Having an alignment is a routine part of your vehicle’s maintenance as it is one of the easiest ways to extend the life of your tires. But how long does an alignment take?
You can expect an alignment to take between 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the condition of your vehicle and whether you have just 2 wheels or all 4 wheels aligned.
There are many different factors which will impact the time that it takes to perform an alignment on your vehicle, so read on to find out everything you need to know about how long an alignment takes.
What is an Alignment?
A wheel or tire alignment is the process of adjusting your vehicle’s suspension system to allow your wheels and tires to make contact with the road surface at the correct angle.
This is because the maximum amount of tire will be in contact with the road surface, improving your braking and stopping distance as well as your car’s overall handling.
How long does an alignment take?
There will be a number of factors which can impact the answer to how long does an alignment take. A normal wheel alignment usually implies that it is a four wheel alignment.
The time between a two wheel and a four wheel alignment is not much different as a lot of the time is spent in setting up and tearing down. This is broadly the same for whichever alignment you choose.
Other factors that may impact the time a wheel alignment takes is the age and the overall condition of your vehicle. To align your vehicle, the mechanic will need to access and adjust various bolts underneath your vehicle.
If it is an older vehicle, the bolts will be more prone to seizing up meaning more time and effort may be required to successfully align your wheels. You may see the mechanic use lubricants such as WD40 or even heat torches to try and help break loose the bolts.
There is also a chance that the mechanic may find worn out or damaged parts in your suspension whilst performing the alignment. If this is the case, you will be asked to book into the shop for a future date to have the work done as they may need to order in parts for your vehicle.
If it is more serious, they may ask that your car remains at the shop until the work can be done. This however is not a part of a wheel alignment and keeping your vehicle serviced regularly will minimise the likelihood of any such major issues.
How Do You Know If You Need An Alignment?
There are a number of signs to look out for when it comes to knowing if you need an alignment. The main symptoms of a bad alignment include:
Your car is pulling to one side
If your car is pulling to either side while you are driving down the road, this is a classic sign that your wheels are not correctly aligned.
Vibration through the steering wheel
If your steering wheel vibrates while you are driving down a smooth road, this is likely to be an issue with your wheel alignment. If you only experience wheel vibration at a higher speed, then it may be that your wheels are not correctly balanced.
The steering wheel is not responding naturally to your inputs
When wheels are mis-aligned, this may lead to your car performing abnormally with more or less steering than intended.
The steering wheel is not correctly centered
You may find that you are needing to drive with your steering wheel off-centre to counteract the effects of the wheels being mis-aligned.
Uneven tire wear
Have a look at your front tires. If you can see that each of the tires are wearing differently, it is usually an indicator that you need to have your wheels aligned. Check out our article on Tire Wear Patterns to learn more about if this may be happening.
How often should I get my wheels aligned?
We would recommend having your wheels aligned every 2-3 years. Depending on how you use your vehicle and how much it is driven, will determine how often you should schedule a wheel alignment.
Potholes, curbs and any large knocks to the wheels are enough to get your wheels out of alignment. If you mainly use your vehicle in particularly harsh terrains, you may want to have your wheels aligned every 1-2 years. However most vehicles will not need their wheels aligned this frequently.
There are some special circumstances which may require your vehicle to have a tire alignment more frequently than usual.
This usually applies to high performance vehicles or vehicles with wide tires. This is because when travelling at higher speeds, there are smaller tolerances which can lead to safety issues if mis-aligned.
How much does an alignment cost?
The average cost for a wheel alignment starts at around $50-100 for a single alignment check and can go up to $150-200 for a full alignment check. A single alignment will only check one set of wheels and a full alignment will check all 4 wheels.
Some shops may offer a free wheel alignment check to see if your vehicle requires an alignment. It is worth noting that not every shop will offer a wheel alignment as it requires the shop to own a large wheel balancing and alignment machine.
Therefore we recommend looking for a tire shop or a larger shop when picking where to take your car.
Do all vehicles have the same alignment?
No, not all vehicles have the same alignment. This is not something you need to worry about, as the mechanic will pull up the pre-programmed measurements for your specific car from your vehicle’s manufacturer.
There are 3 different types of vehicle set-ups and the alignment you can choose will depend on which set up your car is. The most common set up is for the front 2 wheels to be driven. For this set-up it is possible to have just the front two wheels aligned.
For pick up trucks and trailers however, it is most common for all four wheels to be driven. In this case you will need to have all four wheels aligned. If your car has the rear two wheels driven, you will also require a full four wheel alignment.
We would always recommend where possible to have all four wheels aligned anyway as it will maximise your tires life as well as ensure your car is comfortable and safe for many miles to come.
Is it ever worth picking a two wheel alignment?
In our opinion, it is not worth picking a two wheel alignment. Although it may be cheaper, the only reason you may only have a two wheel alignment is if the shop you go to only has an alignment machine which is unable to perform an alignment on the rear wheels of your vehicle.
Smaller shops may offer what is known as a “Toe-n-go” where they will only adjust the toe on the front wheels of your vehicle. We would avoid these as they are not comprehensive wheel alignments.
Reputable shops will be happy to show you your vehicles wheel alignments figures before and after and discuss anything they might have found while working on your vehicle.
What is the wheel alignment procedure?
When going for your wheel alignment, the mechanic will be looking at three variables.
These are called Camber, Caster and Toe. It is useful for the mechanic to know if you have experienced any of the symptoms mentioned above as this will help point them in the right direction as to what may be wrong with your alignment.
Your car will be put on a ramp and sensors will be used to accurately measure the alignment of each wheel. The sensors will then tell the mechanic how to adjust the suspension attached to each wheel.
- Toe alignment is the angle at which the wheels point inwards or outwards when looked at from above. The ideal is to have a very small amount of inward toe to maximise straight line stability as well as have minimal tire wear.
- Camber alignment is the angle at which the top or the bottom of the tire is tilted inwards or outwards when looked at from the front of the car. It is more desirable to have a small amount of negative camber.
- Caster angle is the name given to the inclination of the steering axis, which is called the caster angle. It is what is responsible for automatically returning your steering wheel to its central position after taking a turn.
Can I adjust my wheel alignment at home?
While it is technically possible, it is a very complicated procedure which also requires you to have easy access to certain suspension parts underneath your vehicle. For this reason, we would say it is not possible to do this at home yourself.
Can I turn up at a shop and have a wheel alignment on the same day?
Depending on how busy your shop is, yes it should be possible to have a wheel alignment done without a prior booking. It is not a very long process with the correct equipment. We would recommend calling ahead if possible to avoid disappointment.
How likely is an alignment to fix my tire wear?
Very likely. Your vehicles wheel alignment will determine how your tires make contact with the road. This is the main factor in determining how your tires will wear. Having your wheels aligned will ensure that your tires wear correctly.
If you need to know how long does an alignment take, it shouldn’t take more than an hour.
Aligning the wheels on your car is an important part of your vehicle’s maintenance. It will improve your vehicle’s safety and performance, as well as maximise the life of your tires and save you money. Be sure to know the telltale signs of a misaligned car.
Check out our guide on Tire Tread Patterns to know how to spot if you may need an alignment. We recommend arranging an alignment for your car alongside your regular service every 2 to 3 years.
We hope you enjoyed this article and found it informative. If you have any questions then please leave a comment below or get in touch via email or through social media and we will read and respond to every comment, email or question. Thanks for reading!