Imagine you’re out on a long drive in the countryside, and suddenly the car starts drifting to the right even though you’re driving it straight.
That’s the last thing you would want, right? At the core of the problem is the misalignment of the car wheels, which can cause such situations not once but multiple times. And that can put your and your close ones’ safety at stake.
So, if you’re facing similar issues with your vehicle, it’s a must to get a wheel alignment done at the earliest. That said, the time taken for such a crucial procedure is one of the first questions that may crop up in your mind.
Can it take days, or is it just a matter of hours before your car is ready for the next drive? Moreover, what does the procedure comprise? Go ahead and read this guide for all the answers.
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How Long Does An Alignment Take?
To understand how long does an alignment take, you’ll need to be clear about quite a few things beforehand. These include the procedure involved, how it impacts the performance of a vehicle, some technical details, and more. But let’s start with the basics.
The Wheel Alignment Procedure – An Overview
Firstly, you should know that aligning wheels implies adjusting the suspension system connected to them and not the wheels themselves. That’s why you’ll need to adjust the tire angles that determine how they make contact with the road.
Long story short, a proper wheel alignment ensures full contact between the car wheels and road, ensuring that the vehicle moves in the intended direction. Here’s how you’ll have to proceed to align the wheels correctly.
Preparation And Check-ups
At the start, you should prepare the wheels and adjoining parts for the procedure. Begin by determining the air pressure in each tire. Notably, the pressure of the wheels should be in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
You’ll also have to check for any cracks in the wheels or unevenness in their shape. And most importantly, the tire should be of standard quality and should come with a recent date of production.
In addition, it’s essential to check the parts of the suspension system to make sure all of them are in order. Any uneven tire wear might impact the efficacy of the wheel alignment.
Start off by hooking the vehicle with a computerized wheel alignment machine and locking the steering wheel at the center. Then, apply the brake pedal with the help of specialized tools.
Next, you’ll have to hook measuring tools in each wheel to record each wheel angle as displayed on the computer screen. Those readings will form the basis of adjusting the angles correctly.
The Wheel Angles
To make things clearer for you, here’s a brief look at each of the wheel angles that need to be adjusted during an alignment:
This is the angle between the vertical axis of the wheel and that of the vehicle when you’re viewing the latter from the front.
Over time, this angle might be altered when the wheel is more inclined on the vertical axis due to failure of the ball joints or bearings. And the result is a camber misalignment, which you need to adjust to align the wheels.
Identified through a side view of the vehicle, the caster angle is the angle between the vertical axis of the wheel and the steering axis. That said, it ensures proper balance in the steering, cornering, and stability of the car.
The toe angle refers to the displacement of the wheels from their longitudinal axis when the car is viewed from above. As such, if the wheels are angled outward or inward, you’ll need to adjust them.
The Time Taken For An Alignment
As you can see, the wheel or car alignment procedure is pretty exhaustive, and you’ll need to pay equal attention to the smallest of details throughout the process. This makes it essential to consider the time taken in each phase of the procedure.
That said, the alignment procedure will differ based on the part of the tire suspension system that needs adjustment. So, the time taken will be different in each of these cases:
As the term suggests, this method involves a front-end alignment or, in other words, a check-up and adjustment of the only vehicle front. That said, car mechanics can technically conduct the alignment of just the rear tires if the customer calls for it.
Though this procedure is quicker than more comprehensive alignments, it will still typically take 30 minutes or longer. That’s because the setup and other preparations for the process can take quite some time initially. Plus, the parts need to be dismantled after the alignment is done.
Between the set-up and tear-down of the entire procedure, the alignment can be expected to take 15-20 minutes alone. Hence, the assumption that two-wheel alignments are time-saving isn’t justified after all.
But then, why is it that most people prefer to go for only two-wheel alignments? Actually, most vehicle repair shops only offer this alignment service since it’s faster on average and hence can be completed for more cars throughout the day.
On that note, some shops might have alignment machines that can only carry out two-wheel alignments and don’t have the provisions for measuring the rear components of vehicles.
This tire alignment procedure is the most comprehensive among the three types and involves the adjustment of all four wheels of the car. In fact, the procedure is the same for larger vehicles, such as trucks with six wheels. In simple words, it means the alignment is adjusted on the rear and front parts of the car.
