Everybody's heard of having a wheel alignment, but nobody really seems to know when you should actually have your wheels aligned. Is it every 3,000 miles? Every time you replace your tires? Or is it just one of those things that mechanics seem to recommend but you don't vitally need?
Extended driving over poorly maintained roads
You live in Atlanta, so you're aware that some of the roads in the city seem to be in a perpetual state of disrepair. This can wreak havoc on your car or truck in terms of its alignment. Taking potholes or other speed reducing devices (i.e., speed bumps) too aggressively can cause your wheels to become toed-in/out. What this means is that after a period, your wheels begin to point too far inward or too far outward, increasing premature tire wear.
This translates into more money out of your pocket. Let's say you've been driving your vehicle regularly over the past year or so, primarily in the downtown area. You feel it's time to have your tires replaced, so you do just that. The typical cost of this is about $500 for all four. If you fail to get your wheels aligned,your $500 a year expense just became a $1,000 per year expense.
Tires with excessive/uneven wear
The next leading cause of improper wheel alignment is excessive tire wear. If you notice that your tires are "balding" (the tread is worn down severely) then they need an alignment. Even with the way the roads are in downtown Atlanta, you shouldn't see significant signs of wear on a new set of tires before you've reached an estimated 8,000 road miles.
If you notice that your car is pulling substantially to either side of the road when you take your hands off the steering wheel, this is indicative of uneven tire wear and misalignment.
The best thing to do is to have your vehicle's alignment checked periodically. Typically alignments vary in cost from $50-$100, not including parts and labor. It's a relatively minor expense considering how it could extend the life of your vehicle. If you think you're due for one, contact one of your local Atlanta-area mechanics for a personalized expert opinion.