Wheel Alignment Basics
THE BASICS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WHEEL ALIGNMENT
Keeping your car in tip-top shape is one of the most important things about car ownership. To fully enjoy your mean machine, you’ll have to learn all the parts that need attention every now and then. In this article, we’ll be looking at wheel alignment and how it affects driving dynamics, tire life, and fuel consumption.
Although there are more complex variables involved in truly dialing in your alignment settings, we’re going to keep it simple by discussing just the three properties you need to know when taking your car in for an alignment service. Let’s employ the help of our friendly neighborhood dictionary to assist us wrap our heads around these terms: caster, camber, and toe. Take it away, Merriam-Webster!
Caster is defined as “the slight, usually backward tilt from vertical of the axis of the steering mechanism of an automobile for giving directional stability to the front wheels.” To break it down, caster is the wheel alignment property that deals with self-centering steering. This is why after turning left or right, it always feels easier to straighten your steering wheel once you start moving forward. If you ever feel that you’re putting in the same amount of effort into straightening your car after you make a turn, then it’s time to have your wheel alignment checked.
Positive camber is defined as “a setting of the wheels of an automotive vehicle closer together at the bottom than at the top.” Negative camber would be the opposite of that. Having your car aligned with the proper camber angle values ensures that the tires make maximum contact with the road. Having them at the wrong angles, whether positive or negative, can and will lead to excessive shoulder wear.
Toe is defined as “adjustment of the front wheels of an automotive vehicle so that they are closer together at the front than at the back.” This can best be visualized if you imagine looking at your car from the top. Toe would then be the angle created if the front of your tires are closer together than their rears. This would be referred to as toe-in, with the opposite being toe-out. Improper toe values make it difficult for tires to make the most of its tread pattern, therefore resulting in excessive tire wear and increased fuel consumption.
With all that in mind, you can have your car brought in for alignment service almost anywhere in the General vicinity. Here is a couple of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:
- Do have your wheels aligned once a year. But if you take a bad shunt on a curb, or hit a pothole, make sure you have it checked as well. With that said, don’t hit the curbs or drive straight into nasty potholes.
- Do go with a reputable shop. Ask your friends or family members for recommendations and reviews on which shops are knowledgeable and technically proficient. It will help you to search for shops that are near you for convenience. Don’t bring your car to just any local mechanic if they don’t have the proper equipment to handle your car. Also check online reviews about auto service and repair centers around your local area. Read about customers’ experiences so you can make an informed decision.
- Do make sure that your suspension components are in good shape to eliminate any suspension-related issues when you have your car brought in for alignment Don’t waste your money by having an alignment job done knowing you’ve got worn suspension parts. Make sure you sort those out first!
- Do test-drive the car immediately after you get your service. The steering should track straight at any speed, and the car shouldn’t veer off to the left or right when you’ve got your steering wheel pointed straight. Verify that the shop’s machine has your car specifications in its database, and that they’ve got the proper alignment values for your make and model. Also check that the technicians don’t get lazy with their work, and that they’re following the standard values. Don’t ever allow just have your steering wheel pulled out and straightened. That is not the proper way to go about it.
Assuming that everything related to your car’s suspension is in order, and that your tires are in perfectly good health and inflated uniformly, ensuring your wheels are properly aligned provides optimal benefits to your car’s health and your driving pleasure.
For one, it will make sure that your car steers and tracks properly on the road. Two, it guarantees you get the most value for money and maximum performance from your tires. Three, it ensures that your tires are properly setup for maximum braking performance. And four, it ensures that you are not introducing excess drag to your car’s dynamics, and that you are getting the maximum possible fuel savings from it.
How to do a proper wheel alignment?
Here is our attempt to simplify what is written above:
After buying a brand-new set of tires, it is essential that you have four-wheel alignment done. This not only ensures that your car will operate within OEM specifications and keep you safe while en route, but also to ensure that your expensive rubber doesn’t prematurely wear out. But if you notice your car behaving in a weird way, like pulling to one side or with the steering wheel not centered, do have it checked.
You need a proper 3D alignment system to complete this. The rudimentary way is by utilizing string, toe plates, and camber gauges. Best to leave that to the professionals at the racetrack.
Things to check:
- Getting a reading is usually free at any good tire supply.
- Newer equipment is faster and more accurate, but it is a mechanic who does the actual alignment. Go to a shop that you trust.
- Hunter 3D Alignment System
- Wheel adaptor
How four-wheel alignment should be done:
- The four key measures to each alignment is: caster, camber, toe and thrust angle. Camber demonstrates how the tire angles away from vertical when viewed from either the front or rear. Caster angle shows the forward or backward slope of a line drawn through the upper and lower steering pivot points. Toe identifies the direction tires are pointed relative to the centerline of the vehicle when viewed from above. Thrust angle confirms if the rear axle is parallel to the front axle, and that the wheelbase on both sides is the same.
- There are telltale symptoms of a car with bad alignment, like a steering wheel that is off-center, pulling in one direction, vibration when driving, and tire squealing on low-speed turns. Enter the vehicle year, make, model and design into the system’s computer to determine the OEM’s alignment specifications. That data will be compared to the vehicle’s actual alignment to determine what requires to be done.
- Chock wheels and raise the lift to a comfortable and safe height. Lock the steering rack using the specialized tool. Lift the vehicle. Now it’s time to get to work. The computer will guide the technician through the process.
- Racecar drivers have various alignment settings to suit their needs on the racetrack. If you intend to spend time on a circuit, look into a customized alignment setting. Trial and error will reveal what works best and for what conditions.
- If you unexpectedly smash into a huge pothole, this might be enough to wreck your alignment. Have it checked if you fear the worst. Do not use the bump stops at parking lots. This can affect the alignment and damage the suspension.
- Check tires for uneven, irregular wear, as well as to visually check the front-end and rear axle for any compromised suspension or steering components. If there is a bad ball joint or tie-rod end, replace the parts first.
When looking for a service center around Rockwall to do your wheel alignment, search for Horizon Auto Center. We have the latest and state of the art technology and we will make sure that we will take care of your car. Wheel alignment is one of our specialties and our excellent reviews from our awesome clients will attest to that. Please visit our reviews site to know more.