Straighten Up! All About Alignments
Have you ever driven a vehicle where the steering wheel just doesn’t seem straight when you are traveling straight? Have you ever been behind a car or truck and it looked like it was traveling down the road partially sideways? Well these are both examples of having the alignment off, one being a more extreme example than the other.
Let’s break down what an alignment is and why it’s a needed maintenance as well as considered a repair. When an alignment is performed, it measures three positions of the tires as well as the tires with themselves. You should receive a print out showing before and after of each of these- Caster, Camber and Toe.
What Exactly is Changed During an Alignment?
Caster being the angle of the steering pivot when looked at from the side, in relation to the car or strut location. Having a caster that is positive will create too much drag while steering, think of it as though your steering pivot point is more 80 degrees as opposed to the ideal 90 degrees, this will cause the tire to drag more as it attempts to steer. It can cause more wear on the steering components and also need more steering input to create turns. On the flip side, having a negative camber will cause less input to the steering causing slower turn speed and a smaller turning radius. This is visualized from the side again, but that the steering angle relative to the ground is 100 degrees. Both of these can create more wear on your tires as well.
Camber is visualized from looking at the vehicle from the front or the back. Having a negative camber appears as though your car is squatting down with the top portion of the tires pointed inward and the bottom pushed out. A negative camber will cause the inside portion of your wheels to wear faster, it also doesn’t allow for a full 90 degree connection with the tires to the ground, affecting handling and steering. Positive camber is the opposite, having the top of the tires pushed out, causing more wear on the outside edge of the tires.
Toe is visualized from above the car, an ideal toe is to have an equal distance between your front outer circumference of the tire and the rear outer circumference of the tire when the tires are pointed straight. Having a negative or positive toe will affect tire wear and gas mileage.
There are many parts that compose a vehicle's suspension and steering system, each of these can affect the overall alignment of your car/truck. When an alignment is performed, sensors are placed on the tires that then read to a machine, giving data to the technician to decide where adjustments need to be started. Some of these items may need to be replaced before a proper alignment can be completed, the most common steering parts are ball joints and tie rod ends. The most common suspension components that need to be repaired are typically control arms, struts/strut mounts and even tires. Seeing that these components are working correctly, or after they have been repaired, an alignment can be completed. It’s a good idea to ask for the print out of your car's alignment before and after so you can see the difference.
Staying Ahead of Bad Steering
If your vehicle has slid into a curb in the snow or hit a curb/pothole from misjudging a turn or the road, there may be more work needed to the suspension system, an alignment is still a good place to start if a visual inspection of the undercarriage doesn’t help identify what was damaged. Winter time is one of the hardest times on vehicles because of the loss of traction, but if you make it through safe and sound from the slip and sliding that can happen, then planning on a routine alignment once every two years is a good plan.
Another good idea is to ask for a shake down when you come in for your yearly tire rotation. This gives the technicians a chance to apply pressure on the top and bottom of the tires as well as look for movement side to side, giving them a good feel at the basics of the steering and suspension play.
For expert auto repair in Utah County, trust the ASE-Certified experts at Main Street Mechanic. We have a solid reputation for excellent customer service and trusted repairs. We offer special offers online for additional savings. Don’t risk your safety by putting off inspections, repairs, and maintenance. We’re here to help Monday to Friday 7:30am – 6pm.