The question of how often you need tire alignment can bring you any number of answers depending on who you ask, but before addressing the question of how often tires should be aligned it helps to understand just what alignment is and when it may be necessary.
When you vehicle is manufactured its wheels are correctly aligned and normally you do not see a change in the alignment until there is significant wear or damage to the suspension. In fact, unless your vehicle has been on the road for a very long time or has been subjected to tremendously rough road conditions, it is acceptable to have your alignment checked no more than once every 24,000-30,000 miles for four wheel drive cars.
Cars that have “dead axel” rear ends (like sub-compacts) or rear-wheel drive vehicles that have solid axle housings (like pick-up tricks) may not need an alignment in the lifetime of the car unless they are subjected to a great amount of wear and tear or unless you notice a specific indicator that means you should have your vehicle checked.
Unfortunately, most manufacturers and many service garages recommend that you have your alignment checked every 7,500 miles or so, even if they don’t need it, and this can be problematic because tire alignment cost can run you anywhere from $80 – $150. These kinds of prices tend to add up quickly, especially if you tend to put a lot of mileage on your car. But service garages or manufacturers are not so much concerned about whether you actually need the work done so much as getting you to come in and have the work done, which drums up their business. Luckily there are a number of ways to tell if you actually do need alignment; ways that can prevent you from having to pay out for this expense more often than necessary:
Uneven Tire Wear: One of the biggest indications that you need alignment is if your tires seem to be wearing down unevenly. Even the smallest misalignment can cause significant wear on your tires.
Buying New Tires. If you are getting a whole new set of tires you can help to maximize the tread life of your tires if you have your alignment checked at the same time. Even if you are only off by a small amount, it can make a significant difference in the wear of your tires if you start off on the right ‘foot’ so to speak.
Steering Difficulties. If you are having any sort of steering problems or if the handling of your car seems to be off you may want to take your car in for a checkup and have them check the alignment even if it’s not technically time yet. This is especially true if your car has been through any sort of trauma such as an accident or any rough off-road experiences.
Replacement of Steering Components. If you have any of the steering components such as MacPherson struts, tie rods, tie rod ends, steering links, control arms or any other number of steering related components, you definitely want to have your alignment checked to make sure that everything is working properly.
After an Accident. If you have had an accident then you very definitely want to have your alignment checked to ensure that no extensive damage has been done to your car. While you may be more preoccupied with more obvious damages after the accident, make sure you get it checked so that you won’t have an alignment problem cause you serious damage further on down the road.
Regardless of what is recommended, it is safe to only have your tire alignment checked every 30,000 miles or so (for four wheel drive vehicles) unless one of the indicators above is noticed, in which case you should have it checked as soon as possible.