What Is a Wheel Alignment...and When Do I Know If I Need One?

Every so often your mechanic might suggest a wheel alignment. This sounds logical, but why would your car need this procedure, and how does it help your car? Further, how do you know if you need a wheel alignment?

 

Today, we will discuss wheel alignments: what they are, how they are helpful, and how you can know if you are due for one. 

What Is a Wheel Alignment?

One might think that a car’s wheels are perfectly straight, and that a wheel alignment helps them return to that condition. However, this is not the case. In fact, cars have their wheels rotated in multiple planes in order to improve efficiency and safety. 

 

Each car has slightly different, precise wheel alignment angles that influence how the tire contacts the road as the driver turns, drives straight and stops. The wheel alignment process helps return the wheels to the optimal angles so that your car drives as smoothly and safely as possible. 

What Happens During a Wheel Alignment?

Your mechanic will assess and adjust the angles of the following components of your car’s wheels and suspension so that the angles are returned to ideal alignment. 

 

  • Camber angle. The camber angle can be seen from the front of a car. A positive camber angle means that the top of the wheels are pointing out, while a negative angle means that the top of the tires are pointing in. Wheels are generally set to a negative camber angle because this increases the amount of tire that is in contact with the road as the vehicle turns.
  • Toe angle. The toe angle can also be seen from the front of the car, and has to do with the wheels pointing outward (toe-out) or inward (toe-in). As the toe-out position makes turning more sensitive — and less safe for the driver error of unintentional wheel movements — cars are generally adjusted to be toe-in. 
  • Caster angle. The caster angle has to do with the steering of the car. Wheels turn around a steering axis, which is angled. This angle helps the steering wheel return to a neutral position. 

When these angles are adjusted to manufacturer’s settings, you can steer the car with optimal efficiency. Besides efficiency, alignment can help prevent unnecessary wear on your tires, camber, and toe components. 

How Do You Know if You Need an Alignment?

There are a couple signs that can indicate you need a wheel alignment. These signs can include: 

  • Pulling left or right. This sign will manifest if you take your hands off of the steering wheel, and your car starts to turn in one direction instead of staying straight. 
  • Steering wheel not straight when driving straight. You might notice that your steering wheel is slightly turned when driving straight. 
  • Vibration in steering wheel. The steering wheel might vibrate at certain speeds if the wheel alignment is off. 
  • Tire treads have uneven wear. A common wear pattern is feathering: the ribs of one side are worn more than the other.

Do any of these signs sound familiar to you? Then your vehicle might be due for a wheel alignment. 

How To Get an Alignment 

If you are experiencing any of these signs, or simply need a tune-up for your car, contact Living the Dream Auto Care. Simply schedule an appointment online or call (339) 237-5151. We can help your car start running as smoothly, safely and efficiently as possible. 

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