When a car is new, drivers often describe it as being effortless to steer and control. A similar experience can occur in an older vehicle when drivers have just had new tires and a wheel alignment done. But as time passes and wear increases on the car's tires, brakes, and steering and suspension systems, drivers soon begin to notice that more effort is needed to steer the car.
If the wear issues are advanced, drivers may even find that they need to oversteer to keep the car safely in its lane, especially at higher rates of speed. Drivers who are noticing any steering difficulties should immediately suspect a worsening wheel alignment problem is developing, especially if any of the following conditions also apply.
Uneven tire wear
One of the most noticeable signs that a car's wheels have become misaligned is uneven tire wear. When a car's wheels are properly aligned, drivers should expect tire wear to be gradual and look similar on all four tires. When alignment issues are present, however, drivers often notice that the tread on the inside edges of the front tires begins to wear out at a much faster rate than the rest of the tire. When running their hand along the worn surface, drivers may notice roughened areas, or cupping, that further indicates a serious wheel alignment issue has occurred.
Unusual noises and vibrations
As wheel alignment issues develop and wear on tires and steering components worsens, drivers often notice unusual vibrations and noises, even when the road appears smooth and free of bumps or surface debris capable of causing the problem. These symptoms of poor wheel alignment usually become noticeable when alignment issues are advanced and the tires are no longer held in their proper positions.
Noises, vibrations, and increased difficulty in steering a vehicle can occur when wheel misalignment begins to exert pressure on the car's camber, toe, and caster positions. When functioning correctly, the car's camber holds the wheel in a vertical position to assist in proper steering. If the camber becomes negative, making the wheels appear to tilt out at the bottom, or positive, making the wheels appear to tilt out at the top, both steering issues and vibrations are common.
The wheels can also toe-in or toe-out and develop negative or positive caster positions, making it more difficult to steer and increasing the amount of noise made by the tires when driven. Drivers who have found evidence of uneven tire wear or are experiencing increasing difficulty in steering their vehicle should take it to a local auto repair or wheel alignment service to be evaluated and repaired.