Proper wheel alignment is crucial for safe driving and optimal tire wear. When wheels are out of alignment, it can lead to a range of problems. Here’s a look at wheel alignment, the steps involved, the benefits of alignment, and the dangers of driving with misaligned wheels.
What is Wheel Alignment?
Wheel alignment refers to the adjustment of the angles of the wheels so they are positioned correctly relative to each other and the road. There are three main angles that need to be properly set – camber, caster, and toe.
Camber is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel from top to bottom. Caster is the forward or backward tilt of the steering axis. Toe refers to the angle between the wheels from front to back. These angles need to be calibrated precisely for optimal handling and control.
The Steps of a Wheel Alignment
Getting a wheel alignment is a multi-step process that requires special equipment and expertise. Here are the basic steps:
- Inspection – The mechanic will start by inspecting the condition of the suspension system and look for any worn or damaged components. Issues like bent frames or bad ball joints can affect alignment.
- Measurement – High-tech alignment machines use sensors and lasers to very accurately measure the current alignment settings including the camber, caster, and toe of each wheel.
- Adjustment – Based on the readings from the measurements and vehicle specifications, the alignment technician will make adjustments by realigning the suspension and steering components. This may involve adjusting tie rod ends, idler arms, control arms, and strut mounts.
- Verification – Finally, the wheel alignment is re-measured to verify that the updated settings are within the recommended specifications. Road testing may also be done.
The Benefits of Proper Wheel Alignment
Getting regular wheel alignments provides some significant benefits for your vehicle and driving experience, including:
– Improves handling and steering control – Correct toe alignment makes steering responsive so your vehicle goes where you want it.
– Extends tire life – Properly aligned wheels put less strain on tires so they wear evenly and last longer before needing replacement.
– Boosts fuel economy – Less rolling resistance from tires means better MPG. Estimates indicate 3-10% improvement.
– Provides for a smoother ride – Well aligned wheels enhance your comfort and control as a driver.
– Saves money on repairs – Catching alignment issues early prevents extra wear on tires and suspension parts.
The Dangers of Misaligned Wheels
Driving with wheels that are out of alignment can negatively impact performance and be potentially unsafe. Effects of misalignment include:
– Uneven tire wear – Tires will wear on the edges rather quickly necessitating early replacement. Wear patterns can help diagnose alignment issues.
– Reduced control – Vehicles pull to one side and are harder to keep centered in the lane. This makes driving tiring.
– Decreased stability – reMisaligned wheelsduce your control around turns and when braking leading to a sense the car may tip.
– Blow outs – Severe misalignments cause excessive tire shoulder wear which can lead to sudden blowouts, especially at highway speeds.
– Shortened suspension life – Constant extra pressure strains bushings, joints and connects causing them to fail sooner.
– Lower safety – All of the above impacts of misalignment reduce your overall safety as a driver. A wheel realignment is essential.
Regularly having a certified technician check and adjust your wheel alignment along with tire rotation and balancing pays big dividends for your driving ease and safety as well as preserving your vehicle investment. Don’t put it off.