Every so often, car owners are faced with the task of replacing their shocks and strut assemblies to ensure proper ride height and maximum ride comfort. While knowing when to replace your struts is easy enough thanks to manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedules, one question almost always pops up—do you need an alignment after replacing shocks and struts?
A quick online search will show you just how much experts and enthusiasts are divided on this topic. In this article, we’ll try to make sense of these varying opinions and come up with a better answer for confused vehicle owners.
Should You Get an Alignment After Getting New Shocks and Struts?
The short answer is—it depends on the type of suspension your car has. On some vehicles, the installation of new shocks and struts may affect your car’s wheel alignment. However, there are some instances where alignment is not required after replacing the struts.
There are many different suspension designs in use today. Most modern cars use either a MacPherson strut or a modified strut front suspension (some also have struts in the rear). Because struts not only dampen spring oscillations but also serve as a structural part of the suspension, replacement almost always warrants an alignment check.
In general, you’re less likely to need an alignment after replacing shocks. But there are exceptions to that generalization. For example, most automakers recommend performing an alignment on cars that use a short/long-arm front suspension (the design houses the shock inside the spring).
Furthermore, it’s more common to need an alignment after replacing the front struts/shocks than those in the rear. Though once again, there are exceptions to that rule of thumb.
Consulting the factory repair information for your application is the best way to determine whether your car needs an alignment after shock/strut replacement. You can also contact your local dealership service department for the answer.
There’s one more thing that you should keep in mind—any suspension modification will automatically require a subsequent alignment to be performed. For example, replacing coil springs on a strut affects ride height, which has a direct effect on the camber angle.
If you’re simply reusing the old coil springs, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you are replacing it with a different spring that has a longer or shorter coil, a wheel alignment would be imperative.
To sum it up, here are the answers to the question—do you need an alignment after replacing shocks and struts?
- Yes, if the vehicle manufacturer recommends an alignment after replacement.
- Yes, if you did any suspension modifications that do not follow manufacturer recommendations.
- Yes, if you are replacing your tires at the same time.
If you’re still unsure, you can always err on the side of caution and take your vehicle to a professional so they can check whether an alignment is required.
How Often Should You Get Wheel Alignment?
Wheel alignment is not included in most auto manufacturers’ maintenance programs. Instead, alignment checks are recommended on an as-needed basis. This is precisely why most car owners are left second-guessing when they should get their wheels aligned.
Here are some guidelines that can help you determine whether it’s time to ask your mechanic for a wheel alignment:
Annually, depending on road conditions
You should get your wheel alignment checked once a year if you regularly drive on uneven/pothole-ridden roads or if you’ve frequently hit curbs with your vehicle.
After a vehicle collision
It is strongly recommended to have your vehicle alignment checked after being involved in a road accident. You should have a mechanic perform this check, especially after a forward collision wherein your wheel and suspension system may have taken a hit.
After getting new tires installed
The best time to get an alignment is after replacing your tires. Most tire repair shops will automatically perform an alignment after installing new tires on your vehicle.
What are the Signs That You Need an Alignment?
Diagnosing wheel alignment problems can be hard without the equipment that you’d find in your mechanic’s garage. However, there are some signs that you can look out for, which are commonly linked to wheel alignment issues.
Car pulls to one side while driving
This is the most common sign of poor wheel alignment. It is often caused by driving over a pothole or hitting the curb.
Steering wheel feels off-center
If it takes more effort to keep your vehicle moving straight, chances are, you have a problem with the wheel alignment.
Uneven tire wear
Bad wheel alignment can cause one side of the wheel to wear down faster than the other. To check for this, simply run your hand over the tire’s surface while your vehicle is parked.
Note that problems with the suspension and steering systems may present similar symptoms to poor wheel alignment. To accurately diagnose your vehicle, it is best to seek the help of a certified mechanic so that any similar issues could be ruled out.