Getting your alignment done on a regular basis is, for most people, an aspirational habit more than an actual one. That’s probably because the benefits aren’t necessarily tangible—sure, your car will drive straighter, but, you tell yourself, the $100 you just spent could probably go somewhere more fun, like the movies or mini golf or something. But maybe if you knew more about what alignment actually does you’d be more inclined to get it done. Say it with me: caster, camber, and toe.
Learn Engineering put together this video (starring a BMW Z4!) that explains what you need to know. What you’ve been hearing you’re entire life—that getting your alignment done regularly allows your tires to wear evenly, lengthening tread life—is true, of course, but, for visual thinkers like myself, it helps to see it all visualized.
Take those three terms I used up top, which, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably at least a little familiar with. Each describes an alignment adjustment mechanics make when they align your car. Camber is the angle that the tires vertically spin at, and toe the horizontal angle that wheels spin. Caster is a little harder to explain, but have a good look at this GIF.
How often should you get your alignment done? Some people say whenever you get your oil changed, or annually, or whenever you get your tires rotated. The right answer for you will depend on how you drive, and how shitty the roads are that you drive on.
My colleague Mike Ballaban does the alignment on his car twice a year, when he changes from winter to summer tires and vice versa, reasoning that the roads of New York City are shitty and he wants to get the most out of his tires. This seems prudent, though I will probably stick with doing it yearly, since I recently bought new tires, want them to last, and don’t drive that much.
The last time I did it, in fact, was when my new tires came in. Finding a decent repair shop in New York is difficult, and the shop that mounted and balanced my tires seemed genuinely annoyed that I also wanted the alignment done as well, grumbling something about the shop only having one machine for it. Just trying to give you money, dude.