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4 Wheel AlignmentAs the old joke goes, “Why do I have to rotate my tires? Aren’t they rotating when I drive the car?”

While this may get a chuckle out of you, tire rotation and alignment are no laughing matter. In fact, both are essential for keeping your car in good working order. Read on to learn more about these essential processes.

Tire Alignment

All four tires need to be pointed straight and true with the manufacturer-approved amount of toe, camber, and caster, defined as follows:

  • Toe: Refers to whether the wheels are parallel or splayed in/splayed out, which is referred to as toe in/toe out
  • Camber: Refers to whether the wheels are perfectly vertical or whether they’re angled in or out
  • Caster Refers to the axis of steering rotation, whether the steered wheels move around an axis that is vertical, angled toward the driver, or away from the driver

Tire alignment is designed to prevent your tires from wearing unevenly and to preserve your car’s handling so you can avoid a worn suspension, reduced fuel mileage, and increased vibration through the steering wheel.

Suspension and steering systems are complex and need periodic adjustments. If your car or truck has a solid rear axle, you’ll only need to worry about aligning the front wheels. Most modern vehicles have four-wheel independent suspension, and you’ll need to have the rear wheels aligned periodically, too.

Tire Rotation

Your tires rotate as you drive, but that’s not what “tire rotation” means. Rotation involves moving tires from one position on the car to another to ensure even wear across all four tires.

Vehicles with different-width tires on the front and rear, such as sports cars, can only rotate positions from side to side. Directional tires designed to roll in one direction, such as rain tires that channel water in a specific way, can only be moved front to back.

Let’s go over vehicles with equal-sized omnidirectional tires front and rear. These offer the largest number of rotation combinations.

Forward Cross

This rotation moves the front tires rearward on the same side while the rear tires move forward diagonally. Forward cross is a common technique for front-wheel-drive cars.

Rearward Cross

The rearward cross works best with rear-wheel-drive cars. The rear wheels move to the front on the same side while the front tires move diagonally to the rear.

X-Pattern

Four-wheel-drive vehicles benefit from this pattern, which moves all wheels diagonally. Signs that you need a tire rotation include:

  • Your tires are wearing unevenly
  • Your car shakes and vibrates
  • One tire is losing pressure more often than the others

While you can do tire rotation in your driveway, it’s a time-consuming process. If you don’t want to spend all afternoon loosening and tightening lug nuts, have your local shop handle it.

Alignment and Rotation Are Both Essential

Whatever the reason your car is pulling to one side and wearing out tires unevenly, you should deal with the problem soon. Take your vehicle to a skilled tech for an inspection; you may find out you need an alignment, a rotation, or both.

Summary: Your car needs tire rotations and tire alignments every now and then, but these processes are not the same. Tire rotation moves the tires to different locations on the vehicle, while tire alignment makes sure those tires are aimed straight.

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