Is Wheel Alignment the Same as Tracking?

Your wheels are what keep you moving. If something goes wrong, the consequences can be severe so it’s important to address the problem as soon as it occurs. Beyond the dreaded flat tyre, there’s countless other potential issues you might find with your wheels.

For instance, wheel alignment, tracking and balancing. It’s common for people to confuse these terms, assuming they all mean the same thing. Yet, each has a different meaning. So, if you’re grappling with tyre issues, seeking expert advice is key to finding the right solutions. Let’s figure out the difference, so that you can go into the garage more informed.

Is There a Difference Between Wheel Alignment and Tracking?

To put it simply, yes. But not much. While on the face of it, these two services might seem like the same thing, there’s a few minor details that make them slightly different, and it mostly comes down to old terminology vs. new!

Wheel Tracking

What is tracking in car maintenance? Well, ‘tracking’ is a term used to describe the process of aligning your vehicle’s wheels to the correct position according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Way back when, cars only had two adjustable front wheels and a fixed axle for the back ones, f ‘tracking’ would mean aligning the front wheels to ensure they were parallel and correctly oriented, while the rear wheels, which couldn’t be adjusted, simply followed the direction set by the front wheels.

Fast forward to 2024, modern vehicles usually allow for adjustments on every wheel, improving the alignment process all-round. Today, when people mention ‘tracking,’ they are usually referring to just wheel alignment.

Wheel Alignment

So, with technology and cars advancing quickly, mechanics can now align all four wheels, rather than just the front two. Nowadays, four-wheel alignment is standard practice for most modern cars.

After a thorough four-wheel alignment, you’ll be able to drive down the motorways in a straight line without veering to the left or right. Plus, your tyres will wear down evenly, meaning that you won’t have to arrange random tyre replacements here and there.

Wheel Balancing

Wheel balancing is a completely different process to alignment (or tracking, whatever you’d like to call it), but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

Wheel balancing is pretty much what the name says on the tin, it’s balancing the wheels so that the wheel and tyre spin evenly. To do this, balance weights are carefully applied to both the inside and outside of the rims to keep the weight evenly distributed.

Unbalanced wheels can cause noticeable vibrations that increase with speed, which you’ll feel through the steering wheel. These vibrations can lead to excessive wear on various parts of your car, such as the suspension, wheel bearings, and the tyres themselves. It’ll lead to bald patches on the rubber and this could result in tyres that are actually not legal to drive.

To prevent these issues, a wheel balancing assessment can be conducted to identify any weight imbalances. If an imbalance is detected, the small balancing weights will be added.

How Do I Know If My Wheels Are Out of Alignment?

If you’ve noticed your vehicle pulling or drifting to one side, it’s likely that your tyres have started doing their own thing. Handling issues while driving are a common indicator; your steering wheel may feel difficult to control or may start to turn in one direction, causing your vehicle to veer left or right. Additionally, uneven tyre wear and unsteady braking are key signs that your wheels may be out of alignment.

There’s a lot of warning signs, so if you spot or feel anything slightly unusual, it’s important to get it checked out immediately.

How Do I Know If My Tyres Are Unbalanced?

A vibrating feeling through the steering wheel, or even the entire car, at certain speeds is a clear sign that your wheels may be unbalanced. This not only leads to uncomfortable driving but can also cause premature wear on your tires, suspension, and steering components.

Why Are My Tyres Misaligned or Unbalanced?

Several factors can lead to tyre misalignment. Normal wear and tear, driving over potholes or rough terrain, hitting curbs, or even minor accidents can throw your wheels out of alignment. Over time, these factors can gradually shift the position of your tyres, affecting their alignment and causing handling issues.

Unbalanced wheels result from uneven weight distribution around the rim. This can occur naturally over time as tyres wear down or due to improper tyre installation.

Keeping You On the Move

To ensure your tyres stay aligned and balanced, it’s essential to schedule regular maintenance checks.

Getting your tyres inspected by a professional at least once a year, or more frequently if you notice any signs of misalignment or imbalance, can help prevent premature wear and tear.

Book in at your local branch