Everything You Need to Know About Wheel Alignment
No matter what kind of daily driving you are accustomed to, your vehicle will need a wheel alignment at some point. Even if you never had an accident or hit a deep pothole, it’s best to have your mechanic check the alignment of your wheels periodically. If the alignment is out of whack, it can cause a lot of issues with the vehicle in terms of performance, efficiency, and even safety. In this article, our experts will go over all the details of wheel alignment and why it’s so important.
What Is a Wheel Alignment?
To put it simply, a wheel alignment is the adjustment of the vehicle’s suspension system, which connects the wheels to the body. It is important to note that a wheel alignment is not just about straightening the tires. This is an adjustment to the entire system to ensure that every component is rolling at the correct angles. Optimized contact between the tires and the road is the end-goal for wheel alignments.
Signs that You Need an Alignment
As we mentioned earlier, every vehicle will eventually need a wheel alignment. However, some may need this adjustment done sooner than others. If you hit a pothole or a curb, you may need to have the alignment checked. If you hydroplane or slide off the road at high speed, you definitely need to have it checked. Of course, if you get into an accident, the wheel alignment will need to be checked as well.
There are several signs that can indicate a bad alignment. The most noticeable is if your vehicle is pulling to the left or right instead of driving straight. If your steering wheel is off-center, this means that the wheel alignment is also off. Vibration in the steering column is another sign of a bad alignment, along with uneven tread wear on your tires.
What’s Involved in a Wheel Alignment Check?
If you have noticed any of the signs above, then it’s time to bring your vehicle in for a wheel alignment check. Our experts here at Thomas Nissan do these all of the time. The process is simple. Our technicians will inspect your vehicle’s suspension system along with the steering components. This will also include an air pressure and condition check for your tires; then, your vehicle will be put onto an alignment rack. This piece of equipment uses laser sensors to measure the current alignment of the wheels. Once this part of the process is complete, the technician will be able to determine whether or not the vehicle needs an alignment.
If the technician believes that a total wheel alignment is necessary, he or she will adjust the camber, caster, and toe angle to match with the specifications from the vehicle manufacturer. A comparison printout will be made so that you can see how much adjustment was needed. To ensure everything is running smoothly, the technician will perform a short test drive. Then, your vehicle will be ready to go!
The Parts of a Wheel Alignment
The camber is the inward or outward angle of a tire from a front-facing viewpoint. An inward tilt is known as a negative camber, and an outward tilt is called a positive camber. Too much of either is an indication of improper alignment. Worn out bearing or ball joints can cause camber angles to be skewed.
The caster is a side view of the angle of your steering axis. Having an off-balance caster angle can negatively impact your steering balance, stability, and even your ability to take on corners. If the axis is tilted toward the driver, it is known as a positive caster. If it is tilted toward the front of the vehicle, that is called a negative caster.
The toe is the bird’s-eye-view of each tire’s angle. If your tires are turned in or out too much, then they need to be aligned properly. The toe refers to the extent of the tilt. Positive toe is when the tires are tilting towards each other, and negative toe is when they are pointing away from each other.
What Can Bad Wheel Alignment Do to Your Vehicle?
The main thing that improper wheel alignment does to your vehicle is to cause premature/uneven wear to your tires. However, there are many other issues that will arise if you do not get your alignment fixed in a timely manner. It can cause a decrease in the vehicle’s fuel economy, and it can even make it more dangerous to drive during inclement weather. You may also experience a slower stopping time due to decreased tread.
What Types of Tire Wear Should You Worry About?
There are three main types of wear that can be caused by improper wheel alignment. The first is known as feathering. This occurs when one side of the tire’s tread is smooth, and the other side is sharp. This is an indication of a bad toe alignment.
Next, camber wear is another type to watch out for. This occurs when either the inside or the outside of the tire’s tread is significantly more worn out than the center. This type of uneven wear is caused by positive or negative camber.
Finally, the last type of uneven wear to look for is heel/toe wear. This occurs when one side of the tire’s tread wears down more quickly than the other. It happens in a circumferential direction, which means that the tread will look like the teeth of a saw from a side view. What causes this type of uneven wear is usually under-inflation. It may also be a sign that your tires need to be rotated.
Do You Need a 2 or 4 Wheel Alignment?
There are two main types of wheel alignment – 2 and 4-wheel. It is relatively easy to figure out which one you need. At its most basic, 2-wheel alignments are for your front two wheels, and 4-wheel alignments are for all of your wheels. However, if you don’t know which type of alignment you may need, ask your service person what they think is best for your vehicle. However, if you have a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle, you will need to get a 4 wheel alignment.
First, let’s look at 2-wheel alignments. Also known as a front end alignment, this type of wheel alignment only deals with the front two wheels. The technician will adjust the caster, camber, and toe of these two wheels so that they are rolling parallel to the centerline of the vehicle. This alignment is really only good for two-wheel drive models.
If you are getting a 2-wheel alignment done, the technician may also do a thrust alignment. The trust alignment is where your front two wheels are adjusted to be pointing in the same direction (or thrust angle) as the rear wheels. Doing this is recommended for vehicles that have an independent rear suspension.
The other wheel alignment option is the 4-wheel alignment. The technician will make the appropriate adjustments to all four wheels, including the caster, camber, and toe angles. Basically, this is a comprehensive reset of all four wheels to manufacturer specifications. If you have a vehicle with four-wheel independent suspensions, this is the alignment you should always get.
Schedule a Wheel Alignment
Whether you get a 2 or 4 wheel alignment, it shouldn’t take very long. The 4 wheel alignment is the most complex, and it can be completed in an hour or less. All you need to do is make an appointment with our service department. This is one of those services that you do not want to put off if you suspect that your alignment is off, and with such a short wait time, there is no reason not to schedule a wheel alignment as soon as possible.
Do you think you need to get your wheel alignment checked? Our team of experts can take care of your wheel alignment with ease and keep your car driving straight. Simply give us a call or schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience online.