Getting a wheel alignment every 12,000 miles or about every 2 years – whichever comes sooner. Other auto manufacturers recommend having the wheels aligned every 6,000 miles – which for most city drivers, is about once a year.
Wheel misalignment can happen when you’re in an accident of fender bender, if you go over a curb, drive through a pothole, etc. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.
But, slight shifts over time create extra wear on tires, decrease fuel performance, and reduce your steering performance. An occasional re-alignment ensures your vehicle is in top condition.
The average cost of wheel alignment is $50-$200. Normally, you’ll pay about $25-$50 per wheel. If you have a front-wheel drive car, you’ll have to align the two front wheels. Here, the rate charged by your mechanic is the most important aspects of costs.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of wheel alignment cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|Supplier||Tire Alignment Cost|
How Much Does Wheel Alignment Cost?*
The cost of a tire alignment normally depends on two factors. The first is what your mechanic charges. The second is whether you have two-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive, or rear-wheel drive.
Otherwise, there are no real differences in the cost of a wheel alignment. That is, unless you have a performance car which might need specialty alignment.
However, you might also expect to pay more if you’re paying for additional services. For example, if you’re having the tires rotated, tie-pressure checked, etc.
|Vehicle||Tire Alignment Cost|
|Lexus Rx 350||$150-$250|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (February 2022). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
Wheel Alignment Price Factors
There are only a couple of factors that actually influence what a wheel alignment costs. Here, your mechanic is the most important factor.
However, your driveshaft matters too. And, in some cases, the make and model of the vehicle will come into play as well.
The drivetrain is the most important aspect of pricing a wheel alignment. Here, costs literally depend on how many wheels you want to have aligned.
For example, most passenger cars are two-wheel drive. They need a front-alignment because the front wheels are the only ones that tilt and shift. A front-end alignment will resolve any issues you might have.
Four-wheel drive cars sometimes need all four wheels aligned. However, that isn’t always the case.
In some cases, the drive-train powers the wheels, giving you more traction and stability, but the wheels don’t actually have the full range of motion of the front wheels. In other cases, they do.
Finally, if you have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, you might need all four wheels aligned as well.
In most cases, you can expect to pay $25-$50 per wheel. That adds up when you’re adding on new wheels.
And, can you ever align just one wheel? You can, but it’s definitely not recommended and probably won’t do much for the car or the longevity of the tires.
Make and Model
The make and model of your vehicle can sometimes impact the cost of a wheel alignment. For example, some cars have more range, especially for camber range.
If you’re driving a performance vehicle, you might want to take it to a dealership or specialty service station for the alignment.
In addition, many vehicles have their own specifications for what makes good alignment. While some vehicles have alignment markings, others do not. This can mean that your mechanic might take more time with a vehicle they don’t know as well.
Cost of Labor
The cost of labor is generally the only real consideration when having tired rotated. In fact, this is the only actual cost you will pay other than a shop fee.
Here, rates will vary depending on where you go. If you go to a large chain service station, like Valvoline, PepBoys, or Firestones, you can expect a flat-rate fee.
In some cases, the service station might even offer small services like tire alignment for free with a coupon, in hopes of getting you in the door to do other work.
If you go to a general mechanic, you’ll usually pay an hourly fee. However, your mechanic might also just offer a flat rate, based on what they think it should cost.
So, if they charge $60 an hour and charge you $30 for the job it’s because they expect it to take half an hour.
That will, of course, vary significantly depending on the mechanic and their rates – as nationally, mechanic’s rates range from $15-$210 per hour.
Wheel alignment normally has to be done about every 2 years. In most cases, that aligns well with every other tire rotation and every other oil change. So, you can have other parts of your car serviced at the same time.
For example, a full tune-up package might include a front-end alignment, tire rotation, oil change or full fluid change, and tire pressure check.
Having everything done at once means you’ll save the extra trips to the mechanic. It can also save you money on each individual service.
That’s especially true if you’re checking brake calipers and the suspension as part of the service. If you already have the wheels off, you can more easily check and service those parts.
So, you’ll save money over coming back later to have that job done separately.
3 Signs Your Wheels Need Aligning
You should never wait until your car is showing signs of needing a wheel alignment to get the work done. Tire alignment is part of preventive maintenance.
In fact, most tire manufacturers suggest that having your tires aligned ever 2 years can add an additional 12,000 miles of lifespan to the tires.
However, getting to that point means practicing maintenance preventively. In addition, getting a regular tire alignment will reduce wear and tear on the suspension, improve gas mileage, and improve your braking.
If you are having issues with alignment, it might be about aligning the front end. However, it might also be about issues with the suspension or with the tires themselves.
Most of the symptoms of misaligned wheels are exactly the same as the symptoms of a bad tie rod, ball joint, or other part of the suspension. Therefore, you’ll have to double check everything if you start to have symptoms.
1. Tire Wear
Properly aligned tires should never wear rapidly or unevenly. If you have different patterns of wear on the inside and outside of the tire, it might mean you have a suspension issue.
