Almost everyone who owns a car has probably heard of wheel alignment or been told to get an alignment done at some point when their car starts to veer to either side of the road, or when their steering wheel starts to look senget when the car is actually going straight. What about when you feel certain vibrations while in the car or through the steering wheel – this is all together something else but we will get to this.
These are all symptoms that the wheel alignment of your car is not the way it should be. The other issue is how often do you have to do your car’s alignment to ensure that it runs smoothly and safely?
So what exactly is wheel alignment?
Wheel or tyre alignment refers to the adjustment of a vehicle’s suspension – in particular the system of linkages that connects the vehicle to its wheels and which make the tyres turn.
It is not an adjustment of the tires or wheels themselves. The key to proper alignment is adjusting the angles of the tires, which in turn, affects how they make contact with the road. Therefore wheel alignment is an important periodical maintenance item that should not be overlooked, which is second only to choosing the right tyre for your car.
Wheel alignment consists of adjusting and/or maintaining three main aspects of how your tyre contacts the road:
- Camber – This is the inward or outward angle of the tire when viewed from the front of the vehicle. Too much inward (negative) or outward (positive) tilt indicates improper alignment and will need to be adjusted. Worn bushings, bearings, and ball joints can also cause improper camber settings.
- Toe - Toe alignment is the extent to which your tires angle inward or outward when viewed from above the wheel. The toe angle refers to how much both front wheels angle inwards (towards the body) and outwards (towards the road edge).
- Castor – Castor refers to the angle of your steering axis when viewed from the side of your vehicle. If you have positive caster, the steering axis will tilt toward the driver. Negative caster, on the other hand, means the steering axis tilts toward the front of your vehicle.
Now, of course, there is far more to this than we can concisely elaborate on in one article – but it’s important for you to understand that wheel/tyre alignment is an aspect of vehicle maintenance that should not be overlooked and should be executed with as much diligence as you would your engine oil changes.
It is also advisable that you conduct your tire alignment service at proper workshops that have the proper equipment to work on your car. For those who still maintain their vehicle at authorised (3S) service centres, talk to your service advisor on the proper time to get a wheel alignment done, and if it’s part of your vehicle’s service regiment.
What happens if I do not get my alignment done?
Tyres are not just black donuts of rubber stuck onto the wheel. A tonne of development, engineering and testing goes into the production of any tyre, and they work best as a cohesive component of the vehicle if they are cared for and maintained properly. Put simply - the happier your tyres are, the safer you are.
Improper wheel or tire alignment can cause your tires to wear unevenly and prematurely and thus a degradation of their performance – which simply means your vehicle will not stop, go and turn as it should.
Improper alignment can cause a variety of issues that can impact different parts of the tyre. Improper camber settings can wear the inner or outer parts of the tyre tread, the improper toe can cause scrubbing or feathering of the tyre tread, in other cases, (more than one) improper alignment settings can also cause the car to veer to either side of the road – making it a hazard.
Does alignment involve tyre rotation?
Yes, the front tyres have to perform the functions of stopping, steering and accelerating (if front-wheel drive) the vehicle thus causing more tyre wear. Therefore, it is important to rotate the tyres so that all four tyres undergo the same amount of wear depending on where they are fitted on the vehicle.
Rotation simply means to move the tyre to another location within the vehicle to another – there are two common operations:
- Rotating the front left tyre to the right, the right to the rear, the rear to the other rear side – like a game of musical chairs where everyone shifts one seat to the right.
- Another common type of “rotation” is to criss-cross the tyres – i.e.: front left – rear right and vice versa.
The type of rotation depends on your car’s individual wheel and tyre setup, so check with your preferred tyre technician.
My car is going straight but I feel the steering vibrating?
Well, this is not typically caused by improper alignment, rather improper balancing of your tyres.
As perfectly round as your car wheel and tyres look – they are not exactly perfect. Minor variances in weight and tolerances mean that some parts of the wheel and tyre combo can be heavier than others. Now, it might only be a few hundred grams on one side of the wheel, but when these few hundred grams are spinning a few hundred times every minute (when your car starts moving), it causes an oscillating force/frequency which we can feel as either vibration to the vehicle or at the steering wheel.
Therefore, wheel balancing compensates for any weight imbalances in the tire/wheel combination and is often performed in conjunction with wheel alignment. To begin balancing your tires, a technician will mount your tyre and wheel on a balancing machine – the machine will spin the wheel up to a certain speed and measure any imbalance of forces and make recommendations on how to correct the imbalance.
How do you correct additional weight on one side of the wheel and tyre? Simple, add the same amount of weight on the other side (mounted on the wheel), so their individual forces cancel each other out – voila!
Ok, I get it now, so how often do I have to get my wheel alignment, balancing and rotation done?
Yes, firstly, it’s important to note that it’s best to get them all done at once.
How often you get your alignment done would highly depend on how you use your car. As a rule of thumb, it is highly recommended that you get your car alignment done every 8,000km – 10,000km, or approximately every six months depending on the amount you drive your car.
If you drive your car often on bad, rough, or unfinished roads, then it's advisable to do it more often – say every four months.
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