There are a lot of things that go into making a car drive well. One of the most important, but often overlooked, is the alignment of the steering wheel.
Once you have an alignment done, does it automatically center the steering wheel? Causes and what do you do when you have your alignment straight but your steering wheel is off-center? Generally, why is proper alignment important? Join me to discuss these questions and more in this article.
To answer the umbrella question; Does Alignment Center the Steering Wheel?
No, alignment does not center the steering wheel. The steering wheel is usually off-center when the car is not aligned properly. When a car is aligned, the wheels are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground.
This means that the steering wheel will be in the middle of the car. If the car is not aligned, then the wheels will be at an angle and the steering wheel will be off to one side.
The purpose of alignment is to ensure that the car drives straight and does not pull to one side. It also helps to improve the life of your tires and suspension. If you notice that your car is pulling to one side, you should take it to a mechanic to get it aligned. Alignment is an important part of car maintenance and it should not be ignored.
Before we delve deeper, let us define alignment and centering the steering wheel for the benefit of those who may not know.
What is Alignment?
Alignment is the adjustment of a vehicle’s suspension so that all wheels are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground for all four tires of your vehicle to work together by rotating in unison and traveling in the same direction, the wheels must be in perfect alignment.
Centering the steering wheel is making sure that your steering wheel is pointing straight ahead when your car is going in a straight line. This, in essence, literally means straightening your steering wheel. When you align your car it should fix any steering issues that you may have.
Types of Alignment
There are a few different types of alignment, but the most common are:
* Toe Alignment
* Camber Alignment
* Caster Alignment
1. Toe Alignment
Toe Alignment is the adjustment of the wheels so that they point straight ahead when the car is going in a straight line. When your wheels are not properly aligned, they will point inwards or outwards. This can happen gradually over time as you drive or it can happen suddenly if you hit a pothole or curb.
2. Camber Alignment
Camber Alignment is the adjustment of the tilt of the wheels. When your wheels are tilted inwards, it is called negative camber and when they are tilted outwards, it is called positive camber. Camber alignment can cause your tires to wear unevenly and this can lead to premature tire failure.
Camber alignment is not as common as toe alignment, but it is just as important. If you notice that your tires are wearing unevenly, you should take your car to a mechanic to get it aligned.
- Positive camber: The top of the wheel is tilted outwards
- Negative camber: The top of the wheel is tilted inwards
3. Caster Alignment
Caster Alignment is the adjustment of the angle of the steering axis. The steering axis is the line that goes through the center of the wheel and up to the point where the suspension attaches to the car. Caster alignment can cause your car to pull to one side or the other.
If you notice that your car is pulling to one side, you should take it to a mechanic and get it aligned. Caster alignment is not as common as toe and camber alignment, but it is just as important.
Why is Proper Alignment Important?
Proper alignment is important because it helps your car to drive straight and it helps to improve the life of your tires and suspension. If you ignore alignment, you will eventually have to replace your tires prematurely and you may damage your suspension.
I remember when I first got my car, I took it to a mechanic to get an alignment. The mechanic told me that my car was not aligned and that I needed to get it done. I was surprised because I had just bought the car and it had only been a few months.
I ignored the mechanic and didn’t get the alignment done. A few months later, I started to notice that my car was pulling to one side. I also noticed that my tires were wearing unevenly. I took my car back to the mechanic and he told me that I needed to get an alignment.
I finally got the alignment done and it made a big difference. My car drove straight and my tires stopped wearing unevenly. If I had ignored the problem, I would have had to replace my tires prematurely and I could have damaged my suspension.
How Often Should You Get Your Car Aligned?
You should get your car aligned every year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you notice that your car is pulling to one side or your tires are wearing unevenly, you should take it to a mechanic and get it aligned.
Causes of misalignment
There are several causes why your steering wheel is not aligned or of center.
One of the most common reasons why your steering wheel might be misaligned is because of potholes. When you hit a curb or pothole it can cause your car to become misaligned because it throws off the suspension. Because the suspension is what keeps the wheels in alignment, it is important to get it checked out after hitting a curb or pothole.
