Tire Alignment vs. Rotation: What’s the Difference

It’s easy for drivers to assume that because they brought their car or truck in for a tire rotation, that also suffices as an alignment. Many don’t really know the difference between the two and how each procedure affects their vehicle’s performance. Without both proper tire alignment and rotation, the abnormal wear and tear on your tires can lead to poor gas mileage, grip problems, safety issues, and more.

What Is Tire Rotation?

Tire rotation does a lot to keep your tires wearing evenly. It just means moving the tires from one location to another on your vehicle. All automobiles are designed to have a different amount of weight on the front and back, meaning the front and back tires will wear down unevenly if they aren’t rotated from one position to another. Your tires will also wear out sooner.

To balance out the weight loads, your mechanic will move your front tires to the back and back tires to the front during a tire rotation. Usually, this should be done every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, but your owner’s manual will have the manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular vehicle. Tires are often rotated at the same time as an oil change.

Some signs of needing a tire rotation are:

  • Add your content…One or more tires lose pressure faster than the others.
  • Treads are wearing out at different rates.
  • You feel vibration when driving, especially down the highway.

What Is Alignment?

Alignment has to do with your vehicle’s suspension system, which is what connects the wheels to the automobile. Suspension systems are designed to create a smooth, comfortable ride, but abuse from the road can cause problems. Potholes and rough conditions can throw it out of alignment, as can aged springs. Aged springs can change the ride height, which alters the alignment geometry.

Some signs of your alignment being off are:

  • Crooked steering wheel
  • Vehicle drifting or pulling to one side
  • Uneven tire wear

When a mechanic or technician makes adjustments to your car’s suspension system, that’s an alignment. It doesn’t adjust the tires themselves, just their angles to change how they contact the road. There are three things the mechanic may adjust to properly align your tires:

Toe — This changes how greatly the tires turn inward and outward when viewed from above.

Camber — This is the inward or outward tilt of the tires when viewed from the front.

Caster — This is the steering axis angle when viewed from the side of the vehicle.

With these three things adjusted properly, your car, truck, or SUV will drive straight instead of pulling.

Keeping Your Vehicle Healthy

Making tire rotation a part of your regular maintenance is a good idea. Your owner’s manual will have the exact recommendations for your vehicle, but, as stated, a general rule is every 6,000 to 8,000 miles.

By contrast, the alignment only needs to be done when you believe your vehicle has come out of alignment. Alignment needs will change depending on where you drive and how often. It’s also recommended to perform an alignment when you buy new tires.

Photo by Nejron from getty images via Canva Pro

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