Getting an alignment is a regular part of maintenance for your vehicle, and it’s common to notice a few changes in your vehicle’s ride and performance after an alignment.
Most of the time those changes are for the better, but it’s common to wonder if ride height might be affected by your most recent alignment.
Generally, an alignment will cause very slight changes to your ride height since your tire position and pressure have been corrected. You may also notice that the springs on your vehicle are a little higher if your mechanic lifted the vehicle. However, large changes in the ride height on your vehicle shouldn’t be alignment related.
Since an alignment is unlikely to have been the source of change in your ride height, let’s look at some of the reasons your car’s ride height might have changed.
Related: Does Alignment Fix Vibration?
Common Uneven Ride Height Causes
Uneven ride height can cause a lot of problems from poor turning performance to uneven wear on your tires and suspension system. It’s important to get to the root of the problem as quickly as possible to prevent unnecessary damage to your car.
A lot of people notice uneven ride height after an alignment because the alignment corrected how your car is performing and makes discrepancies more noticeable. It can also make it easier to spot uneven ride height if the camber of your wheels was out of spec before the alignment.
Since it’s unlikely that the alignment caused the issue, you should look at other causes first.
1. Suspension Bottoming
Suspension bottoming is a common cause of uneven ride height, and it’s also a sign that the springs and other load-bearing components of your suspension system might be wearing out.
Basically, suspension bottoming happens when your suspension system starts to have less total travel distance. It can be affected by the load in your vehicle, but if that’s the cause of the problem you should get better performance as soon as you unload the vehicle.
Of course, if your vehicle hauls heavy loads on a regular basis your suspension system is likely to wear out much sooner than a vehicle that doesn’t need to run loaded.
2. Uneven or Increased Tire Wear
Your tires can also contribute to uneven ride height and changes in ride height.
If your tires aren’t getting rotated often enough, they’ll develop an uneven wear pattern that can drastically impact your vehicle’s performance over time. That wear pattern can either cause or contribute to changes in your ride height as it stresses other components in your car.
Alternatively, tires that have excessive wear can also cause problems since your tires won’t perform properly without their tread.
Of course, excessive tire wear causes a wide range of problems but uneven or changed ride height is one of the most common ones.
3. Incorrect Camber
This is one cause of uneven ride height that can potentially be corrected by an alignment. The camber of your wheels, or the slight tilt on your tires that’s used to help make sure the stress of driving is evenly distributed across your tread.
If that angle is wrong it can absolutely cause wear and tear on your wheels and tires, but it can also cause uneven ride height in extreme cases. Usually, if this is the source of the problem you’ll notice side to side uneven ride height instead of front to back ride height.
Average Ride Height of a Car
Knowing the right ride height for your car is important for being able to notice changes in ride height and fixing problems quickly. Of course, the exact ride height varies between vehicles but each type of vehicle has an average you can use for reference.
|Average Ride Height|
If you’re going to measure the ride height of your vehicle it’s important to make sure there isn’t any cargo in your vehicle that wouldn’t normally be there. If you carry windshield wiper fluid and other maintenance items regularly those will typically be fine inside your vehicle.
But you shouldn’t leave boxes of donation goods or the table from your last community fundraiser in your car while measuring ride height.
Some vehicles, like CRVs, come with a folding table or other equipment in the vehicle. Spare tires and other included items are fine to leave in your vehicle since they are normally supposed to be there.
Other Ways to Determine Ride Height
One way to check the ride height of your vehicle, even if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be is to measure from the top of the tire to the bottom of the fender lip opening.
Even when you don’t know what the ride height should be you can use this measurement to check for discrepancies in the ride height. All four measurements should be within at least a half-inch of each other.
Larger variance is usually a sign that there is something wrong with the ride height and you can move on to diagnosing what the source of the problem is.
You can also use these measurements to check against the average for the kind of vehicle you’re working with to make sure you’re reasonably close to where that vehicle should sit.
How Does Ride Height Affect Handling?
One of the easiest ways to detect a ride height problem is to pay attention for handling differences that can indicate ride problems.
Ride height impacts a lot of how your car rides and performs, so it’s important to know what your car should feel like with proper ride height before you’ll be able to tell when the ride height isn’t what it should be.
Your ride height determines your vehicle’s ability to absorb shocks and bumps on the road. You should know roughly how your vehicle will perform going over a speed bump with the right ride height.
Sedans usually have less clearance here than SUVs, but neither kind of vehicle should hear scraping or experience excessive bounce going over a speed bump.
Pay attention to the sway and movement in your vehicle going over this kind of bump. If your vehicle’s performance changes significantly without another known cause (like tire pressure, failing suspension, or having gone too long without an alignment) your ride height might be to blame.
Improper ride height can also make your vehicle bounce a lot more while you’re going over different kinds of terrain.
1. Center of Gravity
One of the biggest things your ride height can impact is the center of gravity on your vehicle. The center of gravity is what determines a lot of your vehicle’s performance, especially when you’re turning and going around corners.
The higher your ride height, the higher your center of gravity is likely to be. A high center of gravity can increase your turnover risk, and also may make it feel like your vehicle is tilting more going through corners and around sharp turns.
Higher centers of gravity are also why SUVs tend to be more likely to roll over than sedans. It’s not all about ride height in that case, the higher profile and center of mass also have a big role to play, but the ride height is still a contributing factor.
If your ride height changes it will change the center of gravity slightly. The bigger the change in height, the more noticeably your center of gravity will change.
Pay attention to your vehicle’s turning performance if you’re worried about ride height problems. See if your car seems to be making tighter or wider turns than normal, that’s usually the most noticeable change.
One good way to tell if your vehicle’s turning radius has changed is to pay attention to how much you’re having to turn the wheel. If you’re suddenly having to crank the wheel for an average turn you might be dealing with ride height problems.
Another sign of uneven ride height is if your turn radius is incredibly different depending on which direction you’re turning.
2. Your Car Feels Tilted
Uneven front to back ride height can cause load distribution problems, which can be noticeable even without having anything in your vehicle.
This symptom can be incredibly easy to notice if you’re someone who pays a lot of attention to your own center of mass and balance points, but it may be more difficult if you have highly padded seats since they may compensate for the difference in balance.
If you feel like you’re tilted forward in your seat you may have some slight ride height issues, same if you feel tilted in any other direction.
It’s also more likely that you’ll notice load distribution issues if you load weight onto your car and it doesn’t seem to distribute the way it normally would. For instance, if the ride height of your front wheels is off you may notice that your vehicle sinks toward the front even when you add weight into the truck of your car.
There is some good news in all this. Most mechanics will check the ride height of your vehicle during normal maintenance, and they’ll check it during your next alignment since ride height is critical to getting your alignment right.
Chances are if you’re getting regular maintenance for your vehicle, including alignments, tire rotation, and regular tire replacement, ride height won’t be a significant issue for your vehicle.
However, if you suspect that your ride height is causing problems you should get your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible. Getting the problem fixed sooner rather than later can help prevent more expensive maintenance down the road.