You can avoid potholes by driving slowly and carefully, especially in areas where there are known to be potholes. You should also avoid driving on roads that are in poor condition. If you live in an area with a lot of potholes, you might want to get your car aligned more often.
Another common cause of misalignment is accidents. Even if you are in a minor fender bender, it can cause your car to become misaligned. If you have been in an accident, even a minor one, it is important to take your car to a mechanic and have them check the alignment.
3. Wear and Tear
Another cause of misalignment is wear and tear. Over time, your car will naturally become misaligned from driving on the roads. It is important to have your alignment checked every few years to make sure that it is still aligned properly.
Just like anything, cars are also subject to wear and tear. It is important to get your alignment checked more often because the roads can cause your car to become misaligned.
4. Incorrect Installation
The final reason why your steering wheel can be misaligned is because of an Incorrect installation of some parts. If you have had any parts of your suspension or steering system replaced, Make sure that they were installed correctly. An incorrectly installed part can cause your car to become misaligned.
As you can see, there are several reasons why your steering wheel might be misaligned. If you think that your car is not aligned properly
Why is Proper Alignment Important?
Proper alignment is important for many reasons.
The most obvious reason for proper Alignment is safety. If your car is not aligned properly, it can cause your car to veer off in a different direction than you are steering. This could cause you to lose control of your car and have an accident. A vast majority of accidents are caused by improper alignment. Reports show that over 70% of accidents are caused by improper alignment.
2. Fuel efficiency
Another reason for proper alignment is fuel efficiency. When your car is properly aligned, it will go in a straight line without veering off to the side. This means that you will use less fuel because you will not have to correct your steering as often. Improperly aligned cars can use up to 15% of their fuel to compensate for the alignment.
Another reason why proper alignment is important is that it can save you money in the long run. If your car is not aligned, it will cause your tires to wear down unevenly. This will cause you to have to replace your tires more often than if they were properly aligned.
As you can see, proper alignment is important for many reasons. If your car is not aligned properly, it can be dangerous and it can use up more fuel than necessary. If you think that your car might not be aligned properly, take it to a mechanic and have them check it out.
The link between alignment and a centered or straight steering wheel
Mostly, when a steering wheel is off-center, it is the direct fault of poor (front-end) alignment. This means that your steering wheel should not be off-center if your car has been properly aligned.
Ideally, the first thing that needs to be done when aligning the wheels is to lock the steering wheel with a steering wheel lock so that it doesn’t move. Once the steering wheel is locked in place, the mechanic will start by checking and adjusting the caster. Caster is the angle of the steering axis when viewed from the side of the car and is adjusted by moving
How to fix your alignment
There are a few ways that you can fix your alignment and get your steering wheel back to being centered.
1. Check with your trusted mechanic
The first way is to take your car to a mechanic and have them check the alignment and fix it if it is off. This is the best way because they will be able to properly align your car and make sure that it is safe to drive.
I would suggest getting an alignment when you first notice that your steering wheel is off-center. This way, you can fix the problem before it gets worse and causes more damage to your car. If you wait too long to get an alignment, it can cause your tires to wear down unevenly and cause other problems with your suspension.
2. Adjusting it yourself
Another way that you can try to fix your alignment is by adjusting it yourself. This is not recommended because it can be dangerous and you might not adjust it properly. If you do choose to adjust your alignment yourself, make sure that you know what you are doing and that you are very careful.
3. Drive on a smooth road
The last way to fix your alignment is to drive on a smooth road. Avoid taking shortcut routes that are not well-maintained as these can cause your alignment to go off. Driving on a smooth road will help to keep your alignment in check and make sure that your steering wheel is centered.
