What is Wheel Alignment?
Alignment refers to an adjustment of a vehicle’s suspension. A vehicle’s suspension is the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels. The adjustment is not just to tires or wheels themselves. Adjusting the angles of tires which affects how much they make contact with the road is the key to proper alignment.
How do I know if I Need a Wheel Alignment?
There a few ways to tell if your vehicle needs a tire alignment. These are the common indicators you need a tire alignment:
- Uneven tread wear
- Vehicle pulling to the left or right
- Your steering wheel is off center when driving straight
- Steering wheel vibration
If you have noticed one or more of these, you should have your alignment checked by a licensed service technician immediately.
Camber, Toe and Caster
When our technicians at Autoworks check your tire alignment, we are looking for three things:
The camber is the inward or outward angle of the tire when viewed from the front of the vehicle. Also known as negative or positive camber, too much inward or outward tilt indicates improper alignment and will need to be adjusted. Other parts that may contribute to camber misalignment include worn bearings, ball joints and other wheel-suspension parts.
The toe alignment, distinct from camber alignment, is the extent to which your tires turn inward or outward when viewed from above. If that is confusing, just look down at your feet while standing up and angle them inward toward the center of your body. Thinking in terms of birds-eye-view, when the tires on your vehicle are angled the same way, this is called toe-in alignment. Toe-out alignment is when the tires are angled outward. Both of these require adjustment.
Balance steering, stability and cornering are all helped by the caster angle. In particular, it is the angle of your steering axis when viewed from the side of your vehicle. A positive caster means the steering axis will tilt toward the driver. Negative caster, on the other hand, means the steering axis tilts towards the front of the vehicle.
Why Wheel Alignment Matters
Tires can wear unevenly and prematurely with improper wheel or tire alignment. Here are some specific types of excessive tread wear attributable to misalignment:
When the tread is smooth on one side and sharp on another, this means the tires are “feathered”. Usually, this is a sign of poor toe alignment.
Camber wear means the inside or outside of the tread is significantly more worn than the center of the tread. As implied from its name, positive or negative camber causes this type of wear.
Heel/toe wear happens when one side of the tread blocks wears down more quickly than the other in a circumferential direction. If you run your hand over the tread, it will look and feel like saw teeth when viewed from the side. This could be a sign of under inflation and/or lack of rotation.
If your vehicle is experiencing any of these unusual wear patterns, you should have a technician check your alignment. Not only is tire wear prevention a good reason to keep your wheel alignment in check, the consequences of misalignment can also play out in overall vehicle performance. For example, a car that pulls to one side or steers erratically probably has an alignment problem.
For more information on why wheel alignment matters, read out article Importance of Wheel Alignment.
Differing from tire alignment, tire or wheel balancing refers to compensation for any weight imbalances in the tire/wheel combination and is often performed in conjunction with wheel alignment. The two basic types of tire/wheel imbalance that need correction include static (single plane) and dynamic (dual plane).
The static balance is on only one plane — vertical movement which can cause vibration. On the other hand, dynamic imbalance refers to balance in two planes — vertical movement and lateral movement. The use of a special balancing machine is required for both types of imbalance to help even things out.
A technician will begin balancing your tires by mounting them on the correct rims and adjusting the pressure to optimal inflation. Each tire then goes on the center bore of a balancing machine. This machine then spins the tire at a high speed to measure the wheel/tire combination imbalance. The weight the tech should add to balance out the tire and the areas where said weight is needed will be signaled by this machine.
Balancing tires is essential for proper tire care for the same reason as wheel alignment: prevention of premature tread wear. Getting your tires aligned and balanced every 5,000 to 6,000 miles can help maximize their lifespan and overall performance.
Contact Autoworks with the link below to schedule a wheel alignment check today!