The wheel alignment for your car or truck is critical and can affect many different parts of the vehicle. Damage can occur to your front suspension, tires, and other parts of the vehicle if the alignment is off, and damage to those parts can become expensive to repair.
When the wheel alignment is off, the tires and wheels can start to lean in or out, and the wear on the tires will be uneven and may even cause damage to sidewalls or small sections of the tire tread that would typically not be exposed to the road surface directly.
As the tires wear, the handling can start to fall off, and the tire can become unsafe to drive on. When you take your car in for an alignment check, the technician doing the work will check the tires' condition. They will let you know if you have damage that makes replacing the tires critical or if the tires are okay to drive on for a while.
The wheel alignment is sometimes off because of wear in the front suspension system, and other times the wear in the system causes the change in the alignment. To determine if there is any issue in the front suspension, the technician will inspect the ball joints, tie rods and ends, shocks, struts, and other parts of the front system to determine if any of the parts need to be replaced.
Often, if there is a damaged part, it can be tough to determine if the part failure caused the alignment issue or if the alignment caused the part to wear, but the solution is the same. The tech will replace the worn or damaged parts, and then they can reset the car or truck's wheel alignment to improve the handling and safety of the vehicle.
Altering the Alignment
There are some times when the wheel alignment on a vehicle is altered intentionally. Often cars or trucks with suspension systems that are changed from stock require changes in the alignment to keep the vehicle handling in spec with the changes.
Four-wheel drive trucks are a common example of a vehicle that requires some adjustments to the alignment. Once a suspension lift it put on the truck, a lot of the angles in the steering and suspension change, so the tech will need to adjust the alignment to bring those angles back into specs so that the truck will drive like the manufacturer designed it to, but with larger tires and a taller suspension.
Performance cars that sit low to the ground can use similar tactics to bring a lowered suspension back to specs, but the adjustments will be a little different to achieve the right alignment.