Winter Roads Mean Spring Problems For Your Vehicle
Record snowfall in many areas, plus torrential rains and floods have created hazards for drivers in all regions of the country. As a result, roadways have taken the brunt of the damage–creating serious problems for your vehicle.
As snow and ice begin to melt, what is often revealed is a landmine of potholes and divots to avoid. Hitting a pothole, even at low speeds, can be damaging for your tires and also affect your car’s handling and alignment. While drivers make the effort to avoid potholes, oftentimes they are unavoidable.
The biggest issue from improper tire alignment is uneven tread wear. When a car’s suspension system doesn’t have the correct alignment, tires do not make even contact with the road. Thus, tread will wear more on one side than the other. This causes faster wear and tear, plus steering issues.
As a general rule of thumb, your wheels need to be aligned every 10,000 miles. But if you’ve encountered potholes or have hit a curb, immediate attention to your car’s alignment may be necessary. Other causes of misalignment include a minor vehicle collision, bad shocks and struts or other suspension parts.
What is alignment?
When talking about your vehicle’s wheel alignment, there are three main components that are looked at: camber, toe and caster alignment.
Each one of these reveals how evenly the tires are worn. If there is uneven tread wear, it will decrease the lifespan of your tires due to a higher potential for bursts or leaks in overly worn areas.
The camber refers to how the wheel is positioned vertically, looking at the inward or outward tilt of the tires. A tilt in either direction, may indicate parts in the suspension system that should be replaced.
Toe alignment refers to the direction your car’s front wheels are angled (in relation to the center of the car). This essentially means wheels that are parallel with each other have zero toe angle.
Caster alignment is the angle between the wheel and your vehicle’s suspension. It affects the angle and position of the steering axis.
Your vehicle and potholes
So, you hit a pothole, now what? How do you know if your car is out of alignment?
The symptoms below might indicate poor alignment. If you do have any of the stated issues, it’s probably time for an alignment service.
1. Your steering wheel is not straight
When driving on a flat road, check to see if your wheel is centered and straight. If it isn’t, this could mean your wheels aren’t aligned correctly and thus your car’s alignment is off.
2. Your vehicle is drifting or pulling
If your car feels almost like it has a mind of its own, like it’s drifting or pulling in a certain direction, then the alignment needs to be corrected. If your car keeps pulling in the same direction when you’re not actively holding the steering wheel in place, chances are you need a wheel alignment.
3. Vibrating steering wheel
Does your steering wheel feel like it’s shaking or vibrating? While there are several reasons why your steering wheel is shaking, the most common issue is the wheels are out of alignment. It could also be an issue with the suspension. Suspension components, especially in older cars, can come loose causing a vibration when driving.
4. Driving feels loose or unstable
You know you have an alignment issue if when handling your vehicle it feels loose or unstable as you take turns or even drive straight.
5. You hear noises.
Listen closely, if you hear squeaking, creaking, knocking, or rubbing when you start driving or go around corners, this may be a sign of steering and suspension issues. These noises come when the tires are dragged on the road instead of rolling on the road. If you hear these sounds and noises, consider it a cry for help from your car.
6. Check your tires
It’s a good idea to inspect your tires immediately after hitting a pothole to check for damage. Look to see if there is a bulge on the tire sidewall or bent wheel rims. The best way to avoid major tire damage when hitting a pothole is driving with properly inflated tires that are in good condition.
Why get an alignment check?
If you suspect your car’s wheel alignment is off, it is best to schedule an appointment with your local car professional. They will determine if your car needs an alignment by doing specific tests and looking under your vehicle.
Depending on your car’s suspension, there is one of three different types of alignment your mechanic will perform–front-end alignment, thrust-alignment and four-wheel alignment.
- A front-end alignment is the most basic type of alignment. This alignment adjusts the front axle and isn’t always recommended on newer cars.
- The thrust alignment combines a front-end alignment with a thrust alignment to ensure all four wheels are squared with one another. This type of alignment is usually recommended for vehicles with a solid rear axle.
- A four-wheel alignment is typically used for 4-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles, plus front-wheel drive cars with adjustable/independent rear suspensions. It is a comprehensive alignment that combines elements of the front-end and thrust-angle alignments. It also positions the rear axle angles.
Prevent alignment problems
Sometimes potholes and other are unavoidable, so remember to keep these things in mind when you encounter one:
- Stay alert while driving and keep an eye out for hazards. Some can be avoided.
- Check your tire pressure. Low tires handle poorly and a sudden run-in with a pothole may cause it to rupture.
- Have a clean windshield so you can clearly see any hazards ahead.
- Reduce your speed. Driving over potholes, even at low speeds, can cause damage to your car other than just alignment issues including bent wheels, tire damage, or shock and strut problems.
- Always have control of your vehicle and know “exit routes” to get out of potential danger.
- Keep your eye out for puddles. You never know how deep they might be and there might be a deep pothole lurking underneath.
- Also avoiding big puddles will help to prevent a wave of water that splash your windshield, compromising your visibility.
- If you hit a pothole, do a visual check for any damage. Look for harm to the rim or a deflation in the tire as well as any damage to the rubber sidewalls.
Other Important March Reminders
- Inspect your tires for wear, bulges and scrapes. If you see any problems, have your service advisor take a look. Tires with bulges must be replaced immediately as they could lead to a blow out.
- Do you use winter tires? If so, March is a good time to swap out your winter tires for a set of all-season treads. Warm temperatures will decrease the lifespan of the soft treads of winter tires.
- Listen for squeaks and squeals. It could be a sign that your vehicle needs new brake pads.
- Check for leaks underneath your car. Severe winter weather may have caused cracks in fluid lines that could cause damage to power steering and brakes.
- Wiper blades get hit hard in the winter. Replace them to properly wipe away springtime rain, pollen and dirt.
- To make sure your car is properly filtering outside spring allergens, have the cabin air filter replaced.
- Fix any windshield chips and cracks that occurred during winter to avoid an expensive window replacement.
- Apply a water repellent treatment to vehicle windshield and windows to prevent spring rains from clinging to your car’s glass surfaces.