A car runs best when it's well tuned. Not only do you have to ensure that the engine is running smoothly, but a car also runs best when all other parts are working properly. For instance, the suspension and under chassis should be properly aligned. Otherwise, you might get uneven tire wear, decreased fuel efficiency, a bumpy ride, and possibly get into accidents even.
One of the oft ignored problems that car owners have is misaligned front wheels. In some cases, this is obvious, but in others the signs may not be too visible without closer inspection by a mechanic. Here are a few tips on how to tell your car needs to be aligned.
Pulling to one side - Pull refers to a situation wherein your car will turn slightly to the left or right even when the steering wheel is straight. In some cases, your steering wheel will even turn a few degrees to either side when you let it go for a while as your car is running at moderate speed. This indicates that one or both of your wheels are either toed-in (pointing towards the center) or toed-out (pointing outward), and that the two front tires are not running perfectly parallel to each other.
Uneven tire wear - Tires should wear out evenly, especially if you make it a point to keep them inflated at manufacturer-prescribed pressure levels (usually 30 pounds per square inch or PSI for sedans). When either front tire has more wear on the insides or outsides, this means your front wheels are badly aligned. This could also be an indication that your camber and caster are not properly adjusted. Camber is how straight your wheel stands up from the ground. Improper camber means your wheels are leaning either inward or outward. Caster, meanwhile, is how straight your shock absorber stands, backward or forward, relative to the ground.
Steering responsiveness and steering wheel play - A difference in steering responsiveness may also indicate problems with alignment, or even with the suspension and steering systems. Steering should be firm, but responsive, even with power steering. But if your steering wheel already has too much play, then this means something is loose, possibly tie rod ends or other joints.
Measurement - If you have access to a lift, or if you can get underneath your engine bay, you can take measurements. With a tape measure, take the distance from the center of one tire to another from the front part (you can use the tire's treads as a reference point). Then take the distance coming from the rear. If they are the same, then your front end is aligned properly. But if the measurements are different, this means the wheels are not aligned. If the front is wider, your wheels are toed-out. If the front is narrower, then they are toed-in.
In any case, if you feel that your car is already having alignment problems, you should bring it to a mechanic soon. While it's not usually a life-threatening problem, it might be indicative of other possibly worse issues with your car. Besides, having your car aligned is an inexpensive and quick operation that you shouldn't overlook.