Wheel Alignment Vs. Tire Rotation: What's The Difference

Wheel Alignment Vs. Rotation.. What’s The Difference?

You should know by now that I love talking about tires. I have taught you all about tire pressure, checking your tire treads, and even convinced you the importance of tire safety in the winter. So needles to say, I am back again with another article on tires! This time we talk realignment and rotations.

Your tires take a big hit during the winter. Not only do they have to deal with snow and ice, but they also have to deal with potholes. Yea you know what I mean. How many times have you hit a massive pothole, then a couple days later your car feels off? You take it in for a check-up and your mechanic asks if you want a rotation or realignment. Your face blanks, and you say…. both?!

Trust me, you aren’t the only one who has been in this situation. A wheel alignment and tire rotation are completely different and they cost totally different amounts. Which is why you should know what each one means so you are prepared the next time you have a check-up, or you hit another pothole 😉

Wheel Alignment Vs. Rotation.. What’s The Difference?

When your car feels shaky or uneven, odds are you could have a wheel or two out of whack. Sometimes, all four need to be aligned. Other times, you can get by with a tire rotation. I am here to teach you about each so you know which action should be taken! First, let’s talk wheel alignment.

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignment ensures optimal driving. When you hit potholes or go off-roading and your wheels get out of whack, you actually cause uneven tire wear. Over time, if nothing is fixed, unaligned wheels could affect your cars’ performance, steering wheel turning capabilities, and tire movement. Wheel alignment is basically the process of straightening your front tires to match up with your rear tires. Making sure there is a straight line between the two, on each side.

Your wheels are locked in pretty well so alignments shouldn’t happen all the time. However, if you feel your steering wheel pulling to one side, any form of heavy vibration while driving, or if you have any difficulties driving altogether, odds are you need an alignment (you can also check your tires from the rear and see if they are straight from back to front). Alignments are costly ( about $125 /tire) but worth it in the long run. They enhance the life of your tires, which means you shouldn’t have to buy new ones as frequently!

Tire Rotation

Tire rotation (also known as wheel/tire balancing) is completely different from an alignment. Rotations should be performed more frequently and are not as expensive. A tire rotation is when your mechanic, essentially, moves your tires from one position to another, creating even wear. You’ll know if you need a rotation because your car will shimmy side to side while driving. As you drive, the rubber on your tires will wear off which causes this imbalance. Because of this, you should get your tires rotated every 5,000-6,000 miles.

So, the next time your car feels off and you take it in to be looked at, you can explain to your mechanic whether you think you need a rotation or alignment! Don’t skip an alignment just because of the price, though. If you need a wheel alignment, then get it done ASAP. Trust me when I say it will be cheaper than replacing your tires completely!

Lastly, try to avoid those potholes! The less you drive over potholes the more healthy your tires will be in the long run 🙂

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Comments 10

  1. It really helped when you mentioned the key differences between a general wheel alignment and a simple tire rotation, since both may look similar but are very different processes–since wheel alignment ensures optimal driving while tire rotation is done whenever you’re out driving and the car starts swerving from side to side although you’re driving in a straight line along the road. Both are equally important processes since this ensures that the car would operate for much longer in a safer way as time goes by. If I had a Ferrari, I would make sure that the wheels are all aligned as well as checking the tires to see if they need to be rotated after some time.

  2. I’m happy that I know the difference between tire alignment and rotation now! You mentioned that if you feel a pulling to one side or the other, this means you need a tire alignment. This is how my car is! It almost makes a complete left turn when I let go of the wheel. I’ll start looking for an auto service in my area to help me fix this!

  3. Thanks for pointing out how wheel alignment will be able to prevent your tires from uneven wear. My son drives up the mountains regularly for his photography. His tires take a lot of abuse, so I will be sure to have it aligned frequently to make sure there will be no uneven tire wear on his vehicle.

  4. Thanks for differentiating the tire rotation from the wheel alignment and highlighting the importance of such maintenance. Tires are expensive components of the vehicle and hence needs suitable maintenance to last long. Wheel alignment and tire rotation some of the basic maintenance required to prolong the lifespan of the tire. Newbies often ignore the importance of tire rotation and wheel alignment which could cost them a lot. So, newbies should learn some of basic car maintenance tricks to keep their vehicle in working order.

  5. It’s good to learn what tire alignment actually is. I never knew, but now I know why my car pulls to one side. I’ll have to go in and get that fixed.

  6. Thanks for the information about wheels. I like how you said that wheel alignment provides you with optimal driving. My car pulls a little to the left, so maybe I should get that checked out.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Ridley,

      Thank you for discovering ChicMoto! I am glad you enjoyed the article 🙂 Sounds like, if it’s pulling to the left, it might be time to get it looked at. You could have hit a couple pot holes or a curb and slightly knocked your tires out of alignment.

      Cheers,
      Caroline

  7. It is very important that drivers get their wheels aligned to extend the the lives of their tires as much as possible. Tires,which have not been aligned properly are more are likely to be prone tire wear. And it leads to have change your tires soon. Which forces you to necessarily spend your money. Motorists will be able to tell if their wheels have not been aligned correctly when the vehicle will not move straight when the steering wheel is not being held. If this occurs, find a mechanic that can align your wheels as it could lead to some problems with your vehicle such as suspension and vibrations when you are driving. Please visit https://solomotorsports.net/wheels-tires-services/.

  8. hi caroline-
    I am having 2 tires replaced on my car. the front tires wore more than the rear so, the firestone tire shop is moving the rear to the front and im getting 2 new put on rear. However, I have front wheel drive so, is this the best proceedure?
    Also, ill have an alignment at this time with the new tires but, didn’t buy the lifetime alignment cause, i thought it was too expensive and from what i read, i dont need to align tires at every rotation.
    any advise you may have is appreciated.
    kay

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Kay,

      Thank you for discovering ChicMoto! To answer your questions, the Firestone tire shop mechanics were right to move the rear tires to the front. That is typical during a tire rotation and helps “rotate” your tires around so they get optimal wear and helps save you from buying four new tires. As long as your rear tires and front tires are the same you can rotate them when needed. You might also like my article on Wheel Drive to help better explain front wheel drive versus the others. Here is the link: https://chicmoto.com/wheel-drive/
      As far as an alignment is concerned, you should only have your tires aligned when they are new or if you go off-roading/drive over pot holes a lot. You will feel and can see when your tires need aligned. If you feel your car swaying (read this article on vibrations https://chicmoto.com/diagnosis-vibrating-vehicle/) then you probably need an alignment. Or, if you look at all four of your tires from the back end you should notice they sit in a straight line from front to rear. Look through the rear of your car at the inside of the tires; If you see one or two pointed in or out to much and not lining up with the rest, you probably hit a pot hole and would then need an alignment.
      But you definitely do not need an alignment with every rotation. Both you shouldn’t need often!
      Hope this helps 🙂

      Sincerely,
      Caroline

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