What Is A Wheel Alignment?
If you’re like most people, you are wondering what an “alignment” is. Take the word “align”, for instance. If your vehicle is aligned to go down the road straight, then this would indicate that your vehicle is in good alignment. Comparatively, a car that is in bad alignment would not go down the road straight. It may pull one way or the other or have unevenly worn tires amongst other issues. Think about your spine and your chiropractor for example. If your back is out of alignment, then you typically will have some pain and sometimes aren’t able to sit up or move around easily. You may not be able to walk or even stand for long periods of time. This is similar to your car’s alignment in the way that you want to be able drive straight without having to hold the steering wheel to the center. If you do this simple test you will be able to tell if you need to get your alignment checked. Take your hands off the steering wheel while driving straight on a level road. If your vehicle pulls one way or the other, then it is time for an alignment! Much like your back needs to be aligned in order to have proper spinal health and function like it’s supposed to. Keep in mind that our roads are designed with a slight crown for water to run off easier. You may be in the right lane and have a slight drift to the right or the left lane with a slight drift to the left - This is normal! However, if you’re in the left lane and have a pull to the right or in the right lane and a pull to the left, then you most likely have an alignment problem or misalignment.
The Technical Terms
Let’s talk about some wheel alignment jargon. While you may not find it necessary to know about camber, caster, and toe, it is helpful to understand just a little bit about these three wheel alignment angles. Proper wheel alignment is essential to maintaining vehicle and tire health, while also making sure that your ride is both safe and comfortable. Camber is the angle of the wheel relative to the vertical (up and down) of the vehicle, and depending on the tilt, is either considered positive camber or negative camber. When the top of the tire tilts away from the center of the vehicle, you will have positive camber, and when the top of the tires are tilted inward you will have negative camber. Caster is the angle that shows the forward or backward angle of a line that is drawn through the upper and lower steering pivot points. It has an effect on the directional control of the steering. Caster angle movement allows vehicle manufacturers to balance the steering sensitivity, high speed stability, and front end cornering and handling ability. Toe is the most important measurement that determines how much the front and/or rear wheels are turned in or out (left or right). The purpose of the toe angle is to ensure that all four wheels roll parallel to one another. However, in NASCAR, they adjust the toe angle to get that high speed left turn capability.
“Hey Billy, that’s a NAS-CAR, isn’t it? Yeah Bob, you can tell it’s NAS because it only goes left.”
Regular cars use toe-in because there is no need to corner quickly. If your vehicle has the correct amount of toe angle, you will be able to get better stability, cornering, and the least amount of tire wear.
7 Signs That You May Need An Alignment
- When your vehicle pulls left or right
- When your tires are wearing out unevenly or too quickly
- After you hit a pothole or drive on uneven roads
- When replacing suspension or steering parts
- When getting new tires to ensure they wear properly
- When your steering wheel isn’t centered while going straight down the road
- If it has been longer than one year since it was checked last
Two Types Of Alignments
An alignment has to do with the angles that each of your wheels are positioned in. Your vehicle may require a 2 wheel or front wheel alignment, but some vehicles will have the requirement of doing a 4 wheel alignment. It really depends on what type of chassis that the vehicle has and what parts the manufacturer has put onto the vehicle. It also depends on if the vehicle has any aftermarket upgrades or altered steering/suspension parts. When there are alterations or upgrades, you must consult with the manufacturer of those parts and find a shop that will work with custom specifications.
Save Yourself Money In The Long Run By Getting An Alignment Now
If your vehicle isn’t in proper alignment then you risk wearing your tires out unevenly and prematurely. A tire wears evenly across all tread points when it is in alignment and inflated to the proper specification. Tires are expensive to replace so that’s why having your alignment as well as your tire pressures checked regularly is so important. In fact, having a wheel alignment performed once per year is recommended. When a tire is wearing unevenly or is out of alignment, you will experience poor fuel economy, which means more time at the pump. Ensuring that the tires are rolling with as little resistance as possible is the key. If you have a tire that is angled too far inward or too far outward and you are going down the highway with that resistance, you will not be rolling straight or as streamlined as possible. When all 4 tires are angled properly and there are no inflation or tread wear issues, this is when you are achieving the best fuel economy and saving the most money.
What is the wheel alignment process?
Your vehicle has parts that need to be inspected before simply performing an alignment. A technician will look at these parts along with an alignment check or inspection. Upon inspection, a technician will look at the struts, shocks, springs, inner and outer tie rod ends, sway bar links, wheel bearings, ball joints, control arms and bushings, as well as make sure the steering wheel is straight when driving down the road. These parts make up the steering and suspension systems of the vehicle and they must be “tight” or pass an inspection before a technician is able to align the vehicle to the proper specifications. Every vehicle has certain specifications for where the angles should end up in order for a proper alignment. The process goes like this: Test drive the vehicle, drive vehicle onto the alignment rack (drive on lift), place alignment heads onto the wheels, perform computer alignment process, get measurements, and then make necessary adjustments to get the vehicle’s alignment angles into proper specification. This process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to around an hour. If you have any loose or worn out parts that are crucial to the alignment, they must be replaced before adjustments can be made.
If you would like to have your alignment checked, give us a call or click the link below to set your appointment! Getting your alignment checked is the best way to ensure that your driving experience feels right and ensures proper tire wear so that your tires can last as long as possible.