Is Your Car Driving You Round the Bend?
Many of us don’t realise the importance of wheel alignment; instead presuming the only thing that can happen to our tyres is an occasional puncture. However, incorrectly aligned wheels can result in handling difficulties, loss of grip and control of your vehicle and a drastically reduced life-span for your tyres, making regular wheel alignment incredibly important.
What is wheel alignment?
Also known as wheel tracking, wheel alignment involves adjusting each of the wheels on a vehicle to ensure that they are calibrated in accordance with precise manufacturer specifications. Advanced technological equipment is used to check each angle and determine the reading of your vehicle’s alignment and then any adjustments necessary can be made.
Although it requires complex equipment and specialist training, wheel tracking is actually a relatively quick and simple process, usually taking around half an hour to complete by a qualified mechanic. The main aim is to reconfigure the vehicle’s suspension, realigning all wheels with each other and the road surface.
When should I check my wheel alignment?
Most misaligned wheels occur as a result of general wear and tear, which can be worsened by things such as potholes, railroad crossings and cattle grids. Additionally, it can be caused by more severe events, such as bumps and accidents, which can instantly knock your vehicle out of alignment.
You should schedule regular, periodic wheel alignment and experts recommend you do this every 6 months or after every 6000 miles. However, it is also incredibly important to get your wheel alignment checked if you’ve hit something, notice a wear pattern on your tyres or notice a difference in the handling of your vehicle as these are all key signs that your wheels may be misaligned.
How are wheels aligned?
The alignment machines will assess three main angles during the wheel alignment process – camber, caster and toe – adjusting each one as necessary.
Camber – the angle of the wheel when viewed from the front of the vehicle. If the wheel leans too far in one direction, uneven wear can occur. Positive camber means the top of the wheel is leaning away from the car; negative camber means the wheel leans towards the car.
Caster – the alignment of the wheels through the vertical centre line. Caster is set so your vehicle goes straight ahead. Positive caster occurs when the angle is toward the rear of the vehicle; negative caster means it angles to the front of the vehicle.
Toe – the difference in distance between the front of the tyres and the back of the tyres. Toe settings mainly affect the vehicle’s handling characteristics. Toe-in means the front ends of the tyre are closer and is signified by the tyres wearing from the outside; toe-out is when the rear ends of the tyres are closer and is denoted by the tyres wearing from the inside.
What are the benefits?
Analysing and adjusting each of the angles will make sure the wheels of the car are perpendicular to the road, as well as parallel with each other, making sure the pressure on your tyres is even. This will instantly make your car perform and drive better, as there is less strain on the suspension system, and also significantly enhances your safety within it.
Additionally, you can save money on fuel (as there is less resistance from road surface) and also save yourself the expense of replacing your tyres after misalignment has completely worn them out.