One of the most important factors to ensuring your tires get the most life that they can is a proper wheel alignment. A vehicle that is properly aligned will give a smooth and comfortable ride that will be free of vibration and any pulling that can occur when alignment is off. No matter whether your vehicle is a front wheel drive or a rear wheel drive, with the sophistication of vehicles today it is of utmost importance that a good four wheel alignment is conducted on an up to date alignment system periodically to guarantee the best perforce for your vehicle and the most life for your tires.
When a vehicle is being aligned it is actually the suspension that is being adjusted and not the wheels and tires. That said it is very important how those wheels and tires are directed and angled once the job is done. Four different elements go into a proper wheel alignment and these include the caster, the camber, the toe, and the ride height and these components break down as follows:
- Caster: The part of the suspension that supports the tire and wheel assembly is called the steering axis and the camber represents the angle of this. Caster is defined when looking at the side of the vehicle by drawing an imaginary line between the center of the upper and lower ball joints forming an angle with true vertical and can be defined as positive or negative. Caster is an important factor when it comes to the stability of the vehicle at high speeds and the overall steering feel.
- Camber: If you are looking from the front of the vehicle the camber is the outward or inward tilt of the tire. These tilts can be described as positive if tilting out or negative if tilting in. The camber is the factor that determines how much of the tire tread will be in contact with the road while the vehicle is in motion. Camber can be set according to the behavior of different drivers and often a more aggressive driver will adjust their camber to be negative so that cornering is made easier and a highway driver will adjust the camber to be more positive as very little cornering is done and instead there is more of a straight path being driven.
- Toe: If you are looking at the vehicle from above, the toe is described as whether or not the fronts of the tires are farther (toe out) or closer (toe in) apart as opposed to the rears of the tires. Toe settings will vary between front wheel drive and rear wheel drive vehicles. A front wheel drive vehicle will require a toe out setting because the wheels will pull in towards each other when the vehicle is in motion. Rear wheel drive will require a toe in setting as the opposite is true. The idea behind setting the toe in or out is so that there is zero toe that occurs while the vehicle is in motion.
- Ride Height: This is the distance between the road and the frame of the vehicle. This is the standard reference point that is used for all alignment settings so if you get your vehicle raised or lowered or goes with a bigger or smaller tire then you have to be sure to immediately get a four wheel alignment to be sure of a proper ride.
The uneven wear of your tires is a direct result of bad alignment. A bad alignment can also cause your tires to wear at a much greater pace than if your vehicle had the proper alignment. If at any time you begin to notice an uneven wear pattern on your tires you can almost bet with perfect accuracy that you are in need of an alignment. While there is no ‘perfect’ time to have your vehicle aligned a good rule of thumb is to have your authorized auto or tire technician check the alignment ever time you have your tires rotated which should be between every 3,000 and 5,000 miles.
If you fail to keep your vehicle properly aligned then you risk losing more than just tire tread. Many suspension parts such as tie rods, shocks, and springs can also begin to go bad as a direct result of a misaligned vehicle and this can all lead up to a costly repair bill. Instead of dealing with that nightmare it is far easier to just ensure that your vehicle has the proper alignment it needs at all times.
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