When you get in your vehicle to drive somewhere, you expect the steering and handling to perform properly. Your car alignment is an integral part of this. Your vehicle’s wheels must be correctly lined up to allow proper control of your vehicle and provide a smooth ride. Wheels that are out of alignment can cause driving to become more difficult and more dangerous and can lead to uneven tire tread wear.
So, having a basic understanding of your car alignment and the important maintenance service involved with it will not only help you maintain the proper drivability of your vehicle but also narrow down the options for a Vancouver alignment shop when you need one.
What is a Wheel Alignment Service, Exactly?
To put it simply, having a wheel alignment done means all of your tires will be lined up to the proper depth, height, and width on the vehicle’s axles. This service, which is sometimes also referred to as a tire alignment or car alignment, ensures that everything is symmetrical and/or is in the proper location to promote optimal driving conditions.
During a wheel alignment service, it is actually components within the vehicle’s suspension (which connects the vehicle to its wheels) that are adjusted. So, unlike what many drivers think, an alignment does not involve adjusting the wheel/tire assemblies themselves. Essentially, car alignment service means that the mechanic is using the suspension to properly square the axles and wheels with each other, ensuring that they are sitting evenly and making contact with the road properly.
At a professional alignment shop (such as Gaynor’s Automotive), an ASE-certified expert mechanic will use computerized alignment equipment to check how each of your wheels is aligned with the others and with the road surface. These measurements will then be compared to your vehicle manufacturer’s specifications, and the necessary adjustments will be made. This specialized technology allows for increased accuracy and much tighter alignment specifications compared to a manual alignment service. In today’s newer vehicles, without the best technology, an alignment simply cannot be performed properly.
Upon completion of your car alignment service, you’ll receive a detailed printout. This will usually show what your vehicle manufacturer’s alignment angle specifications are, what your angles were at before adjustments were made, and what the angles are now at after adjustments were made.
Note: A front-end alignment only involves aligning the front two wheels, while a wheel alignment aligns all four wheels.
The Main Alignment Angles/Measurements
To ensure that your wheel/tire assemblies are in optimal alignment, there are several different angles that all need to be in the proper position. Knowing exactly what these are can give you a better understanding of exactly what happens during a wheel alignment service.
The four main measurements that make up your car alignment are the following.
This is the outward or inward angle of the tire when looking at it from the front of the vehicle. Too much outward or inward tilt, also known as positive and negative camber, indicates misalignment and should be adjusted.
If the camber angle is significantly outside of the manufacturer’s specification, the vehicle may pull to one side, and you will have premature tire tread wear along one edge. Overly worn ball joints, bearings, and other wheel–suspension components can contribute to camber misalignment.
The toe angle is the one that is most often in need of adjustment. This angle is how much your tires turn outward or inward when viewed from above the vehicle. You can mimic this angle with your feet. If you were to look down at your feet while standing and angle them inward toward the center of your body, this would be an example of a toe-in alignment. Conversely, if you were to turn your feet outward, this would be an example of a toe-out alignment. Both would require adjustment.
Misalignment of this angle will quickly cause uneven tire wear but will not cause the vehicle to pull to one side. This angle is also the easiest one to “knock out” of specification when you hit a pothole, curb, etc.
This angle helps balance your vehicle’s stability, steering, and cornering. Specifically, it’s your steering axis’ angle when it is viewed from the side of the vehicle. If there is a negative caster, the steering axis is tilted toward the front of the vehicle. Conversely, a positive caster means the steering axis is tilted toward the driver.
When this angle is out of specification, it will definitely cause vehicle pulling but usually won’t cause adverse tire tread wear.
Imagine a line drawn perpendicular to the centerline of the rear axle. The thrust, expressed in degrees, compares the centerline of the vehicle with the direction in which the rear axle is aimed. This angle also confirms that the front axle is parallel to the rear axle and that the wheelbase is the same on both sides of the vehicle.
It is important to note that, if the thrust angle is off on a vehicle with a solid rear axle, it will usually need a visit to a frame-straightening shop to reposition the rear axle correctly.
