Front-end alignment refers to the geometric positioning of all the wheels on a vehicle in relation to each other, the vehicle's body, and the road surface. For tires to wear properly and to ensure the correct handling of the vehicle, all four tires should be in parallel with each other and perpendicular to the road surface. Knowing the symptoms of improper wheel alignment can help you avoid abnormal tire wear and possibly hazardous handling characteristics.
Unusual Tire Wear
When tires begin wearing rapidly or unevenly, it is a sign that there may be a problem with the front-end alignment. When tires become out of alignment in relation to each other, they no longer roll in the same direction as the other tires on the vehicle. This increases the rolling resistance of the tires and also results in the tires effectively dragging against the road surface as they each try to roll in different directions. The end result is greatly increased tire wear and unusual wear patterns. If tire wear suddenly increases or the tires wear only on one side, it is a sign that the tires are out of alignment.
Drifting Right or Left
Wheels that are out of alignment are in effect no longer pointed in the same direction and may no longer be level with the road surface. This condition results in the vehicle drifting to the right or left while rolling forward. This causes the driver to compensate to maintain a straight direction forward.
An out-of-alignment condition can cause the steering to become overly sensitive and easily affected by uneven road surfaces. The condition exaggerates steering input and the effect uneven road surfaces have on the directional rotation of the tires. The result is a constant need to correct steering and a tendency for the vehicle to wander to the left or right when traveling over uneven road surfaces.
Off Center Steering Wheel
Most automobile steering wheels are positioned so that the spokes or ribs of the steering wheel are evenly situated to either side when the front wheels are pointed in a straight direction. If the steering or suspension components have become severely worn or damaged, this can cause the steering wheel to no longer be centered in relation to the direction the front wheels are pointed in, and is a sign that the wheel alignment has been altered.