We use a $56,000 state of the art camera type Hunter wheel aligner. We were the first in Kona to use this technology. While this aligner is a fabulous piece of equipment, setting up your vehicle’s alignment for the best tire wear and handling still comes back to the tech doing the work. This is where experience makes the difference because sometimes the specs programmed into the aligner from the factory are just plain wrong in our opinion. An experienced alignment tech knows from personal experience when the factory spec is not going to give the best tire life.
A perfect example of this is a late model Chevy van that the factory spec calls for 13/16 positive camber. This is the spec that was programmed into our aligner. We don’t use it. Because we know if we do, the vehicle will wear out the outside edge of the front tires in about 8,000 miles.
A few years ago, the local Chevy dealer called us and asked if we could do an alignment for them. They said they had a van that they’d aligned 3 times and it kept coming back with the outside edge of the tires worn off in about 8,000 miles and the customer insisted that they either buy back the van under the lemon law or bring it to us and see if we could figure out what the problem was. We said sure bring it over.
Side Note: The Chevy dealer had only recently started doing alignments in the previous 2 years. Before that they’d sublet them out to us and thought we were making too much money I guess. So they bought their own wheel aligner. The machine will tell you what do right?
Experience Makes The Difference
Yep, the machine told them to set it to the factory spec… which was the wrong spec to use in our opinion as I mentioned above. We knew as soon as we hooked the gauges to it what the problem was. They had set it perfectly to the factory specs which ruined the front tires repeatedly.
We set the vehicle to the specs we’ve been setting Chevy’s to for over 30 years and solved the problem. We know because we saw this same vehicle a couple of years later and the tires were wearing perfectly as we knew they would from our custom alignment settings. Their customer was originally our customer before he bought the new van from them and after it was out of warranty he came back to us for his services.
One final thought I’ll add to this, I own a great calculator… but that doesn’t make me an accountant. Wheel aligners don’t align vehicles, people do. So the shop you choose to do your alignment can make all the difference because it always comes down to the tech doing the alignment, not the equipment they are using. With over 36 years alignment experience, we can handle most alignment problems.
How can you tell if you need an alignment?
Here are some symptoms that indicate your vehicle may need an alignment.
Does the vehicle pull to one side
Is the steering wheel way off center
Are the tires wearing funny
What causes my car to pull to one side?
Usually the wheel alignment goes out due to a worn bushing or other component in the front suspension which in turn cause a change in the camber and or caster angle which causes a change in the alignment that causes the vehicle to pull to the side. Sometimes the alignment is off a mile and the vehicle drives perfectly straight.
But, there are other factors that can make your vehicle pull that have nothing to do with the alignment. The number 1 cause being a “tire pull”. The power steering gear box can also cause pulls because of a malfunction of the gear boxe’s control valve. While not that common on late model vehicles, it still does occur from time to time.
In a week where we align 15 to 30 vehicles, we probably have 10% of them that have a tire causing the vehicle to pull, besides the alignment being out of spec. It can become very annoying trying to solve the pulling problem when it’s due to a tire.
Most of the time we rotate the tires and that fixes the pull, but once in a while you get one where even with the offending tire on the rear axle of the vehicle it still pulls. In that case the only solution is to replace the tires if you want it to track straight. If you don’t care about the pull, save the money and go to Vegas or something.
What If My Car Shimmy’s Or Vibrates? Do I Need An Alignment?
No. The tires probably need to be re-balanced. This will most likely fix the shimmy or vibration. There are other things that could be causing a shimmy, but 9 out of 10 times it’s a wheel balance issue. When people ask for an alignment I always ask if there is any particular problem they’re trying to fix because sometimes they have a vibration issue and their friend told them an alignment would fix it. It won’t. Alignments do not fix shimmy’s or vibrations. There are other things that can cause vibrations or shimmy’s and we’ll look for them when we inspect your vehicles suspension before doing an alignment.
The first thing we do when getting ready to align a vehicle is test drive it so we can verify your concern if it’s pulling or vibrating so we can make a proper recommendation of what to do to eliminate the problem.
How often should I get my alignment checked?
Once a year is usually adequate for most vehicles. Twice a year if the vehicle is used for commercial purposes and logs a lot of miles or you do a lot of heavy off-roading.