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What is Wheel Alignment?

What is Wheel Alignment?

Wheel alignment is part of standard vehicle maintenance that consists of adjusting the angles of wheels to the car manufacturer specifications. A wheel alignment helps your vehicle in many ways, but ultimately it ensures the best drivability and tire life.

In addition to extending the life of your tires, it also helps your car drive smoother, and consume less energy. Since your vehicle is consuming less energy, as a result this translates into better gas milage.

Wheel Alignment Machine
Old Wheel Alignment Machine

Is a Wheel Alignment Really that Expensive?!?

A wheel alignment will cost you anywhere from $50 – $100. This means that you will be spending this much money once or twice per year. Under normal driving conditions, this is the recommendations for how often you should align your wheels.

However, if you are constantly driving on rough roads, then you should probably be on a first-name basis with your alignment professional.

Note: You should also have your tires checked for proper balance when getting a wheel alignment.

Being on a first-name basis with your alignment professional isn’t a good thing for your pockets.

However, if you like saving money and spending money on what you actually want to get, then read below to learn how to avoid constant wheel alignments and see when you actually need an alignment.

Signs of a Bad Wheel Alignment

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It’s good practice to check your alignment from time to time. Correcting your bad alignment will help ensue your tires are wearing evenly. Your car is aligned best and true on new tires. In addition to new tires, a true wheel alignment needs to be done with the correct air pressure and suspension that is in good shape.

Listed below are a few signs of a bad alignment.

Car Pulling Right or Left?

Here are some examples of tell tale signs that your alignment could be out:

  • Tilted steering wheel
  • Car pulling to the left
  • Car pulling to the right

When it comes to bad wheel alignment, a good place to start is by making sure your car is driving straight. Stright means that your vehicle is not pulling to the right or left.

You can test this by simply driving down the road and loosening your grip on your steering wheel. Your vehicle should follow a straight path. If not you may need an alignment.

Following the path that’s straight and narrow is always harder… but it’s worth it.

However, please note just because your car pulls doesn’t mean it’s an alignment issue. You could have what’s known as torque steer. This type of problem tends to happen on front wheel drive cars.

Further, your car could be pulling because of a radial tire pull. A simple tire rotation could correct this issue. Learn how to properly fix your tires to save time and money.

Please note, your car can have a pull do to improper air pressure.

Worn Suspension?

Your alignment can also be affected by worn out suspension components. In order to do a true alignment you’ll need to make sure everything is in perfect shape, including your tires. Don’t know if your tires are bad? Click here.

Tire Tread and Wear Patterns

Having mixed match tires on your car can affect your alignment. Further, tires wear patterns are a good tell tale sign that you could have a bad alignment.

Depending on if your tires have different tread depths and or air pressures, this could also cause your car to pull. Be sure to check your air pressure before you drive. Also make sure all your tread depths are the same for each tire.

If your tires do not have the same tread depths, be sure to rotate your tires so that your tread depths are closest together per axle.

Tire Tread Depth Gauges (2 Pack)
Tire Tread Depth Gauges (2 Pack)

This tire tread depth gauge tool reads in 32nds. Suitable for trucks, motorcycles, automobiles and any passenger vehicle. Know exactly when to get new tires!

For example, if your tire measurements are 4/32, 4/32, 7/32, and 7/32, you want the two 7/32 tires to both be on the rear. Then you want your two 4/32 tires to be on the front. Rear tires provide stability. Without stability, steering or braking on a wet or even damp surface might cause hydroplaning.

So, it’s good practice to inflate your tires to the proper air pressure and to inspect your tire tread before you drive to insure your tires are wearing evenly.

Please note: If you have different tread depths on each tire, you want your two rear tires to be as close in tread depth to each other as possible. In addition, your front two tires to be close in tread depth to each other as well. 

Driving a Car with Bad Wheel Alignment

Your wheel alignment is crucial when it comes to preventing tire issues. Be sure every time you buy new tires that you are sure to have your alignment and suspension checked. You may have something wrong that you really have never noticed.

If you were to put new tires on your vehicle without checking your suspension or alignment, your tires could have a shorter life span. This will leave you buying new tires more often, and could result in further vehicle trouble.

Driving with a bad alignment will lead to increased tire damage, decreased vehicle performance, and poor gas mileage.

