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I am replacing the front struts on my Honda Civic. It seems 100% of the people online advise that this repair necessitates an alignment of some kind. Aside from the repair I'm performing to the front struts, are there any signs that an alignment is needed? I've seen people talking about uneven tread ware, but is there anything that I can diagnose from driving the car myself as to whether or not an alignment is needed and what kind of alignment is needed?

Some people say pull or the wheel being off-center, of the different types of alignments do these symptoms and others indicate a specific one of them being off?

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  • Under/over-steer when turning left/right is a big giveaway. Jan 7 at 11:56

2 Answers 2

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These are symptoms of alignment problems:

  1. Car pulling to one side or wandering.
  2. Squealing around corners.
  3. Wheels not straightening after curves or cornering.

You may have no symptoms at all other than rapid or irregular tire wear and still have alignment problems. The only way to know is to have it checked by an alignment machine. Some people do it themselves by using measuring methods, but my opinion is checking alignment is best done by machines designed for that purpose.

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  • Totally agree. You can hand measure for alignments, but the machine is the only way to really be sure and even then only IF the mechanic really knows how to use the machine properly. Jan 6 at 15:04
  • Turn the wheel hard to right or left and backup. If the car hops backwards, you have a problem and need to get them aligned.
    – boatcoder
    Jan 7 at 3:17
  • Most tyre places, at least where I live, will do the check for free (on the assumption that you'll then pay them to adjust if needed), and will give you a printout of the numbers.
    – Nick C
    Jan 7 at 18:01
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If you have replaced the front struts in most modern cars, you will have disconnected one or more components that control the alignment, such as tie rods or control arms (depending on the vehicle). Reattaching these in precisely the same position is almost impossible (although you can get pretty close), and that's assuming your alignment was 100% correct before replacing the struts.

is there anything that I can diagnose ... as to whether or not an alignment is needed and what kind of alignment is needed?

If you replaced the front struts, an alignment is needed.

You may not suffer any significant short term symptoms from not getting one, but you will have additional wear and tear on the car (particularly suspension and tires) and handling may suffer.

Significant alignment problems will show up as things such as the steering wheel being misaligned, or noticeable pull one direction or another. Other strange handling characteristics (taken with a general knowledge or assessment of the condition of the car to rule out other causes) can also point to an alignment issue, but these vary and it would be hard to pinpoint a specific thing to look for. (More of a question of "does it handle differently after the repair?")

If you don't have noticeable handling issues, you may be fine driving your car for a while until it's convenient to get an alignment (as opposed to taking it directly to a shop after the repair), but be aware if things are misaligned you could be causing damage. (I personally would probably feel comfortable doing this for a few weeks if everything felt fine, but your risk is your own.)

As to what kind of alignment is needed, these days a shop with modern equipment will put devices on all four wheels that reflect at various angles into sensors and they will tell you whether you need an alignment on all four wheels. However, if you know that your alignment is already 100% correct before the repair, you don't need to worry about the back wheels when replacing the front struts only.

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