Ensuring that your vehicle’s wheels are correctly aligned is a very important maintenance item in order to maintain the safety of your vehicle and its passengers.
What exactly is wheel alignment? Wheel alignment is the measurement, analysis and adjustment of your vehicle’s steering and suspension angles to ensure that the wheels of your vehicle are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other.
If the wheels of your vehicle are out of alignment, you will feel that the car seems to be pulling to one side of the road, or your steering wheel is juddering or vibrating. Your wheels can get out of alignment gradually from normal everyday driving, or from any of the following incidents:
- Driving over pot holes or hitting the kerb, or running into concrete parking stalls
- Minor accidents
- Worn runner components as well as worn suspension components – the older your vehicle gets, the more probable it becomes that this will cause a wheel alignment problem
When your wheels are not in alignment, you will increase wear and tear on your tyres and will land up having to replace your tyres long before you would have otherwise needed to. It can also cause unnecessary wear on the suspension components of your vehicle, causing problems with the overall vehicle handling, performance and safety.
You should have your wheel alignment checked whenever you rotate your tyres, and also when you replace them. If you think that your car is not handling correctly, or the steering doesn’t feel right – take your car in to have your wheel alignment checked out.
Suspensions systems of today’s front and wheel wheel drive vehicles require precise wheel alignments that can only be delivered by specialised alignment systems. Also – more cars have special features such as stability controls, dynamic stability controls, active stability management or SAS (Steering Angle Sensors) – all requiring different methods of adjustment to the wheel alignment.
There are 5 factors involved in determining the correct wheel alignment:
- Caster, which is an imaginary line drawn between the centres of the upper and lower ball joints, forming an angle with the true vertical. Caster is important to steering feel and high-speed stability.
- Camber, which is the inward or outward tilt of the tyre. Camber is important for tyre-to-road contact, and takes into account the changes of force when a vehicle is turning.
- Toe, which describes whether the fronts of the tyres are closer (toe-in) or further apart (toe-out) than the rears of the tyres. Toe is important to ensure that the tyres roll in parallel when the vehicle is moving.
- Thrust, which is relevant for solid rear axle vehicles, and the thrust angle alignment allows all four wheels to sit square with each other.
- Ride height, which is the distance between the chassis and the road, and provides a reference point of all alignment measurements.