Every vehicle manufacturer has determined specific alignment specifications for each make and model of vehicle. The size, weight, length, and intended use of the vehicle all have a role in determining the correct alignment angles.
These specifications are the “preferred” angles for camber, toe, and caster, with the preferred thrust angle always being 0 degrees. The manufacturers also provide the acceptable “maximum” and “minimum” angles for each alignment specification. These are usually no more than one degree less or more than the preferred angles.
Proper Car Alignment Maintains Vehicle Handling and Protects Your Tires’ Lifespan
If your vehicle is out of alignment, your tires won’t be pointing in the proper direction. This affects both your steering and suspension, but, more importantly, it can also affect the safety and durability of your tires.
So, a properly aligned vehicle is a happy vehicle. Keeping up with routine tire alignments (as well as tire rotation and balancing) has several valuable benefits, including the following:
- The tires will wear at a more even rate: In the short-term, even wear will provide better fuel efficiency and a vehicle that doesn’t shake while driving. In the long term, even tire wear will significantly help extend the lifespan of your tires. Plus, you’ll usually have better odds of needing to replace all of the tires at the same time versus needing to get one or two of them at uneven intervals. In many cases, you’ll get a better deal on new tires if you buy all four at once.
- You’ll have better steering: For example, you won’t have to keep the steering wheel at an odd angle to get your vehicle to drive straight. The steering wheel can be unpredictable when your vehicle’s alignment is off.
- Your vehicle will be much safer to drive: When your vehicle is out of alignment and the tires are not wearing evenly, you are at a much higher risk of being involved in an accident. With proper wheel alignment, not only will your tires be safer to drive on but the overall safety of your vehicle will be boosted. This is because proper vehicle handling will be maintained and there will be a lower risk of damaging other vehicle components.
- You’ll save money: Keeping your vehicle in proper alignment will mean you won’t be spending more money than normal on gas or needing expensive repairs to steering and suspension components.
So, catching and correcting alignment issues early will help keep your vehicle in optimal driving condition and prevent overly frequent tire replacement. To put it into perspective, driving 12,000 miles with a toe misalignment of only 3/16 of an inch is equal to dragging the tires sideways for 68 miles!
The Specific Effects of Misalignment on Your Tires
As we mentioned above, improper tire alignment can cause the tread to wear unevenly and prematurely. The following are some specific types of undue tire wear caused by misalignment.
Tires are “feathered” when they are sharp on one side and smooth on the other. This is usually an indication of toe misalignment.
This type of tread appears as either the inside or outside of the tread being significantly more worn than the center. As the name implies, a camber misalignment causes this type of wear.
This type happens when one side of your tread wears down more quickly than the other in a circumferential direction. This wear pattern will feel and look like saw teeth when viewed from the side. Heel/toe wear can sometimes also be a sign of lack of rotation and/or underinflation.
If you’re experiencing any of the above, you should have your alignment done ASAP. While uneven tread wear prevention is a good reason to keep your car alignment in check, the consequences of misalignment can also significantly impact overall vehicle performance.
Wheel Alignment Service Should Be a Part of Your Vehicle’s Preventive Maintenance Schedule
There is no all-encompassing answer for how often wheel/tire alignments need to be done. It is largely dependent on where and how you are normally driving. The most precise answer to what the best wheel alignment schedule is for your vehicle will be found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
Except in the event of having a collision, hitting a pothole, or running over an object in the road, a vehicle can go out of alignment gradually. Sometimes, misalignment can be so subtle that you may not even realize it right away. This is why regular car alignment checks/corrections at a professional alignment shop should be included in your vehicle’s preventive maintenance routine.
We recommend that the alignment is checked roughly every 6,000 miles (or at every other oil change, depending on the service schedule of your vehicle). You should also have your alignment checked ASAP if you have recently hit/run over something in the road. When this happens, it can sometimes cause as much misalignment as an accident would.
Wheel alignment service is often done when new tires are installed, and the wheel alignment can be easily checked with your regular tire rotations to help maximize the life of your tires.
