Wheel alignment, or tracking as its sometimes called, is the process of ensuring your vehicle’s wheels are set to the optimum position, as per the car manufacturer’s specifications. This ensures your car’s wheels are giving their best performance in terms of handling, fuel economy, ride comfort and even tyre life.
Incorrect alignment can result in rapid irregular tyre wear and can even affect the handling and safety of the vehicle. This can be caused by hitting a kerb, driving into a pothole in the road or by excessive wear or damage to steering or suspension components. It is important to get your wheel alignment checked to ensure you get the most out of your tyres and don’t wear them out prematurely.
Checking your wheel alignment regularly can prolong the life of your tyres by up to 10,000 miles and increase fuel efficiency due to the reduced rolling resistance with the road. This can end up saving you pounds at the pump and on replacement tyres that aren’t needed.
Keep an eye out for unusual wear on your tyres, such as premature wear on the inside or outside shoulder, which may be a sign of incorrect alignment.
What is wheel alignment?
Wheel alignment dictates the angles at which your car makes contact with the road. For the best performance you ideally want to have as much of the surface area of the tyre to be in contact with the ground as possible.
There are three main types of wheel alignment that should all be adjusted to get the optimal performance from your car:
- Toe is measures how much a pair of wheels are turned in or out from a straight ahead position.
- Toe alignment can be carried out on the front wheels alone or the front and rear wheels.
- You will feel your car ‘pulling’ to one side if the toe alignment is out.
- Camber is the vertical tilt of the wheel
- If the camber is out of alignment it will cause the tyre tread to wear excessively on the edge
- If the camber is different from wheel to wheel it can cause your vehicle to pull to one side
- Camber misalignment may not be adjustable on all cars. If the camber alignment is out on these vehicles it may indicate that something is worn or bent and should be inspected more closely.
- Caster alignment is the angle of the steering pivot when viewed from the side of the vehicle
- Caster has little effect on tyre wear, but it affects steering stability
- If the caster is out of adjustment, it can cause problems in straight line tracking
- If the caster is equal but too negative, the steering will be light and the vehicle will wander
- If the caster is equal but too positive, the steering will be heavy and the steering wheel may kick when you hit a bump
How can you tell if your wheels are out of alignment?
This is not easy and chances are that you won’t be able to see whether your wheels are misaligned just from looking at the steering and suspension components. However there are a few signs you can look out for if you think your tracking may be off:
- Pulling to one side: This is a common complaint of wheel misalignment that the car might ‘pull to one side’ while driving, even when the steering wheel is level/straight. This is often most noticeable while driving on a motorway or straight roads.
- Uneven tyre wear: When a tyre is inflated to manufacturer’s specifications it should wear evenly over time, however misaligned wheel tracking will cause the tyre to wear unevenly. This is most commonly noticed when one side of the tyre has worn more so that the rest.
- Steering wheel: Sometimes if the steering wheel is off centre/not straight this can be a sign the the wheels are also not aligned correctly.