It’s not always easy to notice the signs of something bad, until it’s too late.

In addition, a bad wheel alignment can also cause tire issues such as tire cupping, inner edge wear, and or outer edge wear. However, before you check your alignment, make sure your suspension components are tight and everything is in tip top shape.

Further, your alignment is broken down into three angles: camber, caster and toe. Read below to know the difference and how wheel alignment will differ depending on the angle your tires are wearing.

What is Toe?

Toe is very important for an alignment, toe controls which way your wheels are pointing, if toe is out even the slightest you could be causing your tires to drag.

A good example for toe would be someone skiing if both of your skis are parallel to each other in a straight line this makes sliding through the snow easy especially in turns.

Now imagine if both your skis were facing a few degrees outward, but you’re trying to go straight. It would be very hard and would require a lot of effort to go straight. You would more than likely end up doing a split trying to stay straight.

Imagine if your skis were pointing inward you would be fighting to keep your skis from crossing paths, or if one ski was pointing out and the other pointing straight there would be a lot of friction on the snow.

So, therefore if your tires are doing the same thing, that means your car is stuck dragging your tires along the road causing very bad tire wear and or tire cupping. 

What is Camber?

Camber is responsible for keeping all of your tires vertical and wearing evenly on the ground. Pretty much making sure you do not have excessive edge wear on your tires.

Once again imagine the skis, try riding the skis on the corner or edges of the skis at all times. This would be very difficult, and I’m no expert when it comes to skiing, but I’m sure over time this would wear out your legs as well as the edges of the skis.

So, in the same way having a perfect camber is key to prevent tire cupping on the edge of your tire. Your tire being perfectly flat (vertical) to the ground, like the skis, has the least amount of friction. 

Camber Angles

There are three different camber angles that your wheel can experience. The angles are as followed: neutral, positive, and negative.

A neutral camber means that you shock is perfectly vertical with the center of the wheel. Meaning that your wheel is positioned directly “south” of the strut mount or upper ball joint (depending upon the vehicle suspension type).

A positive camber means that your wheel is leaning out or away from the center of your vehicle. Meaning that your wheel is experiencing outer edge wear.

A negative camber means that your wheel is leaning in or towards the center of your vehicle. Meaning that your wheel is experiencing inner edge wear.

What is Caster?

Caster can best be explained by the forwards or backwards tilt of your wheel. To be more descriptive caster is the top to bottom angle of the steering axis and suspension components as they meet the wheel.

To explain caster once again imagine skiing but trying to lean back as far as you can while skiing. Turning while leaning back riding the skis would be very difficult. Leaning as far forward as you can on the skis would also make things more difficult when it came time to take a turn. When standing upright on your skis you feel most comfortable to take on the turns and terrain ahead.

In this same way, when your wheels and tires on the front of your car are way more forward this causes your strut/shock absorber to be more at angle instead of straight up and down. This tilt makes turning more difficult.

Which in turn, makes it harder for your suspension to do its job and absorb the impact. Same thing goes for your wheels/tires, leaning forwards or backwards makes turning your car more difficult and makes it harder for your suspension to do its job. Caster could also be the culprit behind your tire cupping.

Caster Angles

There are three different caster angles that your wheel can experience. The angles are as followed: neutral, positive, and negative.

A neutral caster means that you shock is perfectly vertical with the center of the wheel. Meaning that your wheel is positioned directly “south” of the strut mount or upper ball joint (depending upon the vehicle suspension type).

A positive caster means that your wheel is leaning towards the back of your vehicle. Meaning that your wheel is positioned is in front of your strut mount or upper ball joint (depending upon the vehicle suspension type).

A negative caster means that your wheel is leaning forward towards the front of your vehicle. Meaning that your wheel is positioned is in behind your strut mount or upper ball joint (depending upon the vehicle suspension type).

Common Question(s) about Wheel Alignments

What causes a bad alignment?

Here are some examples that would cause alignment/suspension issues: bad suspension, rusty suspension, old suspension, worn out suspension. Diving on rough terrain or hitting foreign objects in the road can cause suspension issues. Examples of things to avoid or to be cautious of while driving, curbs, bricks, wood, speed bumps, speed humps, potholes, railroad crossings, gravel roads, construction zones.

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