The Difference Between Tire Rotations and Wheel Alignment

Like the shoes on our feet, the tires and wheels on our vehicles protect us from direct contact with the ground. And like those shoes we wear day in and day out, tires and wheels can rub, wear unevenly, and eventually fail to perform. That’s why tire rotations and wheel alignments are important parts of vehicle maintenance; staying on top of these services means a vehicle can reach its maximum level of performance and safety. But while the end result of rotations and alignments is identical, there are some important differences between the two procedures.

Tire Rotation

Tire rotations are necessary to ensure even wear on all vehicles’ tires. The act of driving throws a car’s load around, leaving unique erosion patterns on each tire. Uneven tread wear can develop from incorrect wheel alignment or over- or under-inflation of the tires. Whether you have front-wheel, rear-wheel, or four-wheel drive can make a difference too.

To combat the inevitable tread wear, you have to rotate your tires to different locations on your vehicle. Since the rotation pattern is dependent on factors like tire type and to which wheels power is sent, your technician will shift those tires around in a specific order so they wear evenly.

By rotating your tires, your vehicle’s breaking will also be more enhance, thus more effective; and the handling will be more balanced. Evenly worn tires also equate to a better ride, with increased traction and better gas mileage. They’ll just last longer. With the tread wear staying even across the whole tire, you’ll be able to increase the tires lifetime.

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignments are necessary to keep a vehicle driving predictable. Wheels can become misaligned for a number of reasons; including natural wear on the parts or a run-in with a pothole that results in suspension damage.

There are several indicators when your wheels are out of alignment:

  • The vehicle feels as though it’s pulling to the left or right instead of straight ahead.
  • The tires show uneven wear.
  • The steering wheel is off center.
  • A vibrations felt in the vehicle or through the steering wheel at speed.

Keeping those wheels aligned provides a number of benefits for your vehicle. You’ll notice improved handling and fuel mileage, tire wear will be reduced, and so will steering column wear. You may want to check that tire warranty. Does it require you to get your wheels aligned within a certain time frame? There is no need to void a warranty on such a basic maintenance item.

Maintenance Differences

Tire rotations are a regular maintenance item and wheel alignments are only needed as a repair. Easy enough, right?

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Marcus Simmons, ASE Certified
Phone: (248) 461-6977