After bumpy winter, alignment checks might save tires

Car Doctor Co-owner Alfredo Rodriguez inspects the wheels on a car up on the alignment machine. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

Car Doctor Co-owner Keyry Rodriguez looks at the alignment machine’s readouts, all in the green. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

Winter can be hard on a vehicle’s alignment, according to Car Doctor LLC Co-Owner Keyry Rodriguez.

“If you have bad weather, you have ice on the ground, you can slide and hit a median, you can hit a sidewalk, you can hit potholes that you don’t see on the ground,” she said. “It has to do with the roads … just hitting things when you’re not supposed to.”

With winter’s characteristic bumps and near-misses over for the year, Rodriguez said alignment checks were important to ensure even wear on tires, which are built to sit at a certain angle.

“Alignment has to do with how your tires are sitting on the car,” she said. “The reason why that’s important is if you have your wheels, and one is off, then that tire is going to wear unevenly on one side, or it’s going to be fighting it, so you’ll get choppiness … you’ll need to buy a new tire or new tires, depending on how they are wearing.”

Alignment has three basic components, camber (the vertical angle of the wheels,) toe (the horizontal angles,) and caster, (how far the wheels are from each other.) While the issue isn’t always easy to recognize at a glance, some signs include an off-center steering wheel, pulling to one side while driving, and of course, uneven or rapid tire wear, all of which drivers may notice shortly after hitting major bumps.

When there is a problem, fixes vary by situation.

“The first thing you do before you do an alignment is you check your suspension, the pieces underneath,” she said. “That means tie rods, your struts, your ball joints, all those things, those are all part of the suspension. A good place will check your suspension first to make sure there’s nothing loose.

“If there’s something loose in the suspension, then you want to replace those items first. If there’s nothing loose, it’s just a matter of adjusting.”

Rodriquez cautioned that alignment work should be left to professionals, with a high-tech alignment machine being virtually required for accurate checking.

“You stick it on the machine, the machine will tell you what’s off, or what needs to be facing where, what needs to be adjusted to get those tires to sit the way they’re supposed to,” she said. “You need a machine for it, only professionals can do that.”

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