A wheel alignment ensures that your tires have a proper angle in order for the tires to grip the road properly.
If the angle is sub-optimal it could lead to rapid tire wear, making your car deviate to one side of the road, and more.
In this article, you will find out everything you need to know about wheel alignment, including what it is and how much it costs.
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What Is A Wheel Alignment?
Ensuring that your wheels are properly aligned helps to improve your tire wear as well as making your steering more precise.
Even though it is called a wheel alignment, the actual adjustment is done to the suspension. This should not be confused with wheel balancing, which compensates for the weight of the wheel.
When making a wheel alignment, three parameters are checked:
Each of these parameters affects your steering, stability, and the longevity of your tires and other parts of the wheel and suspension.
In the following text, all three angle alignments will be discussed. Keep in mind that usually all wheels are aligned but a front wheel alignment usually slightly differs from a rear-end alignment as the front wheel steers the car.
Viewed from the front of the car, the camber is the inward or outward angle of the tire. A camber of zero degrees means that the wheel is perpendicular to the surface, in other words, the wheel is aligned perfectly to its centerline.
If the angle is a few degrees off the centerline, it is either called positive camber or negative camber. A positive camber means that the top of the tire lean outwards, while a negative camber make it lean inwards.
A camber that is zero, also called neutral camber, provides the greatest contact surface to the road and consequently makes the tire wear consistent across the tire.
In the car styling scene, there has emerged a small movement where people align their wheels to an extreme negative camber, called oni-camber.
You may have heard about a car being “slammed”, these type of cars also run with a negative camber.
However, this is not recommended at all as it can, besides damaging the tires and suspension, also damage the chassis.
Negative camber is usually seen in race cars and sports cars. It provides maximum tire grip when cornering, which is incredibly important in racing.
When cornering aggressively, lateral force is applied to the tire. Having a negative camber will fully utilize the force in the tire, while a neutral or positive camber would result in less contact with the ground.
To put it simply, a negative camber will be utilized as a neutral camber when exposed to extreme cornering and will have less grip when driving straight.
Unless you take your car regularly to the track, it is not advised to run your car with a negative camber as it will lead to higher and uneven tire wear when street driving.
A positive camber is the opposite of a negative one. The top of the tires leans outwards relative to the car.
A positive camber benefits steering in grounds that are not flat. Because of that, a positive camber is usually seen in agricultural vehicles.
Heavy-duty vehicles such as loaded trucks also tend to have a positive camber angle as it compensates for the load, making the tire have maximum grip on the road.
Toe is another parameter that is checked and adjusted during a wheel alignment. It is also called tracking and describes the angle of the wheel in relation to the longitudinal axis of the vehicle.
To describe it more simply, it is just like you standing and watching your feet (or toes). Your feet may be angled toward your body’s midline or away from it.
In the same way, toe describes the wheel angle looked from above the car, where the wheels the front of the wheels is either toward the center of the car or away from it.
If the wheels are facing toward each other, it is called toe-in, while the opposite is referred to as toe-out.
Just like camber, the optimal toe differs from different types of vehicles and their uses. However, in the case of toe, more things that play a role.
For example, the drivetrain, type of car, and driving intent are considered when adjusting the toe. Your car manufacturer has specified recommendations for your car and should in most cases be followed.
The goal of the toe is to make sure that all the wheels are parallel when driving straight. It is also the most common alignment that will have to be adjusted.
Last but not least, the caster is the parameter that is only adjusted at the steering wheels.
The caster angle is defined as the steering axis relative to the suspension components. The steering axis is at the center of the wheel.
Imagine a vertical line that goes upwards through the center of the wheel (from a side view). If that line directly meets with the suspension components, the caster angle is 0 degrees.
An angle of zero, is probably what most people think is the standard, however, the caster angle is usually positive. In other words, the steering axis (the vertical line) goes straight up but the suspension component is tilted toward the rear of the vehicle.
All modern cars use a positive caster as it provides better steering. The positive caster is responsible for straightening out the steering wheel by itself when you let it go after turning.
A negative caster is rarely used, it provides easier steering but also instability at higher speeds. Because modern cars use power steering, the easier steering provided from a negative caster is not needed.
How Much Is A Wheel Alignment?
As you now know what a wheel alignment is and what it does, you might be wondering what the wheel alignment cost is.
There is not a specific time a wheel alignment should be done, however, it might be a good idea to do it if you get new tires installed or every 2 to 3 years.
If you commonly drive on bumpy roads or have been exposed to a fender bender it is wise to double-check the wheel alignment.
Typically, a wheel alignment will cost you around $100 and $250. This price varies depending on where you take your car and what type of car you have.
It is also important to note that not all shops may be able to align your wheels properly. Therefore, it is recommended to either align your wheels at a specialty alignment shop or an authorized shop, specified for your car brand.
Wheel alignment is not the same as wheel balancing. A wheel alignment adjusts the suspension of your car to make sure that the tires have maximal contact surface to the road.
Three parameters are adjusted when doing a wheel alignment: camber, toe, and caster. Toe is the most common parameter that has to be adjusted.
Camber and toe are dependent on what type of car you drive and what you use your car for, for example, off-roading, racing, or normal street use. The caster angle is almost always positive.
The cost for a wheel alignment is usually around $100 to $250 but may depend on the type of car and wheel alignment shop.
It is recommended to do a wheel alignment when installing new tires or every 2-3 years.