This morning I was thumbing through a local newspaper and stumbled across an Astrology Report that in the coming weeks a unique stellar event is about to happen, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn will be in alignment and this interesting fact has many implications, if you are so inclined to read deeper into what happens when Neptune is in Retrograde and Saturn is “travelling through Sagittarius this year…but when it comes to your car…waiting for the planets to align before getting the shakes, shimmies and drifts looked at is not a good thing at all.
What is an Alignment?
When your vehicle’s wheels are properly aligned it really means that they are all pointed in the same direction. While this may be an over simplification it really is just that. When they are out of alignment though most motorists notice a couple of things:
- The family car seems to pull to one side or the other while driving. This can be slight or it can be quite severe.
- If you wheels have been out of alignment for a while, you will also see uneven tire wear (the shoulder on either the inside or outside of the tire is worn down more than the other).
A whole bunch of Steering and Suspension Components all come together to keep your car, truck or van rolling straight and over time, every day driving causes these joints to loosen up. Running through the car swallowing potholes that Spring Time always seems to bring bubbling to the top of the asphalt is another cause to bring the wheels out of alignment.
Most manufacturers recommend having the alignment checked at least every couple of years and depending on where you live and the conditions you drive in (off-road driving, harsh winter conditions, poor pavement, etc) you may want to step up this to be an annual check. If you are unsure, don’t hesitate to ask one of our Service Managers if it is time for an Alignment Check!
Camber, Toe and Caster
There are three components to a VIP Alignment Check and they involve the checking of how straight the wheels on your vehicle go round and round!!!
Camber is the most widely discussed and controversial of the three elements of an alignment. It is the angle between the wheel’s vertical alignment perpendicular to the surface. If a wheel is perfectly perpendicular, the angle would be 0 degrees. Camber is then described ads negative camber when the top of the tire tilts inward towards the fender wheel wells and positive camber is when they tilt away from the vehicle.
There are reasons why you may want to have the camber out of alignment (ie visual appeal or for advanced handling characteristics under some circumstances) but as a general rule, to maximize the investment and ensure you have maximum rubber meeting the road…bringing that camber angle to 0 degrees will extend the life of your tires, but may rob you of performance during corning.
Caster is a bit more difficult to see, but in it is defined as the angle created by the steering pivots from the front and back of the vehicle. Caster is positive if it is angled forward and negative if angled backward.
Typically, a positive caster will make the vehicle more stable at higher speeds, but will increase tire lean when cornering (and increase the steering effort as well).
Most vehicles now have what is called “cross-caster”. This means that they will have slightly different caster and cambers which will cause a slight drift to the right while rolling. This is a safety feature so that a vehicle will tend to drift away from oncoming traffic.
Toe is probably the easiest to see and understand as the Toe angle is derived from pointing the tires inward or outward from a top down view (much like looking down at your toes and aligning them either in or out.
The correct toe is the most important factor to ensure even tread wear and extend the life of your tires. If the tires are pointed inward or outward, they will scrub against the surface of the road and cause wear along the edges of your tires.
Vehicles are designed with manufacturers settings for a reason. Countless hours of research, testing and development go into building that 2000+ lbs vehicle that we send hurtling down the road to our intended destinations.
There are some symptoms of improper wheel alignment:
- the steering wheel is off center when driving straight
- the vehicle pulls to one side when driving on a straight and level road
- the vehicle doesn’t hold the road well, feels unstable, wanders from side to side
- tires screeching when turning
- tires wear unevenly
If you have any of these symptoms, we can help you with 4 convenient locations in London, ON.