Recommendations for wheel alignment schedules can vary from a few years to once or twice every year. Some shops may recommend adjusting your alignment when changing your tires or oil, for example. Every driver will need to decide what's best for their vehicle, but more frequent wheel alignments will not do any harm and can help reduce wear on suspension components, steering parts, and tires.
However, certain situations call for having your alignment checked even if you aren't ready to check that box off your maintenance schedule. If your vehicle has experienced one of these three situations, it may be wise to check and adjust your alignment.
1. After Off-Road Adventures
If you use your vehicle off-road, you already know that trails are typically much more challenging than smooth city streets. Off-road trails expose your vehicle to jarring bumps and bangs, even if you try to take it slow and easy. Since most alignment issues develop due to suspension component play, this constant rattling can cause your alignment to drift.
It's unnecessary to check your alignment after every off-road adventure, but it's worth scheduling more frequent checkups if off-road routes are frequently part of your weekend plans. In these cases, it's probably a good idea to check your alignment at least twice a year and never wait if you notice unusual vibrations, drifting, or other symptoms.
2. After Hitting a Bad Pothole
The yearly cost of pothole damage is shockingly high, and it's not just your tires and wheels that can suffer from an impact. A rough encounter with a pothole can damage suspension components, throw your steering out of whack, and cause any number of other severe issues. At a minimum, the sudden jarring force is likely to result in some alignment problems.
It's always a good idea to check your tires carefully after hitting a pothole. Avoid driving if you spot any noticeable damage. Likewise, pay attention to how your car handles afterward. If you notice any problems, it's time to have your alignment checked.
3. After Replacing Suspension Components
On modern cars, replacing struts or other suspension components usually means that you'll need an alignment. The new parts could cause your previous alignment to no longer keep your car tracking straight. Performing an alignment after replacing suspension components is cheap insurance that may prevent excessive tire wear or other issues.
In general, you shouldn't have any significant issues as long as you remember to check your vehicle's alignment on a regular schedule. However, it's also critical to perform an alignment when you encounter any situation that can throw off your wheel geometry. Recognizing these situations can help keep your car driving straight and prevent premature damage to your tires and suspension.