angle of your tires within a minute fraction of an inch. Proper alignment results in smoother driving, less wear on the vehicle, especially the tires, and safer driving.
How to Tell if Your Vehicle’s Wheels Need Alignment
Certain tell-tale signs of wheel misalignment are easy to spot when you know what to look for. The biggest sign is when you notice uneven tire wear. Taking a penny or quarter, you can check your tires for how deep the treads are and compare the outer side of the tire to the inner side. If there is a difference in depth, the alignment is likely off. If you notice that the center is worn, your tires are most likely over-inflated. If the sides are worn but the center is normal, the tires may be underinflated. Most other uneven tire wear is caused by alignment problems.
Another big sign is when your vehicle starts pulling in one direction while you’re driving. This can feel like the car has a mind of its own and wants you to move in a direction you don’t want to. This can be scary and unsafe because it can cause the vehicle to move unpredictably. Sadly, if you get to the point where the vehicle is pulling to one side or the other, the tires are probably past the point of saving. You’ll want to get an alignment as soon as possible and then replace your tires as well.
Why Alignment Is So Important
Alignment is important for many reasons. It helps you drive more safely, helps your tires last longer, and makes your driving experience more enjoyable. A misaligned wheel causes tire wear. As previously mentioned, this tire wear can pull the vehicle in directions you don’t intend. It can be incredibly dangerous, especially when driving at highway speeds, and when your alignment is off, the uneven tire wear can cause you to think the tires are fine when they are dangerously close to becoming flat.
Imagine if the outside of a tire looks totally fine, but the inside is worn thin enough to be in danger of losing structural integrity. You can easily imagine looking at your tire when you get in to drive somewhere, assuming the tire is fine. Then, as you drive down the highway, you have a tire blowout, which causes your vehicle to turn sharply into oncoming traffic. This may be an extreme scenario, but it is very much possible if the signs of misalignment are ignored.
Why Potholes or Curbs Cause Misalignment
Driving down the road in your vehicle, you’ll encounter many common hazards, including unskilled drivers, potholes, slick roadways, fallen debris, and much more. Sometimes, hitting a pothole is unavoidable; when you hit it, your suspension could be strained beyond what it was designed for. Sadly, this could mean your alignment gets thrown off. Whether one of the arms or tie-rod ends got bent, the alignment of the wheels could be wrong. Thankfully, engineers anticipated that these types of problems would be common for vehicles, so they planned a way to realign wheels without needing to replace parts. There is an adjustment that can be made to the suspension system to correct for improper alignment.
Why Off-Roading Is a Common Cause of Misalignment
Off-roading involves a lot of extreme angles, terrain, and unexpected obstacles. While taking your Jeep into the wilderness, you can sometimes take a turn and encounter obstacles like a large rock sticking out of the trail. There may not be enough room or time to avoid it, so you end up going right over it. The stress this large rock puts on your suspension could cause the alignment to be changed. Off-roading is full of such examples. Whether driving a muddy path with hidden boulders, hitting an unexpected hole, or getting the wheel stuck while the vehicle is moving, you can encounter many potential hazards when off-roading.
Jeeps are great vehicles for venturing into the unknown, and they are better than most vehicles at providing really good off-roading suspension, frame, and wheels. While Jeep does do a great job designing its vehicles for off-road adventures, there are still some situations that put the alignment in jeopardy. Keeping a close eye on the symptoms of misalignment or getting the alignment checked frequently will help ensure you keep your Jeep in top shape.
Getting New Tires? Get the Wheels Aligned, Too
Tires aren’t cheap these days, and if you want to make sure you get your money’s worth out of the tires, you’ll want to get an alignment at the same time. These modern tires can last a long time; many of them have 80,000-plus mile warranties. Unfortunately, most of these warranties have an exception for poor alignment, meaning you’re on your own to replace them if your misaligned wheels cause them to wear prematurely. Tires will absolutely wear way faster than intended if the wheels are not properly aligned.
Tires wear extraordinarily fast with alignment issues because the tires experience much more friction than they should. This excess friction causes heat to build up, causing the rubber to become softer and come off the tire at a much faster rate. All the problems caused by uneven wear are due to how this friction affects your tires’ stability.
Also, don’t forget to check the rear wheels as well. While it is most common to have alignment issues on the front wheels, the rear wheels can have problems as well, and thankfully, most modern vehicles have ways to adjust the rear alignment as well. This is especially important with off-roading, where the rear wheels will be under greater strain with 4WD and unique terrain challenges.
Finally, if you ever decide to get a lift kit for your Jeep, make sure to get an alignment before trying out your now taller vehicle. Lift kits can have some minor imperfections in them, or the installation process can cause small shifts in alignment. Whatever the case, ensuring that your wheels are at the proper angles after a lift kit installation is an important step to completing the job right.
A Crucial Component to Keeping Your Jeep Running Smoothly
We can see how important it is to keep a close eye on your wheel’s alignment. Whether for improved gas mileage, safer driving, or to get the most value for your tire purchase, alignments keep your Jeep in top condition. While properly aligned, your Jeep will function better and prevent improper wear on your new tires. Ignore the signs of misalignment, and your vehicle could become an unpredictable projectile when a tire blows out at highway speeds. Stay safe out there and keep your vehicle well maintained and your wheels aligned; besides potentially saving your life, it offers an array of benefits to keep your Jeep running smoothly for many years and miles to come.