Summer is a common time to take care of vehicle repairs and regular maintenance. When you don’t have to venture out into the snow or brave the ice, taking care of your vehicle’s tire rotation and wheel alignment seems very manageable. These valuable services go a long way toward keeping your tires in good condition and improving your vehicle’s safety overall.
But what is the difference between tire rotation and wheel alignment? Are they both necessary? When should each service be completed? We explore all of these questions below. In the meantime it is vital to understand that learning the difference between these two services can protect and preserve you and your vehicle.
Tire Rotation and Wheel Alignment: What’s the Difference?
Both tire rotation and wheel alignment are essential for extending the longevity of your tires and improving the overall performance of your vehicle. Both can save you a bundle on costly repairs, including the cost to your personal safety and the safety of others on the road. So what’s the difference between the two?
The bottom line is this: tire rotation rearranges the tires on a vehicle to even out the wear, and wheel alignment corrects the angles of the tires to keep them properly aligned. Let’s look at each service in a little more detail.
The Details on Tire Rotation
Tires don’t wear evenly on the road. It’s just a fact, a matter of physics and vehicle design. Some of that uneven wear is determined by the kind of vehicle you have. Vehicles with rear-wheel drive (RWD), for example, transfer the power in the engine to the rear tires, so the back treads tend to break down more quickly.
On the other hand, front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicles have the opposite problem, with forward engine power wearing down the front tire treads more quickly. Front tires also usually take more damage when braking because they feel the brunt of the vehicle’s weight as it comes to a stop. All this uneven wear can cause you to burn through two of your tires faster than the other two. It can also lead to unequal weight distribution and, consequently, poor gas mileage.
Regularly rotating your tires can mitigate all of these problems. The service is relatively inexpensive, certainly less expensive than replacing your tires. The process is simple. A mechanic repositions the tires on your vehicle, switching the back tires to the front of the vehicle and vice versa.
Wheel alignment has to do with the position of each tire relative to the road to the other tires. When a mechanic services alignment, he or she makes sure that the tires are perpendicular to the road and parallel to each other. This sometimes involves adjusting the angles of the axles within the suspension, finely attuning the whole system.
An alignment ensures that your tires are in line with your vehicle’s steering wheel. When the vehicle is out of alignment, the steering may pull to the right or left, instead of defaulting to straight ahead. This too leads to uneven and premature wear on the tires and increased difficulty in handling the car. A good alignment will correct these issues.
In Case of Accident
When your vehicle is involved in an accident, a lot of things can shift out of place, no matter how small the accident may be. That is why it is always important to take your vehicle in to be serviced if it has been involved in any kind of collision. Usually you won’t need both tire rotation and wheel alignment to be checked after an accident, often only an alignment is needed.
After a crash, tires and axles can shift out of alignment. A good mechanic will test to see that each tire’s rim, hub, and spokes all line up as they should in connection with the entire suspension system. Don’t hesitate to have your alignment checked out if your vehicle has been in an accident.
When Should You Have Tire Rotation and Wheel Alignment Performed?
Your tire rotation and wheel alignment should be conducted regularly if you want to extend the life of your tires and have your vehicle perform optimally. However, “regular” doesn’t always mean the same interval for tire rotation as it does for alignment.
Tire rotation should be taken care of every few months or so. This is because the daily wear of driving can really make vehicle performance uneven without regularly adjusting where each tire is placed. Most manufacturers agree that you should have your tires rotated every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. It is common for people to have their tires rotated when they have their oil changed.
Alignments don’t need to be performed as frequently. If you notice that your vehicle isn’t handling the way it should, go in for an alignment adjustment. Otherwise, you should have an alignment performed approximately once every two years or when your car undergoes major repairs.