Where the rubber meets the road
Your tires play an important role in how well your vehicle brakes, accelerates, handles, steers and rides. To ensure that your car continues to deliver the dependable performance you have come to rely on, your tires need maintenance on a regular basis.
Tire rotations and wheel alignments are two procedures that can impact the life of your tires. Easy to confuse, do you know the difference between a tire rotation and an alignment? Read on to learn about these procedures that are so important to the performance of your vehicle.
Designed to deliver a smooth and comfortable ride, your vehicle’s suspension system connects the wheels to the car. Through the course of driving on rough roads and hitting potholes, it is possible for your suspension to come out of alignment. Additionally, as a vehicle ages its springs experience metal fatigue and the ride height changes. This changes the alignment geometry. When this happens, a trip to your trusted mechanic for an alignment is in order. Your car will give you some signs that the alignment may be off:
- Vehicle pulling to one side
- Steering wheel is crooked when driving straight
- Uneven tire wear
An alignment makes adjustments to your car’s suspension system. The procedure doesn’t adjust the tires, but instead, it makes adjustments to the angles of the tires to affect how they contact the road throughout the range of vertical travel as the vehicle moves down the road. During an alignment, your mechanic makes adjustments to the:
- Camber — Tilt inward or outward angle of the tires when looking at the vehicle from the front.
- Toe — How much tires turn inward or outward when viewed from above.
- Caster — Steering axis angle as viewed from side of vehicle.
These adjustments will help reduce tire wear and ensure that your vehicle travels straight, with no pulling to one side. To learn more about what happens during an alignment, check out this article.
To ensure that your tires wear evenly, experts recommend that you rotate them on a regular basis. A tire rotation involves moving the tires from location to another. Because your vehicle is designed to have a different amount of weight on the front and back, failing to rotate tire positions on the vehicle can lead to uneven tire wear and cause you to have to replace your tires sooner.
By moving your front tires to the back and the back tires to the front, you’re balancing out the different weight loads, ensuring that you’ll get even use of the tires. Your owner’s manual will specify how often you should have your tires rotated, but a general guide is to have the service performed every 6,000-8,000 miles. This is a relatively inexpensive procedure that is many times done in conjunction with an oil change. This is also a maintenance job that you can do at home.
If you notice any of the following signs, you’ll want to get a tire rotation immediately:
- Uneven wear — Examine all four tires. If you notice that they’re wearing at different rates, it could be time for a rotation.
- Vibration — Feeling vibration at speeds over 45mph could be an indicator that you need a tire balance. It can signal other issues, but a tire balance and rotation is a good place to start.
- Loss of tire pressure — If you have one tire losing pressure faster than the other tires, it could be a leak. Your mechanic will be able to determine if a leak repair will solve the issue or if something else is going on.
Keeping everything straight
An easy way to remember the difference between these two procedures is to keep in mind that a tire rotation is part of the routine maintenance of your vehicle. A rotation should be done approximately every 6,000 to 8,000 miles (check your owner’s manual for the recommendation for your vehicle). An alignment only needs to be performed if your vehicle has come out of alignment. Depending on your driving habits and the types of roads you drive on, having an alignment performed won’t be a normal occurrence. An alignment is recommended at the time of purchasing new tires or if you notice uneven tire wear.
The content contained in this article is for entertainment and informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of seeking professional advice from a certified technician or mechanic. We encourage you to consult with a certified technician or mechanic if you have specific questions or concerns relating to any of the topics covered herein. Under no circumstances will we be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on any content.
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