Sometimes called wheel alignment, tire alignment helps your vehicle’s tires to perform correctly and last longer. Not only that, but proper tire alignment improves your vehicle’s handling and prevents the car from vibrating strangely while on the roads or, worst of all, pulling toward one direction.
Although tire alignment is very important for the well-being of your vehicle, many people have no idea what it is or why it’s so important. That’s why we’ve created an expert guide on tire alignment, so you’ll find out what you need to know and what steps you can take.
Tire Alignment – What Is It?
Tire alignment is a term that is used to refer to the adjustment of your vehicle’s suspension system. This system connects the wheels to the car. Tire alignment isn’t actually any kind of adjustment to the wheels or tires themselves. Rather, it involves adjusting the angle of the car’s tires. This affects the way in which they make contact with the surface of the road.
Does My Car Need Its Tires Aligned?
Many people are unaware of the signs to look out for that tell them that their car needs its tires aligned. The question “how do I know if I need a tire alignment?” is, therefore, a common one.
There are several ways of knowing when your vehicle’s tires need to be aligned. If you spot one of these signs, or more than one, it’s important to get the tire alignment checked over by a skilled and licensed technician straight away.
- Uneven wear of the treads
- The car pulls to the right or left while driving
- The steering wheel remains off-center when you’re driving straight ahead
- The steering wheel vibrates while driving
What Is a Technician Looking for When They Carry Out a Tire Alignment?
There are three primary things that a technician will look for when checking your vehicle’s tire alignment:
- The camber – this is the outward or inward angle of your tire when it is viewed from in front of the car. If the tire tilts outwards or inwards too much (which is called positive or negative camber) this is a sign that the tires are improperly aligned and require adjustment. Worn out ball joints, bearings and other components of the wheel-suspension system often cause camber misalignment.
- The toe – toe alignment is different from camber alignment. It refers to the extent to which the tires turn outward or inward when looked at from above. Not sure what that looks like? Stand and look down at your own feet. Now angle them inwards. If your car’s tires are angled this way it is known as “toe-in” alignment. If you turn your feet (or the car’s tires) outward, this is called “toe-out” alignment. In either case, adjustments are required to correct the problem.
- The caster – the caster angle is key to balancing steering, cornering, and stability. It refers to the steering axis’ angle when looked at from the vehicle’s side. If the steering axis tilts towards the driver, this is known as a positive caster. If the steering axis is tilting towards the vehicle’s front, this is called negative caster.
Why Is Tire Alignment Important?
If your car’s tires are improperly aligned, your tires can wear prematurely and unevenly. Some specific kinds of tread wear caused by misalignment include:
- Feathering – tires are said to be “feathered” if the tread is sharp on one side and smooth on the other. Usually, this indicates that there is poor toe-alignment.
- Camber wear – when the outside or inside of the tire’s tread is a lot more worn out than the tread’s center, this is known as camber wear. As you might imagine from the name, negative or positive camber is the cause of this kind of wear.
- Heel/Toe wear – if one of the tread blocks’ sides wears down more rapidly than the other side in a circumferential direction, this is called Heel/Toe wear. If you feel the tread, it will feel and look like the teeth of a saw when you look at it from the side. It could indicate that there is poor rotation or that the tires are under-inflated.
If you spot any of these wear patterns on your tires, it’s important to get a qualified vehicle technician to give your tire alignment a once-over. Although prevention of wear to your tires is one of the best reasons to keep on top of your car’s tire alignment, it’s important to remember that misalignment can have serious consequences that will impact on the overall performance of your vehicle. For example, if your car is constantly pulling to the left or right or steers very erratically, the chances are that it has a problem with the tire alignment that needs to be rectified.
Tire alignment needs to be checked regularly by every driver during their car’s lifespan. However, thanks to the recent technological advances in the automotive field, there are now computerized tire aligners that handle complex tasks quickly and easily. This means that the job will be done to the highest standard in a very short timeframe so you’ll be back on the road in no time.
How Is Tire Alignment Done?
Tire alignment involves the adjustment of all of the tire’s angles so that all the tires are parallel. Usually, this repair is different for all vehicles, so it’s important to take your car to a reliable and qualified car repair shop to get their alignment checked.
Tire alignment is important to allow your car to accommodate different kinds of weather and driving conditions. Usually, it involves primary adjustments that are made to the camber, caster, and toe as well as secondary adjustments including frame angle, wheel-base difference, and maximum turns. These adjustments are all made so that the wheel system of the vehicle works more efficiently.
These days, the process of tire alignment is carried out on a tire alignment machine. Most handle four-wheel alignment. The technician will put special tools in all four of the car’s tires, even if it’s only the front tires that need to be aligned. They will then use a computer to find camber and steering issues. This element of the process ensures that perfect caster, toe setting, wheel stability, and straight-line driving can be achieved.
The technician will also need to consider the different speeds the vehicle will need to achieve. The computerized alignment machine finds the centerline then uses it as a reference point to determine whether the inclination of the steering axis affects the car’s speed.
Why Do I Need to Get My Tire Alignment Checked?
There are several reasons why tire alignment is so important and why you should take your car regularly for this service:
- Less wear and tear of the tires – if the tires are poorly aligned, they will wear down more rapidly. Normally, this will be caused by specific areas of the tire coming under increased pressure. Driving on poorly aligned tires means that you’ll end up spending a lot more money on replacing the tires as well as other components.
- Fewer accidents – having your tire alignment regularly checked will reduce your chance of experiencing an accident. If the adjustment is ignored, the angle that your car rides at is compromised, making it more difficult to keep the car moving in a straight line. It’s easy to see why this can be extremely dangerous if you’re driving in poor weather, on a bumpy road or if you’re carrying a heavy load.
- Increased Vehicle Performance – your car will handle better, speed up and slow down more efficiently if its tires are properly aligned, allowing you to save money on fuel.
Is Tire Balancing the Same Thing as Tire Alignment?
Tire alignment and tire balancing (sometimes known as wheel balancing) are not the same things. Tire balancing refers to the compensation needed to allow for imbalances in the weight of the wheel/tire combination. It is often carried out at the same time as a tire alignment.
There are two key kinds of wheel/tire imbalance that need correcting – dual plane (dynamic) or single plane (static).
Static balance will only address balance on a single plane – the vertical movement that causes vibration. Dynamic balance, conversely, addresses balance on two planes – lateral movement and vertical movement. Both kinds of imbalance need a special piece of balancing machinery to even the balance out.
When a technician balances your tires, they will mount the tires on the right rims then adjust the tire pressure so that it is at its optimal level. Each tire will then be put onto the balancing machine’s center bore where the tire will be spun by the machine at a very high speed. This measures the imbalance of the tire/wheel combination and tells the technician how much weight needs to be added to balance the tire and any areas where extra weight is required.
Wheel balancing is just as important as tire alignment to keep your treads from wearing prematurely. If you have your tires balanced and aligned every 5000-6000 miles, their lifespan will be prolonged and their performance will be improved.