Winter Roads Lead To Spring Alignment Problems

Car driving over pothole
Pot-holed roads wreak havoc on vehicle alignment

That pothole or curb your vehicle encountered this past winter could be causing some quiet but expensive problems in spring.

Does your vehicle tend to veer toward one side? Are you seeing any unusual wear on the edge of your tires?

“Most of the time alignment issues are not noticeable to the driver,” said Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training at the Tire Industry Association. “It can lead to a safety issue if your vehicle is pulling to one side.”

Or perhaps the tread has worn out on an inside of the tire where it is not visible.

“The side shoulder may look fine but the inside may be worn,” Rohlwing said. “It can wear down to the steel belt and you wouldn’t notice until the tire fails.”

Rohlwing lives in the Baltimore, MD, area where winter weather wreaks havoc on roadways. Potholes are common.

“The freeze-thaw cycle is brutal on roads,” Rohlwing said.

Water seeps into pavement during warm hours of the day and turns to ice overnight, causing fissures in the roadway. Heavy traffic turns cracks into hazardous divots.

“Any kind of impact to the front end of your vehicle can push the tires out of alignment.”

Alignment may be the culprit if your vehicle favors one side or another. It should travel in a straight line on a straight, level road.

Yet, the symptom also may indicate issues with other steering components--shock absorbers, sway bar, steering links and rods. Ignoring those problems could damage rims and throw tires out of balance as well.

How often should you check alignment?

“Anytime you purchase new tires,” Rohlwing answered quickly. “Ideally, you should check alignment every time you rotate your tires.”

That’s about every 5,000 miles. All tires are different and drivers may check tire warranty information or call their service advisor for recommendations.

What are the signs that your vehicle might need an alignment or suspension components? Tire manufacturers recommend the following tips for tire alignment:

  • Does your vehicle pull left or right? It should drive true rather than drifting out of the lane.
  • Is your steering wheel off center when driving straight? Centering the steering wheel is part of an alignment service.
  • Does your Vehicle have excessive shaking and rattling? This could be an alignment problem or also may indicate worn shocks and struts.
  • Does the steering wheel vibrate? This could also indicate a problem with the brakes. Check with your trusted service advisor.
  • Take a peek at your tires at least once a month. Do they have more wear on one side than another? Alignment issues are the common culprits.
  • Check tire alignment at every tire rotation--about 5,000 miles of driving.
  • Inquire about alignment if you have encountered potholes or road debris that impacted the front end of your vehicle.