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The Basics of Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignment is the process of adjusting your wheels’ angles. Cars with accurately aligned wheels will drive straight when you are driving on a level and straight road. Having your wheel properly aligned can preserve your tires and lengthen their life span.

Symptoms that Signal Your Wheels are out of Alignment

  • When your car drifts away when driving straight or when driving on a level and straight road
  • The steering wheel’s spokes are inclined to one side even when driving straight
  • Faster than normal and uneven wear on tires

Skip to: Checking to see if you Need Wheel Alignment Adjustments

Primary Angles for Wheel Alignment
These are the fundamental wheel angle alignment of tires relative to the body of the vehicle and to each other. These include the camber, caster, and the toe.

What is Camber?
Camber is the wheel angle (calculated in degrees). When not properly adjusted, the camber is capable of causing faster tire wear on one portion of the wheel’s tread. It can also cause an issue by pulling in one direction or the other.

What is Caster?
Caster is the steering pivot angle (calculated in degrees) as seen from the side. When a caster is misaligned, it causes issues in driving, or “tracking,” in a straight line. If the caster is not equal on all sides, the car will likely pull to the positive caster’s side. With an equal caster that is more negative than positive, the car will wander off because steering can be lighter than usual, but won’t maintain tracking in a straight line.

What is Toe?
The toe is the most vital setting for wheel alignment, and is a big factor to the wear and tear of your tires. If the alignment setting of the toe is even 1/32 inch off, every tire on that particular axle will drag sideways almost ½ foot for each mile, which leads to faster tire wear.

The angle of the toe will identify the tires’ direction compared to the car’s centerline. Cars with rear-wheel drive push their front tires when rolling on the road, while resistance triggers drag that result in the suspension arms’ rearward movement in opposition to the bushings. In this case, cars with rear-wheel drive employ positive toe for balancing the movement of the suspension.

On the other hand, cars with front-wheel drive pull the car which results in the suspension arms’ forward movement in opposition to the bushings. In this case, these cars employ negative toe as opposed to positive toe for cars with rear-wheel drive.

Other wheel alignment settings are considered secondary angles, including SAI or steering axis inclination, included angle, maximum turns, toe out on turns, track width difference, toe curve change, wheelbase difference, rear ride height, front ride height, frame angle, and setback.

Checking to see if you Need Wheel Alignment Adjustments
To check if your car requires wheel alignment, inspect all your tires and check for uneven patterns of wear and tear. However, the main issue with this inspection method is that in the event that you do see uneven patterns of wear as mentioned below, there is a higher chance that your tire will not be saved because of severe damage. This is the reason why you should regularly have you wheels checked by mechanics.

Get a coin and place it in the wheel’s tread at the outside, center and inside. If you notice that the tread is shallower in the center and deeper at the edges, your tire may be over-inflated. If you notice that the tread is shallower at the edges than in the center, your tire may be under-inflated. If you notice that the tread is shallower on one side and deeper in the other, you should consult a trained wheel alignment specialist as soon as possible.

Also, if the tire’s tread is jagged in one direction and smooth in another direction, this is called a “saw-tooth” wear pattern, which typically is caused by toe in issues. In this case, having an alignment specialist check your wheels is also recommended since this can greatly contribute to faster wear and tear of your tires.

Additional Resources for Wheel Alignment: