Keeping your car in tip-top shape is one of the most important things about car ownership. To fully enjoy your mean machine, you’ll have to learn all the parts that need attention every now and then. In this article, we’ll be looking at wheel alignment and how it affects driving dynamics, tire life, and fuel consumption.
Although there are more complex variables involved in truly dialing in your alignment settings, we’re going to keep it simple by discussing just the three properties you need to know when taking your car in for an alignment service. Let’s employ the help of our friendly neighborhood dictionary to help us wrap our heads around these terms: caster, camber, and toe. Take it away, Merriam-Webster!
Caster is defined as “the slight, usually backward tilt from vertical of the axis of the steering mechanism of an automobile for giving directional stability to the front wheels.” To break it down, caster is the wheel alignment property that helps with self-centering steering. This is why after turning left or right, it always feels easier to straighten your steering wheel once you start moving forward. If you ever feel that you’re putting in the same amount of effort into straightening your car after you make a turn, then it’s time to have your wheel alignment checked.
Positive camber is defined as “a setting of the wheels of an automotive vehicle closer together at the bottom than at the top.” Negative camber would be the opposite of that. Having your car aligned with the proper camber angle values ensures that the tires make maximum contact with the road. Having them at the wrong angles, whether positive or negative, can and will lead to excessive shoulder wear.
Toe is defined as “adjustment of the front wheels of an automotive vehicle so that they are closer together at the front than at the back.” This can best be visualized if you imagine looking at your car from the top. Toe would then be the angle created if the front of your tires are closer together than their rears. This would be known as toe-in, with the opposite being toe-out. Improper toe values make it difficult for tires to make the most of its tread pattern, therefore contributing to excessive tire wear and increased fuel consumption.
With all of that in mind, you can have your car brought in for alignment service almost anywhere in the Metro. Here are a couple of do's and don'ts to keep in mind:
* Do have your wheels aligned at least once a year. But if you take a bad shunt on a curb, or hit a pothole, make sure you have it checked as well. With that said, don't hit the curbs or drive straight into nasty potholes.
* Do go with a reputable shop. Ask your friends or family members for recommendations and reviews on which shops are knowledgeable and technically proficient. It will help to look for shops that are near you for convenience. Don't bring your car to just any talyer if they don’t have the proper equipment to work on your car.
* Do make sure that your suspension components are in tip-top shape to eliminate any suspension-related issues when you have your car brought in for alignment. Don’t waste your money by having an alignment job done knowing you’ve got worn suspension parts. Make sure you sort those out first!
* Do test drive the car immediately after you get your service. The steering should track straight at any speed, and the car shouldn’t veer off to the left or right when you’ve got your steering wheel pointed straight. Make sure that the shop’s machine has your car in its database, and that they’ve got the proper alignment values for your make and model. Also check that the technicians don’t get lazy with their work, and that they’re following the standard values. Don't ever agree to just have your steering wheel pulled out and straightened. That is not the proper way to go about it.
Assuming that everything related to your car’s suspension is in order, and that your tires are in perfectly good health and inflated uniformly, making sure your wheels are properly aligned provides optimal benefits to your car’s health and your driving pleasure.
For one, it ensures that your car steers and tracks like it’s on rails. Two, it guarantees you get the most value for money and maximum performance from your tires. Three, it ensures that your tires are properly set up for maximum braking performance. And four, it ensures that you are not introducing excess drag to your car’s dynamics, and that you are getting the maximum possible fuel savings from it.