Vehicle alignment is a complicated issue. When speaking about vehicle alignment, your service advisor is referring to the position of your tires relative to the vehicle’s body. This includes their position fore and aft (front and rear), as well as the angle at which the tires sit relative to the vehicles body on all four axes. There are a lot of parts in your suspension system that can affect your alignment. Driving a vehicle in need of alignment can be annoying, but more importantly it can affect the performance, longevity, and safety of your tires and vehicle.
Alignment measurements are taken in tenths and hundredths of degrees, so it does not take much to knock them out of alignment. There are many ways that this can happen, most of which we’re sure you’re familiar with.
Wheel alignment can be thrown off by:
There are a few indicators that will help you determine if you need an alignment such as:
Every car is different, but generally once a year or every third oil change, depending on your driving conditions. If you frequently drive in areas where you are hitting potholes, large ruts, or other debris, you may need to have it checked more often. Please consult your owner's manual for your manufacturers recommended intervals.
Whether it’s an alignment issue or a strange noise, if your car is giving you warning signs of a bigger problem, it’s very important to have a professional inspect your vehicle as soon as possible. Neglecting your alignment over time will end up costing you more money than the repair, and could potentially be dangerous. Poor alignment will cause uneven tire wire, meaning you will find yourself buying expensive sets of tires far more often. As your alignment worsens, you can start to experience steering and handling issues. The added stress on the tires will translate into added stress on your suspension components, leading to a need to replace costly parts earlier and more frequently than expected.
When the technician pulls your car into the shop, the first thing he will do is a visual and physical inspection of your tires and all suspension components to check that everything is in proper working condition. If a tire, bushing, or other suspension part needs to be replaced, it is best to replace it before the alignment is performed. Once the inspection has taken place, the technician will place the vehicle on a specialized machine that places a laser and mirror system on each wheel. That system will translate precise measurements to a computer letting the technician know your vehicle’s current camber, toe, and caster. The computer will also indicate where the adjustments need to be and how much adjustment is needed. Each vehicle has its own set of recommend camber, toe, and caster settings, so it is important to take your vehicle to a reputable service station with a good alignment machine.
Camber is the inward or outward angle of the tire when viewed from the front of the vehicle. Too much negative or positive camber is an indication of improper alignment and will need to be adjusted. Often this is caused by worn wheel-suspension parts.
Toe is the angle at which your tires turn inward or outward when viewed from above. When both tires are pointed at each other this is called “toe-in,” and when both are pointed away from each other this is called “toe-out” alignment. Both require their own adjustments. This is a separate adjustment independent of your vehicles camber.
Caster is the angle of your steering axis when viewed from the side of the vehicle. Positive caster indicates that the axis tilted towards the driver. Negative caster indicates that the axis tilts toward the front of your vehicle. This adjustment helps to balance steering, stability, and cornering of your vehicle. This too is a separate adjustment from the caster and toe adjustments.