Now that we know how proper alignment is important let’s discuss the causes of properly aligned but off-center steering wheel and what to do
Causes of a properly aligned wheel but an off-center steering wheel
If an alignment is properly done and your steering wheel is off-center, it may be any of these reasons outlined below:
1. Bent steering column
The first reason why your steering wheel can be aligned but off-center is because your vehicle might have a bent steering wheel column which is causing the problem. To fix this, you will need to take your car to a mechanic and have them fix the steering column.
2. Issue with the suspension
Another reason why your steering wheel can be aligned but off-center is that there might be an issue with the suspension. Suspensions help to keep the wheels in place and if there is an issue with it, then the wheels can become misaligned. To fix this, you will need to take your car to a mechanic and have them check the suspension.
Suspension issues are usually caused by hitting a pothole or curb too hard. If you live in an area with a lot of potholes, it is important to be extra careful and avoid them if possible.
3. Issue with the frame
Another reason why your steering wheel can be aligned but off-center is that there might be an issue with the frame. Frames are what keep the suspension and wheels in place and if there is an issue with it, then the alignment can be affected.
Frame issues are usually caused by hitting something hard or being in an accident. If you have been in an accident, it is important to take your car to a mechanic and have them check the frame for any damage.
4. Wear and tear
With time, every vehicle’s front end will begin to deteriorate. This will present additional free play within critical bushings and sockets. The excess play will eventually cause a vehicle’s alignment to stray from stock specifications.
However, extreme wear and tear will require the replacement of all affected steering/suspension components. If such components are not replaced, further alignment may be required in the shortest possible time.
4. Component damage
Let us assume you did not see a pothole and traversed it while driving at high speeds or you made contact with a curb while driving in forwarding motion. These occurrences will cause a direct shock through your car’s front end, often damaging the weakest of components in the process.
This will, in turn, affect the front end geometry of your car and that leads to altering the orientation of the steering wheel i.e. making the steering wheel off-center.
In this case, once the damaged component(s) is/are replaced, the car needs to undergo another alignment procedure.
5. Wreck damage
If your car is involved in an accident and the collision affects the front end, some of the car’s critical steering or suspension components will likely be damaged. This damage will in turn affect the car’s alignment.
Unfortunately, when wreck damage occurs and leads to misalignment, it is not always repairable. If an attempt is made to solve the problem, it will be very expensive to fix.
6. Ride height modifications
If your car’s stock ride height has not been tampered with, its steering and suspension systems will not provide superior handling and ride quality.
Modifications such as the installation of a lift or leveling kit can cause your vehicle to misalign. This will make your steering wheel off-center. By this, the steering wheel will appear crooked while the driver is traveling on a straight route.
It is thus imperative that every time you have any modifications done on your vehicle, you have a professional perform an alignment on the car.
Checking and Adjusting Your Alignment at Home
It is important to check your alignment regularly, especially if you notice that your car is pulling to one side or the other. You can easily check your alignment at home with a few simple tools.
- First, you will need to park your car on a level surface and turn off the engine. Once the car is turned off, you will need to find a level surface to place your tools on.
- Next, you will need to measure the distance from the front of the tire to the back of the tire. To do this, you will need a tape measure and a piece of chalk. First, use the chalk to mark the center of the front tire. Next, use the tape measure to measure from the center of the front tire to the back of the tire. Repeat this process for the other three tires.
- Once you have measured all four tires, you will need to compare the measurements. If the measurements are not equal, then your car is not aligned properly and you will need to adjust it. To adjust your alignment, you will need to take your car to a mechanic.
From the above discussions, I am pretty sure we can all agree that the proper alignment of your vehicle is very important. If your car is misaligned, it could be damaging to your tires and thereby affect other components and systems of your car. Moreover, your car’s ability to turn in either direction is greatly inhibited. Also, your car will likely struggle to drive in a straight line, consistently pulling in one direction.
You should also keep in mind that realigning your car is an expensive affair. It will cost you anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on the severity of the problem.
Hence, it is important to take measures to ensure that your car remains aligned for as long as possible.
I hope this article helped educate you on the importance of keeping your car aligned. If you have any questions, please feel free to send us an e-mail and I will be more than happy to answer them.