Wheel alignment – also known as tracking – is something you can get done at Walmart. The cost is reasonable, and it’s imperative to have this checked regularly.
You, or a mechanic, should check the wheel alignment whenever your car has any work done on the suspension. This work would include tires, struts, shocks, the steering system, wheel balancing, and so on. You should also check it every year or every 10,000 miles.
You may not have known much about wheel alignment. It’s often not talked about that much. So, what is wheel alignment? Why do you need it? And how much does wheel alignment cost at Walmart?
In this article, I will attempt to answer the above questions.
Before we even get started, you should know that not all Walmart Auto Care Centers offer wheel alignment services. It can’t hurt to phone them up and ask. Get a quote while you’re on the phone, too.
Otherwise, let’s get started.
- What Is Wheel Alignment?
- Why Do I Need It?
- Wheel Alignment Cost at Walmart
- Common Wheel Alignment Questions
- Ball Joint Replacement Cost – Symptoms, And How To Replace
- Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost And All You Need To Know About It
What Is Wheel Alignment?
Let’s start with the basics. If you’re already familiar with all this, keep on scrolling down to the section “Does Walmart Do Wheel Alignment?“.
Wheel alignment is, quite simply, making sure the wheels are aligned. It might sound silly – of course, the wheels are all aligned; they’re all pointing straight ahead… right?
To the naked eye, yes. That’s undoubtedly true. However, when we start getting into minute details and angles, wheels can often become a couple of degrees out. They might point in towards the center of the car slightly or out towards the edges. We’ll look at why you might need your car’s wheel alignment adjusting in a moment.
We can define wheel alignment as adjusting the angles and directions in which your tires point.
The process of wheel alignment is usually done using one of two methods.
How Is Wheel Alignment Done?
These two standard methods are laser measuring devices and Bluetooth measuring devices.
They both work in similar ways.
Bluetooth alignment is seen as the modern, updated version of laser alignment. It certainly is more accurate (when done correctly). However, laser works just fine too. I am most familiar with laser alignment machines, but neither are particularly complicated to use.
Bluetooth Wheel Alignment
Bluetooth wheel alignment works by using, you guessed it, Bluetooth. The results from each wheel are shown live on a connected computer screen. These readings allow the mechanic to make adjustments and see the results in realtime.
Please take a look at the above YouTube video from Absolute Wheel Alignment to see how it works.
These machines are accurate to within 0.1mm, as long as the setup is correct.
Laser Wheel Alignment
Traditionally, mechanics used laser machines for wheel alignment.
These use lasers to measure the alignment of the wheels accurately. They work in much the same way as Bluetooth alignment. However, rather than the results appearing on a computer screen, a laser shines on the measuring piece. This reading is what is used for wheel alignment.
Laser alignment is accurate to about 1mm. This is still pretty good, but not quite so up there as Bluetooth alignment.
For most people, it still does the job. However, for the most accurate results possible, Bluetooth is undeniably the current way forward.
Wheel Alignment Process
We will use front wheel alignment as an example. There are other types – for instance, four-wheel alignment.
First, the mechanic drives the car onto the four-post ramp, and the parking brake is applied. They will then put turn plates underneath the front tires and angle the steering wheel, so it is as straight as visually possible, and then it’s clamped in place.
After this, they switch the engine off, and the mechanic gets out of the car.
Devices are placed flat against the front wheels. They stay straight due to plastic or rubber stands that keep the device a certain distance away from the wheel’s face. It’s essential to remove any plastic wheel trims and not damage alloy wheels at this stage.
The car is then lifted into the air. It’s nigh on impossible to do this job without a four-post ramp.
Once the car is high enough for a technician (or sometimes two) to stand underneath, the mechanic loosens the nuts on the tie rods (or “track rods”), which connect them to the tie rod ends. Sometimes, these will have seized. Occasionally, the only way to loosen them is with oxyacetylene heat application. I have had many, many bruised knuckles from this job.
Next, the technician will use tools (such as a standard wrench or clamp or locking pliers, depending on the car’s make and model) to tighten or loosen the tie rod end. This process adjusts the alignment of the wheels.
After this, the technician tightens the nuts back up, and the mechanic takes the car for a test drive. If it drives straight, you’re all good to go. Perhaps five times out of ten, though, the mechanic will need to bring the car back in for another minute adjustment.
This process is repeated until the car drives nicely in a straight line.
It’s one of those jobs where, 10% of the time, everything goes very smoothly. The car goes up, you adjust the tie rods to the correct measurements, and then you test drive it. Everything’s fine, and away the customer happily goes.
In reality, something often goes wrong and, instead of being a 5-minute job, you end up being stuck there for hours.
Such is life.
This YouTube video is 25 minutes long – but, if you’re interested in seeing the whole procedure for yourself, it’s worth a watch.
Why Do I Need Wheel Alignment?
It’s doubtful that your wheels are straight, especially if nobody has checked your wheel alignment for many years.
Many things affect your car’s alignment. These include:
- General wear and age causing the tie rods to twist, nuts to come loose, etc.
- Improperly fitted parts.
