The importance of wheel alignments.
So you’ve just paid for a set of new performance tyres for your car, how do you get the most out of them?
You can generally expect that inner city driving, with its starting and stopping will be harder on tyres than highway driving.
The purpose of a wheel alignment
Ideally, if all you are doing is travelling in a straight line, on a perfectly level road with a constant payload (no extra weight in the car) then setting your toe and camber at 0 degrees would be ideal. However that is not what happens in the real world.
Having your vehicle wheels perfectly parallel to each other as well as perfectly perpendicular to the road isn’t ideal when it comes to braking, cornering, and helping your tyres to wear evenly.
Generally you would consider a wheel alignment any time you hit a significant pothole, a curb, or spend time driving in harsh conditions, but what is involved with a wheel alignment and why is it important?
Components of a wheel alignment
There are several measurements and adjustments available on most cars when undertaking a wheel alignment. All modern vehicles will have some amount of suspension adjustability built in to account for ride height changes, accidents, imperfect tolerances during construction and other factors.
Imagine you’re looking at your vehicle from above. Toe is the measurement of how far the wheels turn in towards each other when the steering wheel is straight. Measured from the centerline of the vehicle, wheels turned in towards the front are described as having toe in, and wheels turning outwards are written as having toe out. Toe is measured in degrees.
Toe in will make a vehicle more stable in a straight line whereas having a slight amount of toe out will make the car ‘wander’ on the road and want to enter corners aggressively.
Camber is the tilt of the wheels when looking at the vehicle from the front. If the wheels tilt in at the top, camber is said to be negative. If the wheels tilt outwards at the top, camber is described as positive. Camber is measured in degrees from 0.
Most cars from the factory have a small amount of negative camber applied. This counteracts the natural tendency of a car wanting to lean (or body roll) when cornering which will add positive camber while cornering.
Probably the most misunderstood point of a wheel alignment. Looking at the vehicle from the side this time, Caster is the angle between the pivot points of the hub that steers the front wheels. Usually this angle is raked backwards at the top.
From the factory, just about every single road-going vehicle will have a positive caster angle, where this imaginary line drawn between the pivot points lands on the ground in front of the vertical centerline of the wheel. Having positive caster allows the vehicle to ‘self-steer’ which makes maintaining a straight line of travel less tiring.
In vehicles with solid axles (think utes, vans 4x4s) thrust angle is how far off perfectly perpendicular with the centerline of the vehicle the axle is. Thrust angle is sometimes not adjustable, depending on the vehicle, so if you find your vehicle ‘crabbing’ down the road, chances are your thrust angle has either not been set correctly or the vehicle has been in an accident.
In vehicles with independent rear suspension, you can still have issues with thrust angle. In this case, the cause is generally toe being uneven side-to-side, for example, positive toe on one side of the car where the other side has toe in. The end result of incorrect thrust angle is the rear wheels don’t follow the front wheels on the road and the driver has to correct the sideways motion of the vehicle with steering input.
Recommended settings for an alignment
There is no single recommendation that fits every vehicle out there as far as alignment settings. As a general rule of thumb though, toe and camber are generally set pretty close to zero to maximise tyre lifespan. For more information on how a bad alignment can impact your tyre wear, we have an article outlining tyre wear patterns here.
Zip Pay new tyres today
For those who are looking for a new set of premium tyres but can’t quite stretch the budget, Kogarah Tyrepower offers Zip Pay and Zip Money in-store.
Improve the safety and performance of your car with a new set of quality tyres and make your car feel sure and confident on the road with a wheel alignment!
Call in and visit us at 433 West Botany Street, Kogarah, or give us a call on (02) 9587 3366 to find out more about our great range of quality tyres and services, including our extensive range of Pirelli tyres. Our knowledgeable team will help you get the best tyres on your car and keep them lasting with regular wheel alignments and tyre rotations.