Every car on the road was created by a talented team of automotive engineers. And while there are many differences between the various makes and models, they all have something in common: every vehicle’s wheels need to be properly aligned.
When your car’s wheels are correctly aligned, it tracks straight, without pulling to one side or the other. Good alignment helps your tires to wear evenly and last longer. But while the wheels of every car that leaves the factory are properly aligned, they don’t stay that way.
Out in the real world, your wheels are constantly being banged around. Potholes, curbs, and road debris all take their toll, knocking your wheels out of alignment. Restoring those factory-fresh alignment specs will bring back that new-car ride and handling, and will often improve your vehicle’s fuel economy.
What is a wheel alignment?
A wheel alignment procedure returns your car’s wheels to their original factory settings. Some alignments deal with the front wheels only, and some involve all four wheels. There are four different types of alignment specifications, which are:
Toe: This is defined as the angle that your tires turn inward or outward when viewed from above. If you look down at your feet as you turn your toes toward the center or out to the sides, this illustrates how the toe adjustment works.
Camber: This is the inward or outward angle of your wheels when viewed from the front. Correct alignment specifications may actually have the tops of the wheels and tires leaning slightly inward, instead of being perfectly vertical. This is known as “negative camber,” and is used to enhance stability and help with cornering.
Caster: This refers to the angle of your car’s steering axis, as viewed from the side. The proper caster adjustment keeps your car tracking straight, and also helps the vehicle to return to a straight-ahead position after driving around a corner or a curve.
Thrust: This is checked during a four-wheel alignment. It is a measurement of how parallel the front and rear axles are to each other, and to the centerline of your vehicle. Proper thrust adjustment ensures that all four wheels of the car will track straight down the road, preventing “crabbing” and uneven wear of your tires and suspension.
How do you know if you need a wheel alignment?
Your car can go out of alignment from the wear and tear of the daily grind, from one or more severe impacts, or from a combination of the two. Here are some warning signs that you may need a wheel alignment:
- You feel a vibration through the steering wheel
- Your car pulls to one side and won’t track straight
- When you are driving straight, the steering wheel is not centered
- Your tires are wearing quickly or unevenly
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is time to call a mechanic. You might only need an alignment, but there could also be some repairs needed to get your car back into good condition. Don’t put it off, it will only get worse.
Why does wheel alignment matter?
Proper wheel alignment is good for your car in many ways:
Improved tire life: Wheels that are properly aligned allow your tires to run down the road straight and true. This will give you the best possible lifespan for your tires.
Smoother ride and better handling: When your wheels are in correct alignment, you are experiencing these qualities just as the engineers intended.
Optimal fuel economy: Aligning your wheels eliminates a variety of inefficient, drag-inducing forces that waste gas and cost you money.
How can you make your alignment last?
Thanks largely to the state of today’s roads (which are not in great condition in most places), it is only a matter of time before your car will go out of alignment again. But there are some practical ways to make your alignment last:
Avoid all the road hazards you can: If you know the locations of bad potholes in your area, avoid them. Take a smoother route, even if it takes a bit longer. One bad pothole hit can destroy your alignment.
Drive gently: Take it easy where the roads are in bad shape. Aggressively hitting potholes at high speeds will magnify the potential damage. In addition to ruining your alignment, you could also bend a wheel or blow out a tire.
Don’t overload your vehicle: Carrying around a lot of unnecessary extra weight in your trunk or cargo area will not only reduce your fuel economy, it will make pothole impacts much harsher. Damage to your wheels, tires, and suspension is a real possibility.
A Mechanic You Can Trust
As always, we want you to be safe and secure while on the road, and we’re here to help. Our doors are open. If you need service, contact us to schedule an appointment.