Ideally, cars can go many miles before needing a wheel alignment. Most automotive manufacturers do not include wheel alignments on the regular maintenance schedules or, if included, it is part of a long list of items on a sporadic basis. While there is no industry agreed upon standard, it helps to have the alignment checked annually even if the car drives straight with the steering wheel in the centered position.
If it is necessary to turn the steering wheel at an angle to keep the car driving straight that is an indication that the car may have misaligned wheels. If the car pulls to one side or the other, that can also indicate a problem. First, check the tire pressure in case there is an underinflated tire causing the car to pull to one side or the other. If the tires are properly inflated, have the wheel alignment checked.
Make a habit of inspecting the tires for wear. If a certain tire has excessive wear compared to the other three tires, there could be an alignment issue. Also, tires with uneven wear or that look like chunks have been taken out of sections can be evidence of a problem. Have an auto mechanic inspect the tires since not all wear patterns mean there is an alignment problem.
When new tires are put on the car, make sure a wheel alignment is included. New, unworn tires will drive differently and may require some subtle alignment adjustments. It is smart to include a check of the wheel alignment after a tire rotation for a similar reason. Vibrations when driving are not a symptom of misaligned wheels but rather indicate possible issues with the tires, suspension or brakes. To keep a car driving straight, check the wheel alignment every year and drive smart.
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