6 Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Alignment (and Why You Need to Fix it ASAP)

Last Updated on May 7, 2020

Wheels can become misaligned if the vehicle is suddenly jarred, such as by driving over a pothole or an object in the road. Parts in the wheel assembly and suspension can also wear and shift to cause noticeable symptoms that it’s time to realign the wheels. 

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A properly aligned vehicle will perform better and more efficiently. If you must make a fast turn or dodge something quickly that’s on the road, a wheel alignment could be the very thing that saves your life.

6 Common Bad Wheel Alignment Symptoms

Sometimes underinflated tires can cause problems which could also be caused by misaligned wheels. Check the tire pressures first, and if those are within normal limits, then it may be time to have your wheels realigned. The following are symptoms of a bad alignment.

#1 – Vehicle Pulls to One Side

car jerks when accelerating

Check your alignment when driving on a straight road with little traffic: remove your hands from the steering wheel and let the vehicle guide itself on the road. If it swerves or drifts toward one particular side, place your fingers back on the steering wheel and lightly maintain control of the steering to stay on the road.

When the vehicle is driving straight once more, try the test again. If the vehicle still veers toward the side, then the wheels need to be realigned. The more it pulls out of a straight line, the worse the alignment is.

If you don’t address the problem, it will be harder to drive straight and you may even cross over into other lanes on the road if you don’t maintain a firm grip on the wheel at all times. If you have this problem with your vehicle, take it to an auto mechanic and have an alignment done right away.

Note that the crown of a road may cause your vehicle to pull to one side as well, since the center of the road is higher than the shoulder. 

#2 – Uneven Steering Wheel

steering wheel makes noise when turning

Whenever you’re driving down a road that is completely flat and straight, the steering wheel of the vehicle should remain straight and perfectly centered. 

An easy way to check this is to look at the emblem in the center of your steering wheel. If the emblem remains level while driving straight, then the steering wheel is centered.

But if the emblem tips a couple of degrees off level in any direction, then the steering wheel is uneven and the vehicle needs a wheel alignment right away.  Once the vehicle is realigned, the steering wheel will remain centered and the vehicle will be much easier to control.

#3 – Loose Steering

steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds

A sloppy, or loose, steering wheel can be very dangerous as it can cause a decreased response time when turning. This can be caused by misaligned wheels and should always prompt you to have the vehicle checked out by a mechanic.

Related:  Causes of a Steering Wheel That’s Hard to Turn

#4 – Steering Wheel Vibrates

steering wheel shakes

A steering wheel that vibrates while the vehicle is in motion is likely due to misaligned or unbalanced tires. However, vibration from a steering wheel could also indicate other more serious problems. A professional can determine the cause of the vibration.

#5 – Uneven Tire Wear

uneven tire wear

If you notice that the treads on certain tires of your car are wearing out faster than others, the wheels may be misaligned.

Measure the tread depth on both sides of each tire with a tread depth meter for greatest accuracy. Wheels that are properly aligned will all have the same rubber depth on the tires. 

#6 – Tires That Squeal

tire noise

As tires wear unevenly due to a misalignment, they can start to squeal as the vehicle accelerates or makes turns. Squealing can be caused by other things such as worn brake pads, so have the vehicle checked if you notice this symptom.

Types of Alignment

Wheels can become misaligned in many different ways and directions. Here are 3 of the most common types of alignments done.

Camber

camber alignment

Camber measures the angle of the wheel when looking straight on at the car from the front. If the wheel leans towards the car with the bottom of the wheel farther away from the car than the top, that is a negative camber. A wheel that leans away from the car has a positive camber. 

Toe

toe alignment

Toe refers to where the front of the wheel is relative to the back of the wheel. If the front of the wheel points in towards the center of the car, this is toe in, or positive toe. If the front of the wheel points out away from the center of the car, this is toe out, or negative toe. 

This type of alignment is adjustable on all cars. 

Caster

caster alignment

The caster of the wheel measures the angle of the pivot which turns the wheel, while looking at the wheel straight-on from the side of the car. This pivot connects to the wheel by two points, the upper and lower, which should be stacked on top of each other.

If the upper point is leaning towards the back of the car, it’s a positive caster. If the upper point leans towards the front of the car, the caster is negative.

Misaligned caster causes the steering to feel too heavy or too light. This usually cannot be adjusted on front wheel drive cars, so in these vehicles the suspension may be damaged if the caster is off.

Why It’s Important to Fix an Alignment Problem Right Away

bad alignment

These symptoms of misalignment can be easy to ignore, perhaps because drivers think it’s no big deal or don’t want to spend money on the cost of an alignment. The problem is that the longer you put off getting a realignment, the more damage will be done to the tires and vehicle. 

