Wheel alignment (sometimes called a front end alignment or suspension alignment) is a major contributor to premature tire wear. If you’ve ever had to replace a tire because you had steel belts showing on the inside edge but the rest of the tire looked ok, you’ve likely experienced the effects of poor wheel alignment. In addition to tire wear, wheel alignment also affects the life span of suspension components, vehicle handling and fuel economy.
Do you need an alignment?
You should get your wheel alignment checked if you notice any of the following symptoms
- Your vehicle ‘pulls’ to the left or right when driving on a flat surface
- The steering wheel is crooked even though you’re driving straight ahead
- There is a squealing noise coming from your tires when driving on pavement
- You notice uneven or rapid tread wear on your tires
Alignment Angles - Camber
Camber describes the angle of the wheel compared to the ground. When the wheel is perfectly perpendicular to the ground it has 0º camber. When viewing the vehicle from the front, if the top of the wheel leans away from the vehicle it has “positive” camber. Too much positive camber will result in excessive tire wear on the outside edge of the tire. Conversely, if the top of the wheel leans towards the vehicle it has “negative” camber. Too much negative camber will lead to tire wear on the inside edge of the tire. Most manufacturers design their suspension systems to have slightly negative camber because it improves traction while cornering.
Excessive camber may be the result of failed wheel bearings. If you hear a whining or growling noise that seems to get louder the faster you drive you should come to the shop immediately.
Alignment Angles - Caster
Caster is a little harder to visualize. It is the angular difference between the steering pivot axis and the vertical axis of the suspension. If the pivot axis is completely vertical it would have 0º caster. If the top of the pivot axis leans towards the front of the vehicle it has negative caster and if it leans towards the rear the caster is positive. Positive caster is what forces the steering wheel to turn back to the straight ahead position when coming out of a turn. By itself caster has no effect on tire wear but it can drastically influence straight line stability, steering effort and cornering effectiveness.
To better visualize caster think of the front wheels on a shopping cart. As you’re pushing the cart forward, the wheel is actually behind the pivot point. This helps keep the cart traveling straight ahead but is also why they get harder to turn as you add more weight to them.
Alignment Angles - Toe
Toe is how straight ahead your tires point when driving in a straight line. If they point perfectly straight ahead they have 0 toe. When the front of the tires are angled towards each other that is referred to as toe-in and when they’re angled away from each other it’s called toe-out. A small amount of toe-in on the front wheels provides straight line stability especially at highway speeds. Out of specification toe is the leading cause of premature tire wear.
Arkansas isn’t exactly known for having the best roads. Driving over potholes and on uneven road surfaces takes it’s toll on vehicle suspension components. To ensure maximum tire life, ride comfort and safety we recommend getting your vehicle aligned at least every 2 years.