Jeep Wranglers have long occupied the space of being the go-to vehicles for rugged, consumer-friendly, off-road expeditions. Enthusiasts love Wranglers for their modular design and the ability to easily upgrade, customize, or modify the vehicle in a number of different ways. However, whether you’re running stock or custom suspension for your Wrangler JL, alignments don’t entirely work the same as they do with standard vehicles using traditional suspension setups. If you are thinking about “what sort of auto alignments near me are good for Wranglers?” You need to first consider how the Wrangler can become misaligned and some of the things you need to look for when it’s time to get an auto-alignment for this off-road SUV.
The Difference Between Wheel, Axle, and Tire Alignments
Typically, when you get a vehicle aligned, you deal with the tire alignments or the steering wheel alignment. If the tires or wheels are misaligned, it’s usually due to the suspension, which can affect the front and rear wheels. This can be caused by issues with the tie-rods, camber settings, or control arm bushings.
For most standard vehicles, you can modify the tie-rods to adjust the steering wheel alignment, and this can set the vehicle’s steering alignment back into place. Having mechanics do that for you can make life so much easier. It’s the same if the tires are misaligned––you can have mechanics repair or align specific suspension components to get the wheels lined up properly again.
However, for the Jeep Wrangler, it’s not quite as simple as that. Why? Because the Wrangler has a number of different suspension components designed to give the vehicle more wheel travel, axle travel, and leeway for off-road activity. On a Wrangler, the steering wheel might be properly aligned, but the wheels may not be. Just the same, maybe the front wheels are properly aligned, but the rear wheels aren’t. Or maybe both the front and rear wheels are aligned, but the steering wheel isn’t, or maybe only one wheel is misaligned while everything else is fine. In some cases, the wheels and steering wheel could be aligned, but the axles could be misaligned. What could cause such issues, and how is it possible for different misaligned elements to be present while others are aligned? Well, it has to do with the Wrangler’s design.
How Track Bars Affect Alignment
With a Wrangler, more components, mechanical elements, and variables are at play when it comes to alignment than in a standard sedan or SUV. There is the front and rear track bar, which is necessary for keeping the vehicle’s body aligned with the axles, preventing what many call the “death wobble.” What is the “death wobble”? It’s where the vehicle’s body will roll left or right independent from the axles as if it’s about to tip over, even if the wheels are firmly planted on the ground. Sometimes the track bar can become misaligned over time, misaligning the axles and altering how the Wrangler handles on the road (or off the road). You will need to keep the track bars properly aligned in order to keep the axles aligned with the Wrangler’s body to prevent the “death wobble.” Additionally, if you choose to replace the front or rear track bar with an upgraded one or a new one, you will need to have your Wrangler realigned because it’s very possible for the axles to move or shift with a new track bar in place.
How Tie-Rods Affect Alignment
Tie-rods can affect a Wrangler’s alignment just like tie-rods on a standard vehicle. The tie-rods can be adjusted on the Wrangler to affect the toe of the wheels, which determines whether the wheels horizontally point inward or outward. Adjusting the tie-rods for toe-in will point the wheels more inward, while adjusting the tie-rods for toe-out will result in the wheels pointing outward. For Jeep Wranglers, a little bit of toe-in is good because the front wheels will be forced outward and incur slight toe-out the faster you drive. However, Wranglers are not extremely alignment-sensitive and can tolerate a neutral or even slightly toe-out alignment.
How Drag Links Affect Alignment
For the Wrangler, the actual steering wheel alignment isn’t modified like most other vehicles where you adjust the tie-rods directly. Instead, the steering wheel alignment is affected by the drag link on the steering box, which is just above the differential. Modifying the drag link will alter the alignment of the steering wheel. It’s not unlikely for the steering wheel to become misaligned, even if the wheels are aligned, due to off-road travel or putting the Wrangler through punishing driving conditions. However, modifying the drag link will realign the steering wheel.
How To Check Your Wrangler’s Alignment
You can actually effectively check the alignment of the Wrangler yourself before you have professionals look at it, just to get an idea of whether or not the Wrangler is pulling to the left or to the right and whether or not the wheels are aligned as they should be. There are some simple steps you can use to check the various types of alignments that can affect the handling of the Wrangler. All you need is a leveler or measuring tape and a bit of patience.
First and foremost, you can check the steering alignment by getting into the vehicle, turning on the vehicle and moving the wheel left and right by just an inch, and then leaving it center. If you check outside of the vehicle and the front wheels are straight, and the steering wheel is straight, then the steering is properly aligned. If, however, you notice that the front wheels are straight, but the steering wheel veers either slightly to the left or right of the center position, then it means the steering alignment is off.
For the wheel alignment, you can check each wheel using a number of different methods. If you have large tires on your Wrangler, then one method is to use a level and stand it next to the wheel, completely straight. Proceed to measure the wheel distance from the fender using a measuring tape. If the distance on each side is the same, then it means the wheels are aligned. However, if the toe or camber causes the level to lean or forces it off to an angle, or the measurements are not the same for all sides, then it means your wheel alignment is off.
Getting Comfortable With DIY Adjustments
Not everyone is coordinated with a wrench and screwdriver, and for a lot of people just getting their feet wet with a Wrangler, it’s easy to feel intimidated by all of the mechanisms going on in the undercarriage when it comes to the suspension and handling. But don’t worry; simply knowing how the Wrangler operates and what can lead to misalignment is the first step toward getting comfortable making your own manual adjustments and realigning the vehicle on your own time.
However, the safer bet is to find a trustworthy mechanic who can perform auto alignments near you to keep your Wrangler running right. Misalignment can cause a huge number of issues, from enhanced tire wear to issues with brakes (if the sensors detect the vehicle moving in an undesired pattern due to steering misalignment, it may automatically engage the brakes to correct what it believes to be the vehicle sliding or losing traction). That’s not to mention that improper alignments may lead to a lot of unnecessary wear on your suspension.
Taking time to understand how the Wrangler’s suspension differs from most other vehicles and the components that can lead to misalignment is the first step to familiarizing yourself with eventually correcting the issue on your own. Just remember, a large part of the Wrangler’s alignment is going to be dependent on the tie-rods, the track bar, the drag links, and the axles. From there, you have an idea of how to check your Wrangler’s alignment, and one day maybe even take the plunge and make the adjustments yourself.