How to do a proper wheel alignment

For better performance
by Paulo Rafael Subido | Mar 18, 2017


After buying a brand-new set of tires, it is essential that you have four-wheel alignment done. This not only ensures that your car will operate within OEM specifications and keep you safe while on the road, but also so that your expensive rubber doesn’t prematurely wear out. But if you notice your car behaving in a weird way, like pulling to one side or with the steering wheel not centered, do have it checked.

Difficulty level

Medium. You need a proper 3D alignment system to do this. The rudimentary way is by using string, toe plates, and camber gauges. Best to leave that to the professionals at the racetrack.   

Things to check:

*Getting a reading is usually free at any good tire supply.

*Newer equipment is faster and more accurate, but it is a mechanic who does the actual alignment. Go to a shop that you trust.

The Gear:

*Hunter 3D Alignment System 

*Wheel adaptor

*Target

*Wrenches

How four-wheel alignment is done:

1) The four key measures to each alignment are: caster, camber, toe and thrust angle. Camber shows how the tire angles away from vertical when viewed from either the front or rear. Caster angle shows the forward or backward slope of a line drawn through the upper and lower steering pivot points. Toe identifies the direction tires are pointed relative to the centerline of the vehicle when viewed from above. Thrust angle confirms if the rear axle is parallel to the front axle, and that the wheelbase on both sides is the same.

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2) There are telltale symptoms of a car with bad alignment, like a steering wheel that is off-center, pulling in one direction, vibration when driving, and tire squealing on low-speed turns. Enter the vehicle year, make, model and design into the system’s computer to determine the OEM’s alignment specifications. That data will be compared to the vehicle’s actual alignment to determine what needs to be done.

3) Chock wheels and raise the lift to a comfortable and safe height. Lock the steering rack using the specialized tool. Lift the vehicle. Now it’s time to get to work. The computer will guide the technician through the process.

4) Race car drivers have various alignment settings to suit their needs on the racetrack. If you intend to spend time on a circuit, look into a customized alignment setting. Trial and error will reveal what works best and for what conditions.

Extra tips:

*If you unexpectedly smash into a huge pothole, this might be enough to wreck your alignment. Have it checked if you fear the worst. Do not use the bump stops at parking lots. This can affect the alignment and damage the suspension.

*Check tires for uneven, irregular wear, as well as to visually check the front-end and rear axle for any compromised suspension or steering components. If there is a bad ball joint or tie-rod end, replace the parts first.

Note: This article originally appeared in Top Gear Philippines' August 2016 issue.

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PHOTO: Paulo Rafael Subido
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