Coming to the time taken for the procedure, you can expect it to be around 30 minutes to one hour. But note that this doesn’t include the time spent on suspension work, including altering any damaged parts like the steering bushing, centric groove, or ball joint.
Also, in some cases, it might take more than an hour based on a few factors, which we’ll discuss later in the article.
But despite being a lengthier procedure, the four-wheel alignment is worth the time. After all, it will allow you to make the most of your suspension system and will rule out any faults in this regard.
The other type of vehicle alignment is a quick toe adjustment of the front end only. Thus, vehicle repair shops may find this type suitable if you are short of time and the toe angle of the front wheels is not aligned correctly.
Such alignments can be completed in as little as 15-20 minutes and are often known as “toe-n-go.” That said, it’s always better to go for a two-wheel or four-wheel alignment if time permits to ensure the maximum efficiency of your vehicle.
Factors Affecting The Time Taken
As we mentioned above, a few significant factors can affect the duration of the wheel alignment process. So, let’s have a close look at each of these factors to see how they can make the process slower or faster.
Condition of The Components To Be Adjusted
Notably, newer vehicles are simpler to align and adjust since their components are in better condition. For instance, such a vehicle will have newer nuts and bolts that probably won’t come with any rust. On the other hand, older vehicles may have rusted fixtures and sleeves, making them tricky to work with.
So, if the vehicle is in poor condition and the technicians are afraid that any component may come off while at work, they’ll have to take additional measures beforehand.
Moreover, they might have to break such components loose by heating them using a WD-40 lubricant or a torch. This added step will naturally take more time and effort, thereby lengthening the process further.
Type Of The Vehicle You’re Repairing
The vehicle type is undoubtedly the most crucial factor in this regard, as the overall structure and the wheels used will be different for each type. Thus, a one-ton diesel pickup truck equipped with 35” tires will take longer to align than a coupe or sedan with standard 15-17” wheels.
Another point worth noting here is that newly-launched vehicles can be faster to adjust than those introduced on the market earlier. For instance, a 2018 edition Honda Civic is quite simple to set up and can be aligned by adjusting the toe.
On the other hand, a 2001 edition Ford F-250 might take longer to set up, and the components for adjustment might be hidden behind the frame and larger suspension parts.
The Technician’s Experience
Another important factor affecting the duration of the alignment procedure is the expertise and experience of the technician. Note that it’s an essential point to consider not just for vehicle alignment but any other service you’re planning to get done for your vehicle.
If a technician is experienced at handling several issues in different types of vehicles, they can finish the job much faster. As such, an ASE-certified professional is likely to pull off a wheel alignment job in 30 minutes or less. And they won’t need assistance or struggle to complete it correctly.
However, an alignment and lube technician might take longer for the vehicle set-up, deciding the tools, locating the components, and making the adjustments. That’s why the entire alignment procedure for the same vehicle can take 60-90 minutes for such a technician.
How Do You Know If Your Car Needs An Alignment?
Some signs will help you know whether you really require an alignment or not. Firstly, you might notice the car bending to the right or left while driving straight.
Another significant sign is when you hear a loud noise while driving at a greater speed. Apart from this, you might experience steering wheel vibrations, and the vehicle may drift in the wrong direction while you’re taking a corner.
How Much Will A Car Alignment Cost?
On average, you will have to pay around $200 for a four-wheel alignment. But the cost will depend on quite a few factors, such as the car model and the complexity of the suspension system. It will also vary based on whether other repairs or adjustments are needed before the procedure.
Plus, an alignment made using a modern wheel alignment machine will cost more, but it can help in faster and more accurate jobs.
Hopefully, you can now estimate the time it will take to get your car wheels aligned. So, go ahead and book an appointment with a reliable car repair shop and get it done as soon as possible. Undertaking the task on your own is also an option, provided you have worked on the car before and have the tools needed for the job.
And before we wrap things up, we’d like to share a pro tip that can help ensure the maximum efficacy of the procedure. Performing a test drive before and after the alignment is a must to identify the real problem with the wheels and confirm the success of the procedure respectively.