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Wheel alignment: defined

When qualified technicians perform an alignment, they measure and adjust a vehicles suspension – the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels.

The key to a proper alignment is adjusting the angles of the tires, which affects how they make contact with the road.

A four-wheel alignment restores all four corners of your vehicle back to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Wheel alignment: when it is needed

AutoWorks recommends that you have the wheel alignment on your vehicle checked by a licensed, professional, and competent automotive technician every 2 to 3 years as part of routine maintenance.

More importantly than that, there are definitive instances when your vehicle needs to have a wheel alignment.

The technicians at AutoWorks are always looking out for the health of your vehicle and your safety. They check the wheel alignment every time they test-drive a vehicle and inspect the vehicle during an oil change.

These are the instances when your vehicle may need an alignment:

  • After tires are replaced
  • When there is uneven tread wear on the tires
  • The vehicle pulls to the left or right
  • The steering wheel is off center when driving straight
  • There is vibration from the steering wheel
  • When the handling is unstable
  • When ride quality has become rough
  • When fuel economy has declined
  • When the vehicle has been in an accident

Wheel alignment: its benefits

A proper alignment consists of adjusting the angles of wheels so that they are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground so that the front and rear tires are on the same track.

At AutoWorks, during our service inspections, our technicians often notice unusual tire wear. In addition, after a test drive, our technicians may notice that the vehicle may be pulling to one direction or that some of the suspension parts or components are not wearing properly. These are good indicators that the vehicle is out of alignment.

There are at least 8 important benefits to having a competent and professional auto repair technician perform an alignment on your vehicle:

  1. Prolongs the life of the tires
  2. Improves handling
  3. Increases the stability in severe weather and on bad roads
  4. Eliminates pulling to one side or the other
  5. Increases gas mileage
  6. Reduces the wear on suspension parts
  7. Improves safety
  8. Helps eliminate unsafe drifting and unstable steering problems

Misalignment: what causes it

MisalignmentListed below are all the issues that may be throwing your vehicle out of alignment. All of them have to do with alignment angles being off.

Toe: The toe refers to the directional difference between the front and back of the tire formed by the upper part of an axis on a flat plane. There are two types of toe: toe-in and toe-out.

Toe-in: The front of the tires are a shorter distance than the rear of the tires across the axle. In this case, abrasion occurs on the tire’s outer surface.

Toe-out: The rear of the tires are a shorter distance than the front of the tires across the axle. In this case, abrasion occurs on the tire’s inner surface.

In both cases, there is a high degree of resistance from the road surface, which results in decreased drivability and greater fuel cost. A controlled degree of toe-in increases safety in straight-line driving and offsets inner abrasion that occurs due to negative camber.

CamberCamber: The camber prevents tire abrasion and increases steering manipulation. According to the angle at which the top or bottom portion of a tire pulls inward or outward when the car is on a flat surface, there are three types of camber: positive, negative, and neutral.

With the development of suspension and auto technology, most vehicles today have negative camber. In the case of negative camber, the car tilts when cornering due to centrifugal force. The outer tires area of contact with the road surface increases, which allows for safe cornering.

Caster: Caster is the angle that identifies the forward or backward slope of a line that is drawn through the upper and lower steering pivot points. It does not affect tire wear, but caster does have an influence on the directional control of the steering. Caster angle settings allow manufacturers to balance steering effort, high speed stability, and front-end cornering effectiveness.

  • Positive caster – If the line slopes toward the rear of the vehicle, the caster is positive. Positive caster increases the lean of the tire when the vehicle is cornering, while returning it to an upright position when driving straight ahead.
  • Negative caster – If the line slopes toward the front of the vehicle, the caster is negative. Negative caster will allow you to steer less around turns, but may cause you to drift if you are driving straight forward.

Thrust: The path or track of the rear axle is not straight compared to the centerline of the vehicle. This may cause a pull to one side or a crooked steering wheel.

When the vehicle is out of alignment, the tires will wear unevenly and quickly 

Tires are worn on one shoulder:

The cause of this problem could be excessive camber, too high or too low; excessive toe in or toe out; lack of proper rotation.

The solution to this problem is a four-wheel alignment; replacing or relocating the worn tires; or rotating the tires at regular intervals.

Tires are worn on center or both shoulders:

The cause of this problem may be that the tires are running underinflated; the tires are running overinflated; the vehicle is being overloaded; a combination of camber and toe issues; lack of proper rotation; or improper tire and wheel fitment.

The solution to this problem is to check the tire pressure weekly and make sure all tires are inflated to the proper level; rotate tires at regular intervals such as when you are having the oil changed; four-wheel alignment; make sure that you do not overload the vehicle and check the load specifications.

Feather edging:

Tires are feathered when the tread is smooth on one side and sharp on another. This is usually a sign of poor toe alignment.

Depending on the severity of the wear, it may be difficult to see the feathered wear on a tire. It’s easy to feel the tire and notice the difference in smoothness.

The cause of this problem could be worn suspension parts; wheel balance; worn-out shock absorbers; internal tire problem; or a combination of worn parts and alignment problems.

The solution to this problem is to have the auto repair center that you trust inspect and replace worn parts; check wheel balance; replace the tires; and perform a four-wheel alignment.

CuppingCupping:

Tire cupping, also known as tire scalloping, is a type of uneven tire wear that appears on the tread of the tire as a series of abnormally worn patches. This occurs when the tire does not maintain contact with the road.

This may cause a vibration in the steering wheel and the tire may feel that it is bouncing on the road.

Several factors could cause tire cupping, including misalignment of tires, worn suspension components, unbalanced tires, damaged rims, and low quality tires.