Poor gas mileage is prevalent on vehicles with misaligned tires because the vehicle has to work harder to go where it should and thus consumes more gasoline. Also, tires that you bought with a lifetime warranty often have fine print requiring regular alignments. 

Do yourself a favor and take your vehicle to a mechanic or alignment shop if any of these symptoms are present. Wheel alignments are not very expensive when you consider the alternative of damage repair, increased fuel costs, and early tire replacement.

 

20 thoughts on “6 Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Alignment (and Why You Need to Fix it ASAP)”

    • Make sure the lug nuts are on tight! Unlikely if it’s a newer tire but a broken belt inside the tire or a flat spot can be the problem. Otherwise, bad wheel bearings may be the cause as well.

      Reply
  1. Had my car aligned with brand new tires and its vearing from one side to the other? They say its because of my strut bearing. Does this make sense?

    Reply
  2. I’ve had 4 alignments and front shocks replaced all in last 6 months. Still feels like I can’t control steering. Almost a scary feeling. What else could be causing me to drift side to side in my lane?

    Reply
    • I would look at tie rods, ball joints, and wheel bearings (in that order). Sticky brake caliper is unlikely but also possible. If something is damaged in the suspension, it will simply keep throwing it out of alignment until fixed. Is the place that’s doing the alignment not checking any of these components?

      Reply
    • I had two new rear tires put on a week ago, I don’t know if you can get a rear alignment but while driving it feels like I’m losing control of my car when I get up to about 70mph. It seems as if I can’t control the wheel. Please tell me what’s wrong. I had a oil change also. Its very scary. They said they aligned the front

      Reply
      • There are other problems that could cause this. You could have worn suspension bushings, a bad wheel bearing, a loose tie rod end, a bad steering rack, or a few other possible issues. When you feel like you’re going to lose control it’s often a result of a problem on the front axle, but not always. I recommend you take your vehicle to a mechanic to get it checked out as soon as possible. Make sure you can describe the problem in as much detail as possible.

        Reply
        • usually the rear tires have minor effect on the steering. However, it sounds like there is ply separation or improper balance in your rear wheels.
          I would first look at all your tires, check for pressure and balance (make sure that the balance clip has not fallen off.) Then check all tires for ply separation – You could have a dud tire.

  3. I have a 2009 Ram with 44,000 miles replaced all 4 tires recently and 4 wheel alignment also they found a loose tie rod and replaced it left shop noticed truck pulled to the right returned a couple days later they rechecked alignment found it was according to specs but did a slight adjustment returned once again since they had not installed new valve stems old metal ones had cracked they rechecked alignment once again made no adjustments I think they swapped the front tires now she pulls to the right before the alignment the truck tracked straight I was told when I come in for a tire rotation in 6000 miles this may correct the problem. Tires causing the problem ?

    Reply
  4. I’ve had control arms, drop links and front suspension replaced, wheels aligned, car runs out of alignment within an hour, take a corner and a few seconds later wheels pull quickly to 1 side or the other

    Reply
  5. Same i got four new tires.got front end alignment.car drove straight then after driveing straight for about 20 to 30 secounds starts pulling ti right and i just got it aligned.not perfect .is this ok or no.

    Reply
    • If the roads in that area are crowned, the alignment could be perfect and still pull to the right. Crowned roads mean the outside of the road sits lower than the middle of the road (i.e. the road has concavity). The car will have a tendency to pull towards the downhill side of the road.

      It’s also possible the shop didn’t tighten the eccentric bolts down all the way, or that they adjusted the alignment settings in the wrong order or not accurately enough.

      Reply
  6. Thanks for mentioning how it can be harder to drive straight if you don’t fix the alignment. Last night while on the freeway, I noticed that my car was pulling to the right and I kept having to correct it. To avoid any further problems, I’ll have to take it to an auto shop to have the alignment fixed.

    Reply
  7. Yes, These problem is that the longer you put off getting a realignment, the more damage will be done to the tires and vehicle. this is Alignment Problem Right Away very important. Thanks for sharing…

    Reply
  8. I have a 2010 jeep compass I got my car alignment done but when I hit a bump or on the e- way it seem like it’s rocking and fish tailing one time the streering wheel almost jump out of my hand when I hit a bump it hits hard I think the wheels in the back might be in to far I don’t feel safe on the e-way cus I’m fighting with the wheel

    Reply
    • It would definitely be worthwhile to take your Jeep back in to have it looked at. It sounds like you’re having an issue with bump steer, which may simply be resolved with some alignment tweaks. However, I would still have the shop inspect the suspension while it’s in there to make sure the problem isn’t something more serious, like a failing suspension component.

      Reply
  9. I just got 4 new tires put on my car, and a wheel alignment. When i got on the highway my steering wheel started shimmering. What is the problem? It was not doing that before?

    Reply

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