It also likely means the camber on the wheel is off. For example, if you have a positive camber and wheels are pitched outwards, you’ll see more wear on the outside of the tires on each side.
On the other hand, if you have a negative camber, you’ll see more wear on the inside of the tires.
2. Steering Issues
Steering issues are almost always a sign of either steering or suspension issues. For example, if your vehicle is pulling to the left or to the right, it might be about a misaligned tire.
On the other hand, you might notice that you have to keep the steering wheel crooked in order to drive straight. That usually means the toe alignment is off.
And, if your steering is noisy, it could be an issue with the steering, with the suspension, or with the wheel alignment.
Any of these issues can be serious and even dangerous to drive with. Therefore, it’s important to get the issue checked as quickly as possible after you notice it.
3. Squealing Tires
If your tires are squealing, it usually means too much pressure is landing on one part of the tire. You’re most likely to notice this when braking and cornering.
But, you can pay attention to when it happens. If your tires are squealing while you’re driving normally and safely, you might want to have an alignment done.
How Are Wheels Aligned? (Steps)
Wheel alignment should normally be done by a professional. That’s because professionals have tools with which to easily measure and adjust the wheels.
If you do so at home, it’s a longer process and you’ll have to be precise about what you update.
The most important thing here is that need plates or string to measure the camber, caster, and toe alignment.
These can be costly. In most cases, if you want plates, they cost between $100 and $200, even from aftermarket suppliers.
This means that it’s actually cheaper to have your wheels aligned at a shop (at least the first time) than it is to do the work yourself. That may balance out and pay off if you have more than one vehicle or over 4-6 years.
Otherwise, it will be cheaper to do the alignment at the shop. You can get around this with an angle finder, a level, and some string.
Finally, you cannot align wheels without the car sitting on the tires. This means you’ll have to buy or build ramps that allow you to get under the car, while keeping the vehicle loaded on the tires. These can also be quite expensive.
Tip: Before you get started, check the air pressure in the tires. Make sure air pressure is filled to the recommendations of the manufacturer. If the tires aren’t filled correctly, it will affect measurements.
Things You’ll Need:
- A wrench set
- A socket wrench
- An adjustable wrench
- Car ramps
- Jack stands
- Camber/caster/toe plates
- Owner’s manual
- Park your car on a flat surface. Turn the engine off and remove the ignition. Jack up both sides and place jack stands and blocks under the wheels. Lower the vehicle so that the wheels are resting on the blocks. You’ll want to use tarp or another surface between the blocks and the wheels, so you can still turn the wheels. Make sure the vehicle is stable.
- Check the owner’s manual for recommended Camber, Toe, and Caster measurements:
- Camber – Camber is the sideways alignment of your wheels, which can best be visualized by the tilt of the tires towards each other. Positive camber means the top of the tires tilt together. Negative camber means the bottom of the tires tilt together.
- Toe – Toe is the alignment of the tire to the long side of the vehicle. Positive or Toe In means the wheels are slanted away from the corners of the vehicle, in towards each other. Basically, similarly to if you stand and look at your feet. Your toes can face away from each other or towards each other.
- Caster – Caster is the alignment of the wheel to the steering axis. Positive caster means the steering arm is aligned towards the back of the tire, negative caster means the steering arm is aligned to the back of the tire.
Every vehicle has its own cater, toe, and camber recommendations.
- Calculate your camber. You can use a camber plate, a string, or a level. Find the camber bolts and adjust them until the camber matches manufacturer recommendations.
- Calculate the toe. You can do so using a toe plate. However, you can also use string and a ruler to calculate it by hand. To do so, loosen the jam nut on the tie rod. Tighten the inner tie rod to push the toe in or out – and adjust it to where the wheel should be according to the manual. Replace the jam nut when the gap is where you want it.
- Use a castor plate or string between the front and rear wheels and an angle finder to find the castor angle. Place the angle finder under the axle seat and rotate it until it’s exactly parallel with the vehicle. That is your castor number. You can then shorten or lengthen the control arm using the bolts to get the desired castor.
You can then check everything, jack your car up to get it off the blocks, and then lower it down.
Wheel alignment is a complicated process so you likely still have questions.
Can you drive a car with bad wheel alignment?
It’s not a good idea to drive your car bad wheel alignment.
While you can normally do so, driving with bad alignment puts extra stress on the tires and the suspension. It might also mean you have to pay close attention to your car to keep it from veering off the road.
How often should wheels be aligned?
Most manufacturers recommend aligning wheels every 5,000-12,000 miles or about every 2 years.
Some will specifically ask for different timelines, so always check your owner’s manual.
How long does wheel alignment take?
A mechanic will normally take 20-60 minutes to align the wheels on your car.
If you’re doing the work yourself, you can expect it to take longer.
Wheel alignment costs $25-$50 per wheel, on average. This works out to an average of $60-$70 for a front-end alignment.
In most cases, you only need a wheel alignment about every 2 years. So, having it done by a mechanic is often a good call.
However, you can also do the work yourself, provided that you can safely block your car up for access to the suspension.