How to Tell If Your Vehicle Needs an Alignment Service
There are several red flags to be aware of that indicate your wheels may not be in alignment, including:
- The steering wheel/vehicle vibrates when turning
- The vehicle is pulling to the left or right when driving
- The steering wheel is crooked when driving on a straight road
- You are experiencing uneven or faster-than-normal tire tread wear
- Squealing tires when you turn a corner at normal speeds
- Reduction in vehicle handling when turning corners or braking
- Increased suspension-related issues
- You haven’t had a car alignment done in a year or more
If you have noticed any of the above happening, it is important to have your vehicle’s alignment checked by an ASE-certified mechanic as soon as possible. The experts at a professional alignment shop, like you’ll find here at Gaynor’s Automotive, can properly inspect your alignment, determine exactly which angles may be out of range, and make the necessary adjustments.
How Does Wheel Misalignment Happen?
Overall, vehicles can withstand a lot of force. But certain parts/systems of the vehicle are more vulnerable to damage from improper driving or impact. This includes your alignment. The following situations can cause vehicle misalignment:
- Colliding with a stationary object or another vehicle, even a minor collision
- Hitting a large pothole
- Driving over hard debris in the road
- Hitting a curb or driving over a speed bump too quickly
- Through normal wear and tear over time, ball-and-socket joints loosen and rubber components start cracking or losing their elasticity; these parts then start to give a little more, progressively getting worse over time and affecting the alignment
The severity of misalignment can depend on the make and model of your vehicle, the quality and condition of the tires, and your driving speed during a collision or when driving over debris.
Ways You Can Help Maintain Proper Vehicle Alignment
There are several things you can do to help maintain your suspension and ensure your vehicle stays in proper alignment for longer, including the following:
- Watch what you drive over: This probably sounds obvious, but be careful what you drive over. If you see debris or a pothole in the road ahead, do what you can to safely avoid it. Running over a curb, a pothole, or other rough road conditions is the most common cause of vehicle misalignment.
- Remove excess weight: Your vehicle’s chassis height directly influences the tire angles that your vehicle’s alignment is based on. Too much weight in the back of the vehicle and it will lower the vehicle’s height, which will throw your alignment off. So, take out anything that you don’t need in the vehicle.
- Maintain the correct tire inflation: Tires that are underinflated will also affect the vehicle’s chassis height. So, make sure to maintain the correct air pressure in each tire.
- Drive more conservatively: Consciously being more careful and less aggressive while driving will reduce excess strain on the steering and suspension components, which are key to maintaining proper wheel alignment.
If you are doing all of the above and still experiencing indications that your alignment may be off, bring your vehicle into our professional alignment shop as soon as you can. Save your vehicle from undue strain on suspension components and uneven tire wear.
The Local Experts You Can Count On for Car Alignment Service
Having more knowledge of wheel alignment will go a long way in helping you understand what exactly an alignment service involves and properly maintain your vehicle.
When you are searching through options for a local alignment shop, look no further than Gaynor’s Automotive for Vancouver car alignment service. We are the local experts in tire alignments, whether you need just a front-end alignment or a full wheel alignment service. We’ll help properly maintain your vehicle’s steering and handling, all while providing the highest levels of customer service at the most reasonable prices.
Here at Gaynor’s Automotive, a wheel alignment check involves:
- Comparison of your wheels’ alignment to your vehicle manufacturer’s guidelines using computerized alignment equipment
- Inspection of the steering and suspension components
- Examination of the tires for proper size, inflation, and level of wear
If your mechanic finds that any of the alignment angles mentioned above are out of specification, they will make the necessary adjustments and ensure your vehicle is properly aligned. Our ASE-certified mechanics can also inspect your vehicle for problems within the driveline.
When you need an alignment shop you can count on, Gaynor’s Automotive is the top choice for Vancouver-area drivers. Not only can our automotive experts perform professional and accurate tire alignments, but they can also meet any other auto service needs you may have. This includes everything from routine oil changes to engine rebuilding.
Schedule your appointment online today!