You probably know that basic wheel alignment means making sure your wheels are aligned properly, but what does that really mean?
In the simplest explanation, wheel alignment means adjusting the tires so that they are exactly perpendicular to the ground surface. The wheels are also supposed to be parallel to each other.
When the alignment is off, that’s when you feel your car shake as you drive. The shaking feeling is important, but there’s more to understanding why wheel alignment is so important.
Why is Wheel Alignment Important?
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If you are driving down the road and your wheels are not lined up correctly, then they are going to make your drive pretty uncomfortable.
Alignment is more complex than it is given credit for as it also required for several different parts to work correctly. If your wheels are out of alignment, strain is put on suspension, steering, tire durability, and the parts that are connected to those that are directly affected.
If you feel like your car is driving more roughly than usual or is shaking when you hit higher speeds, you’ll want to get your alignment checked.
What Throws Off Wheel Alignment?
It is easy to throw off your wheel alignment. In fact, it is easier than you might think, so if you come across any of these issues in your driving, you’ll want to get your alignment checked.
- Potholes – the sudden drop as you drive over one can throw off your alignment with a quickness.
- Hitting the curb – the driver might dismiss it with a quirky “curb check” comment, but the reality is that when the curb is hit, the opposing force can cause your tires to no longer sit properly against the ground.
- Normal wear and tear – vehicles age just like everything else, so that means the rubber on your tires is going to wear down. This can mean that anything made of rubber can lose its stretchiness, as well as joints that become looser over time. The result is alignment being off.
Even the slightest alignment error can cause plenty of premature wear on your tires, so be sure to get your tire alignment checked regularly.
What If You Don’t Get Your Wheels Aligned?
The most significant result will be all of the money that you will spend unnecessarily on replacing your tires. When your alignment is off, tires wear quicker, which means you’ll need replacements more often.
In fact, you’ll feel something is wrong when you’re driving down the road. It won’t ride as smooth as you’re used to for one. If your alignment is extremely off, you could even lose control of your vehicle and end up in an accident.
As a tip, check your alignment at every other oil change to make your tires’ lifespan longer.
Are Alignment Specs Different?
The short answer is yes specs are different between every make and model on the road. Alignment specs are provided by the manufacturer and take things into account like the weight, intended use, size, and even length of the vehicle, just to start!
When you take your car in for an alignment, your vehicle type will be determined. Once the technician knows what vehicle he or she is working with, the measurements can commence.
You may want to call your local technician ahead of time, too, to let him or her know what kind of vehicle you have because some luxury imports have special requirements that are different from domestic models.
What Does a Tech Check?
There are three main components that are checked when you bring your car in for an alignment assessment. They are the caster, toe, and camber.
The angle of the caster aids in balancing steering, cornering, and the stability of your vehicle. The caster angle refers to the angle of the steering axis. Having the angle set correctly means that your vehicle will be more stable.
Toe alignment refers to the angle your tires are facing inward or outward. Think about your feet being turned in slightly when you walk.
If your tires are angled like your feet would be, your tires would have what is called toe-in alignment. If you were angling your feet with your toes outward, and your tires reflected that position, then you would have a toe-out alignment.
Either one would have to be corrected.
If you are looking at your tires from directly in front of your car or from the rear of your car, you may or may not be able to detect camber.
Camber is when the tires tilt inward or outward, which ultimately results in uneven wear and excess wear on ball joints and other parts of the suspension system.
Wheel Alignment is Important!
Don’t ever dismiss alignment as an unnecessary part of vehicle maintenance. Your car and your wallet will thank you in the end!