Getting a wheel alignment is an important regular maintenance item on modern vehicles. A misaligned car can impact driving feel, gas mileage, safety and tire life.
What is a wheel alignment?
Wheel alignment ensures the wheels on your car are aligned parallel to one another. A wheel alignment is a procedure that adjusts the position of your vehicle’s wheels based on manufacturer recommendations. A properly aligned car will handle better, have more even tire wear, and get better gas mileage.
What is adjusted during wheel alignment?
Alignments use three different suspension angle adjustments to change the positioning of your vehicle’s wheels.
The camber adjustment affects the outward and inward tilt of your wheels. Camber can have positive (top of the tire tilting out), negative (top of the tire tilting in), or neutral (tire sitting perfectly vertical) angle. Camber has a direct effect on the handling of your vehicle. Negative camber allows for better distribution of load while your car is going around a corner. This makes your car more stable. Too much negative camber will make the vehicle unstable in a straight line, as the sizes of the contact patches will be smaller.
The toe adjustment impacts the steering sensitivity of your vehicle. Toe-in points the front of your tires in toward the center line of the car. Toe-out points them away from the center line. Toe-out improves steering response but reduces straight-line stability. When the toe is out of alignment in the rear, a positive or negative thrust angle will impact the way a vehicle tracks down the road, and can result in dog tracking.
Caster changes the angle of the steering axis. The caster angle can be positive, negative, or neutral. A positive caster (steering axis leading the tire contact patch) allows the car to return to the center when the steering wheel is let go while turning and provides much greater stability than a negative caster angle.
Two-Wheel vs Four-Wheel Alignments
Depending on the layout of your vehicle, you will either need a two-wheel alignment or a four-wheel one. On larger trucks and SUVs that have solid rear axles, there is very little, if any, adjustment that can be made to the rear suspension. Vehicles with independent rear suspension will receive a four-wheel alignment. Independent rear suspension is more adjustable. Independent rear suspension can also come out of alignment.
What are the symptoms of a bad wheel alignment?
There are several distinct symptoms a driver will notice when their vehicle is out of alignment.
1.) Off-center steering wheel when the wheels are straight
2.) Car pulling to the left or right when going straight
3.) Uneven or irregular tire wear
4.) Dog tracking (the vehicle “crab walks” as a result of positive or negative thrust angle)
5.) Stability faults, typically a result of the ECU mistaking severe misalignment for traction issues.
The severity of symptoms depends on how misaligned your vehicle is. However, even if you don’t notice anything severe when you drive a mild misalignment will have negative effects on your tire life and fuel economy.
How often should I get an alignment?
At a minimum, your vehicle should go in for an alignment check once a year. The frequency can vary depending on your vehicle and driving style.
When do I need to get my wheels aligned?
Get an alignment check under any of the following circumstances:
- After any minor front end collision
- Hitting a large pothole
- Running your wheels into a curb
- Any suspension modifications (lowering or lifting your vehicle)
- New tires are installed
Will a misalignment effect the tires on my car?
When your wheels are out of alignment, the tires will wear unevenly and shorten their life. Tires are expensive, and a proper alignment will ensure they last as long as possible. The way a tire wears can be indicative of what adjustment is out of alignment.
This type of irregular tire wear occurs when the camber adjustment is incorrect. Depending on the tilt of the camber, either the inside or outside edge of the tire will be significantly more worn than the middle.
Feathering occurs when the toe angle is misaligned. Feathering presents as one side of the tread lobes smoothing, while the other side is sharp. The smooth and sharp sides will depend on the weather to toe is misaligned positive or negative.
How are wheel alignments done?
Vehicles have factory recommended alignment settings. Stock vehicles follow these recommendations. Adjustments to the camber and toe are most commonly made. Caster rarely falls out of alignment on newer vehicles.
Laser alignment machines utilize targets mounted on each wheel to measure the camber, toe, and caster angles. An alignment may be recommended based on the findings. The technician will then adjust the camber and toe, working rear to front. Once the machine shows the alignment angles are within the factory specifications, the alignment is complete. The technician will take the car for a test drive to ensure the symptoms of misalignment are gone.
Should my vehicle be aligned after suspension changes?
Lowered and lifted vehicles, or those oriented toward high performance and track driving will not always follow the factory recommended alignment angles. Like w said earlier, small changes to alignment angles can drastically affect vehicle handling. Some drivers want the increased cornering grip from a more aggressive negative camber angle. Others may want the improved steering response from an altered toe angle.
Get an Alignment
Schedule an appointment today and get your alignment checked at Lake City Auto Care! Our experienced technicians can quickly align your vehicle, eliminating misalignment symptoms, and improving handling. Lake City Auto Care provides quality auto care to the communities of Rathdrum, Hayden, and Coeur d’Alene.