- Not having your tracking redone when someone fitted new steering or suspension parts, as these usually cause the alignment to change. This misalignment happens due to minute manufacturing differences from part to part.
- Hitting curbs – if you’re the kind of driver that does this often, it’s probably affected your wheel alignment. Please get it checked as soon as you can.
- Going over potholes – in some parts of the world, roads can feel like bear traps for cars. The sudden impact of going over a pothole can knock your tracking right out.
- A developing mechanical fault.
As you can see, there are many reasons as to why your wheel alignment may not be right. Many. It’s not usually down to driver error, as well, although you should always take care to avoid hitting curbs regardless.
One of the most common symptoms of misaligned wheels is difficulty going in a straight line. Hold your steering wheel as straight as you possibly can. If your wheels aren’t aligned, the car will pull to one side or the other.
You can also often tell if your wheels are out of adjustment if there is “scrubbing” on the tires.
“Scrubbing” is where one side of the tire is wearing down faster than the other side. In severe cases, one side of the tire might be completely smooth, while there is plenty of tread on the other.
This condition is dangerous because it compromises the tire’s structural integrity, making it likely to blow out while you’re driving. If you see this, get a new tire immediately.
Sometimes you can only see scrubbing by getting down underneath the car. It would be best to look at the inside and outside of all tires to check it properly.
For this reason, many people don’t realize their wheels are out of alignment. The problem is often only picked up by mechanics working on your car in a garage.
Check out this video from MOOG Parts.
What Causes Tire Scrubbing?
A tire that isn’t quite straight causes scrubbing.
Think about it. For example, if a tire were toeing in (pointing towards the car’s centerline), this would throw much of the car’s weight and momentum onto the tire’s outside edge. The inside edge and middle wouldn’t be doing much.
As a result, you’d see a disproportionate amount of wear on the outside of the tire.
Does Walmart Do Wheel Alignment?
Well, some of them.
It’s not standard procedure to have wheel alignment done after having a new tire fitted, for example. You’ll have to request it specifically. Sometimes, the technicians may check it for you and advise you whether you should get the tracking adjusted.
Some Walmart Auto Care Centers do wheel alignment. Take your car into your local branch of Walmart Auto Centers and get an appointment. In busy seasons, you may have to book first. It’s always worth a quick phone call before you make the journey to check that there will be time to work on your car today.
When you’ve arrived at Walmart, it’s standard procedure time. Just hand over your keys to the technician (who may need to take a few details from you), sit down, and wait for a little while.
We will look into how much tracking adjustments cost in a couple of sections.
For now, you may be wondering, ‘How much does wheel alignment cost at Walmart?’.
Wheel Alignment Cost – Walmart
The cost of alignment at Walmart is somewhere between $30 and $95.
This cost depends on the branch you go to and the job you want to be done.
For example, the Walmart wheel alignment cost for front-wheel tracking only is likely to be between $30 and $65. Let’s take $50 as a nice, round, even number. You should expect to pay approximately this amount.
If you’re after four-wheel alignment, expect to pay closer to $70 or $80. Different Walmart services and branches will range between $50 and $95.
The cost of wheel alignment at Walmart is very much the market average.
Why Does Wheel Alignment Cost This Much?
The main bulk of the cost of wheel alignment is labor, whether at Walmart or anywhere else. Sometimes, there may be extra additional costs incurred, but the technician should always clear these with you first. These costs might include the use of oxyacetylene to loosen seized nuts or extraordinary amounts of labor if the vehicle is tough to work on.
The auto shop already has the necessary equipment. You should expect to pay for the going labor rate for the entire project – that is, from the moment your car is driven onto the ramp until it’s done.
Labor rates are dependent on how long the job takes or is expected to take. Clearly.
How Long Does Wheel Alignment Take At Walmart?
At Walmart (or any auto shop), wheel alignment should be expected to take less than an hour… most times.
Why do I say this? Well, often, a wheel alignment job would take me around 20 to 30 minutes in total. I used laser alignment devices. This is enough time to put the car on the ramp, install all the equipment, make the necessary adjustments, and do a test drive. If everything’s okay after that, a 20-minute session is what I would expect.
However, things don’t usually go as smoothly as that. Quite often, I needed to bring the car back to readjust the tracking. Readjusting involves:
- Reinstalling all of the equipment.
- Getting the car back in the air.
- Making more adjustments.
You should expect about 10 to 15 minutes extra for every time the mechanic needs to do this. On most occasions, they’ll only need to do this between 1 and 3 times. Despite this, it sometimes takes 7, 8, 9, or more attempts.
Don’t expect to be charged more if it takes longer unless the mechanic clears it with you first.
It’s just one of those things.
So, most of the time, tracking adjustments take about 30 minutes to 1 hour in total, from arrival to departure. Occasionally, though, it could take longer. Don’t be afraid to ask the technician working on your car for regular updates. If it’s taking too long, you could get on with some other things you need to do or… go for a walk or something.
What Wheel Alignment Terminology Should I Know?
This section will explore some of the most commonly used jargon around the topic of wheel alignment.
Knowing what all these terms refer to will help you when talking to a technician.
Toe In or Toe Out
“Toe” is what most people think of when we’re talking about tracking or wheel alignment.
Wheels should all run almost* parallel to each other. Over time, for reasons that we talked about above, this stops being the case. At this point, the alignment needs to be adjusted.
“Toe” is an easy term to remember. If you ever get confused, look down at your feet. Pointing them “in” (towards each other) is what your wheels do when they’re “toeing in”. The vice versa is also true – pointing your toes “out” from each other is what the wheels do when they’re “toeing out”.
*Automotive manufacturers usually set vehicles up toeing in, very slightly. Camber angles are also usually not quite straight. These minute adjustments make the car handle and balance better.
Camber is the angle at which the tire sits on the asphalt. Like “toe”, this angle is either inwards or outwards in comparison to the vertical. Camber reflects how much of the tire is in contact with the road at any given time.
Some highly modified or hot rod cars take camber angles to the extreme. You may recognize cars like this from films or even from around town.
The caster angle is the angle of the center of the wheel hub assembly compared to the road. It’s directly related to the stability of the car.
You can think of it as affecting how “nippy” a car is – how quickly it changes direction.
If the thrust angle is wrong, it can cause “crabbing”. The thrust angle is the angle of the rear wheels compared to the centerline of the vehicle.
If this angle is wrong, the back will be slightly out of line with the car’s front. That is, the rear wheels won’t sit directly behind the front ones.
As a result, although the wheels are straight, the car’s body is at a slight angle. It looks vaguely like a crab walking, hence the name “crabbing”.
This angle must always be correct in the modern days of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System). Should it be wrong, sensors such as those for lane changing, sleep warnings, and adaptive cruise control won’t work correctly. And that’s not a situation you want to be in.
Steering Axis Inclination or SAI
Steering Axis Inclination – or SAI – refers to the relative positions of suspension components instead of just the wheels.
Engineering Explained is a great YouTube channel and I highly recommend you check it out. There is a whole series on alignment. This video deals with steering axis inclination specifically.
How Do I Avoid Getting Ripped Off For Wheel Alignment?
The automotive industry does, unfortunately, have a reputation for getting as much money out of a customer as possible. Sadly, this is quite often true. Some crooked mechanics will say that your car needs work when, in fact, it doesn’t.
In terms of wheel alignment, it’s easy to avoid getting ripped off. You should, quite simply, always ask to see the current results of your car’s wheel alignment.
If you’re allowed into the shop, you can go to see the readings with your own eyes. If you aren’t allowed into the workshop area for health and safety or insurance reasons (which are perfectly valid), get a mechanic to take a picture of the readings and the measuring devices on the car.
As long as these all seem legit, get the work done. However, if the technician is hesitant to show you these, it should get your spidey-sense tingling.
Can I Align My Own Wheels To Save Costs?
This is a good question. The answer, for 99% of readers, will be “no”.
There’s nothing to stop you from trying, certainly. Still, for genuinely accurate readings, you need laser or Bluetooth wheel alignment measuring devices. There are many YouTube videos of people aligning their wheels without using these devices, which look good… I’m just not sure how much I would trust the readings to be as accurate as they need to be.
Unfortunately, these laser or Bluetooth devices can cost upwards of $10,000. Add onto that the fact that you need a four-post ramp, steering wheel clamp, turn plates, and, for Bluetooth systems, a dedicated computer, and you’ve got something that’s rather expensive.
Instead of forking out tens of thousands of dollars on this system, it’s best to take the $50 to $100 on the chin.
Walmart Wheel Alignment Near Me
Not every Walmart center offers wheel alignment. It’s worth phoning up your local Walmart shop to ask whether or not they do it.
It’ll save you an unnecessary ride.
To find your nearest Walmart, search “Walmart Auto Care Centre near me” or click here to be taken to Walmart’s website. Put in your zip code or city et voila.
What Does “Car Alignment” Mean?
You might have seen the phrase “car alignment” littered around the internet, here and there.
“Car alignment” is simply another way of referring to wheel alignment or tracking, like we are talking about in this article. Although technically incorrect (what is your car “aligning” with?), it doesn’t matter. Some people refer to wheel alignment as car alignment.
If you go into an auto shop, try to remember to ask for wheel alignment or tracking services rather than car alignment. It shouldn’t make much difference, but the technician may wonder, for a moment, what you’re on about.
Wheel Alignment Cost Walmart – Conclusion
The cost of wheel alignment services at a Walmart Auto Care Center is likely to be between $50 and $100, depending on whether you need two-wheel or four-wheel alignment.
In conclusion, getting your wheel alignment done at Walmart is a good, cost-efficient procedure. However, most auto shops around the country will offer the same service at a similar cost, so it may not be necessary to go to Walmart, specifically.
It’s vital to keep your wheels aligned. Make sure to get it checked as often as possible. If nothing needs doing, the mechanic should just send you on your merry way. But if something does need adjusting, at least you know that your tires will last longer and that your car will be safer to drive.
Thanks for reading, and we hope this article has been useful. If you want to know more about Walmart tire installation costs read our guide.