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Automotive Q & A

Wheel Alignment

Question: What is a wheel alignment?

Answer: A wheel alignment makes sure that your vehicle’s tires are pointing straight ahead. A wheel alignment deals with changing the angles of your tires so they are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other, which allows your vehicle to drive in a straight line. Having your tires aligned properly will maximize tire life and make handling your vehicle easier. Tires can be knocked out of alignment by hitting large potholes or other objects such as curbs. Once your tire is knocked out of alignment, it can cause difficult handling and excessive wearing of the tires. There are three things that affect your vehicle’s wheel alignment: camber, caster, and toe. Camber is the angle of the wheel when viewed from the front of the vehicle. Your tire’s camber measurement should be 0°. This means that the tire should be flat, or perpendicular on the ground; this causes the tire to ride perfectly on the “footprint” or middle of your tire. If your tire’s camber is off, meaning it is tilting inward or outward, it will cause excessive wear on the inside or the outside of the tire depending on which way it is tilting. If the tire’s camber is off, it can also lead to excessive pulling of your vehicle. Caster is the angle of your vehicle’s steering pivot when looked at from the side. The steering pivot is what allows your tires to turn when you turn your wheel. Your vehicle’s caster should be positive. This means that the top of the steering pivot should be farther toward the back of your vehicle than the bottom steering pivot. Positive caster basically means that your vehicle’s tires steer on an axis that is out in front of the tire’s contact patch (where your tire touches the ground). Having positive caster makes your tire more stable when driving in a straight line. Your tire’s caster should be the same on both sides of the vehicle; if it’s not the same, then the vehicle will tend to pull to the side that is less positive. Toe is a measurement of how parallel your tires are to each other. Toe measures the distance between the fronts of your two front tires and the rears of the two front tires. The distances should be the same. If the fronts of your tires are closer to each other than the rears, your tire is said to be in a toe-in position. If the rears of the tires are closer than the fronts, then your tire is in a toe-out position. Just think of your feet when you walk. Your foot should be pointing straight ahead when you step. If your foot points inward, it would be in a toe-in position. If your foot points outward, it would be in a toe-out position. If you tire’s toe measurement is not equal, it can lead to excessive tire wear and difficult handling.

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