Normal wear and road conditions can take their toll on your car’s steering and suspension system, possibly throwing the alignment settings out of specifications. Seek a reliable alignment shop to perform a four-wheel alignment on your car. Alignments have always been associated with only the front wheels, but this is no longer true. The vehicles rear wheels set the direction of vehicle travel; the front wheels steer the vehicle. Having all four wheels checked ensures directional harmony as your car goes down the road. Some common symptoms of your car needing an alignment include uneven tire tread wear, pulling to one side, and wandering. While having your car’s alignment checked, it also the perfect opportunity to balance your car’s wheels.
Tire Wear and Directional Control
Camber, toe and toe-out on turns are tire-wear angles. If out of alignment, the tires will wear unevenly and faster than normal. Because camber is related to steering axis inclination, inclination can be considered a tire wearing angle. All alignment angles are directional control angles, which means they affect steering and vehicle control, such as the car traveling to the left or right, you having to always compensate for its pull.
Caster is the tilt of the steering axis of each front wheel as viewed from the side of the vehicle. Caster is measured in degrees of an angle. If the steering axis tilts backward-that is, the upper ball joint or strut mounting point is behind the lower ball joint-the caster angle is positive. If the steering axis tilts forward, the caster angle is negative. Caster is not measured for rear wheels.
Caster affects straight-line stability and steering wheel return. High positive caster makes the front wheels want to go straight ahead. A normal amount of positive caster provides stability and makes the steering wheel straighten out after turning. On the other hand, positive caster increases the effort needed to turn the wheel. Power steering allows the use of more positive caster than would be acceptable with manual steering.
Too little caster can make steering unstable and cause wheel shimmy. Extremely negative caster and the related shimmy can contribute to cupped wear of the front tires. If caster is unequal from side to side, the vehicle will pull toward the side with less positive caster.
Camber is the tilt of the wheel from true vertical as viewed from the front of the vehicle. Like caster, camber is measured in degrees of an angle. If the tire appears to tilt outward at the top, the camber angle is positive. If the top of the tire tilts inward, the camber angle is negative. You will not have uneven wear on your tires.
Zero camber-a perfectly vertical wheel and tire-causes the least tire wear. Positive camber causes the outer tread of the tire to wear more than the inner tread; negative camber has the opposite effect. Your car is designed with small amounts of positive or negative camber into vehicle suspensions to aid handling and steering. Normal camber angles have little visible effect on tire wear, but extreme camber causes irregular tire wear and shortens tire life.
- Positive camber, like positive caster, affects straight-ahead stability and steering wheel return. As the vehicle turns, the outside suspension tends to rise on the wheel because of positive camber. When the wheel returns to straight ahead, the vehicle's weight presses down on the steering axis and helps straighten the wheel.
Negative camber resists the tendency of the tire to slip sideways during cornering. It also can increase steering effort. Most cars and light trucks are designed with positive camber, but many race cars and some high-performance street vehicles have negative camber.
Rear wheels usually have zero camber, but some independent rear suspensions are designed with some amount of (usually negative) camber angle. If front camber angles are unequal side to side, the vehicle pulls toward the side with the greater positive camber. Unequal rear camber also can affect vehicle handling.
Toe is how the wheels are aimed, as viewed from above. A pair of front or rear wheels aimed inward at the forward edges has toe-in; wheels aimed outward have toe-out. The toe angle for front or rear wheels is measured in fractions of an inch, millimeters or fractions of a degree.
- Zero toe-wheels aimed straight ahead causes the least tire wear. Extreme toe-in or toe-out causes feather-- edged wear across the tire tread. Too much toe-in wears the outside tread edges, with feathered edges on the inside of each tread row. Too much toe-- out has the opposite effect.
Front wheels are usually toed in on rear drive vehicles and toed out on front drives to compensate for changes in the steering linkage and tires when the vehicle is moving. When the vehicle is moving, toe decreases because the wheels straighten out under acceleration and the steering linkage slightly moves.