A wheel alignment ensures that your tires are at the correct angle to grip the road properly.
If the angle is less than optimal, it could lead to increased tire wear, making your car deviate toward one side of the road and causing other possible issues.
In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about wheel alignment, including what it is and how much it costs.
Let’s cover the basics first!
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What Is A Wheel Alignment?
Ensuring that your wheels are properly aligned helps reduce your tire wear and make your steering more precise.
Although it is called a wheel alignment, the actual adjustment is made to the suspension. This should not be confused with wheel balancing, which compensates for the weight of the wheel.
When performing 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 guide, all three angle alignments will be explained. Keep in mind that all wheels can be aligned, but a front wheel alignment usually differs slightly from a rear-end alignment because 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 the wheel is perpendicular to the surface. In other words, the wheel is aligned perfectly with its centerline.
If the angle is a few degrees off the centerline, it is called either positive camber or negative camber. Positive camber means the top of the tire leans outward, while a negative camber makes it lean inward.
A camber that is zero, also called neutral camber, provides the greatest contact surface with the road and thus makes the tire wear consistent across the tire.
In the car styling scene, a trend has emerged where people align their wheels to an extreme negative camber, which is also known as oni-camber.
You may have heard of a car being “slammed.” These types of cars also run with negative camber.
However, this is not recommended as it can, in addition to damaging the tires and suspension, also damage the chassis.
Negative camber is usually seen on race cars and sports cars. It provides maximum tire grip when cornering, which is incredibly important in racing.
When cornering at high speed, lateral force is applied to the tire. Having a negative camber will fully utilize that force in the tire, while a neutral or positive camber would result in less contact with the ground.
To put it simply, negative camber will act as neutral camber when exposed to high-speed cornering and will have less grip when driving straight.
Unless you regularly take your car to the track, running your car with negative camber is not recommended as it will lead to increased and uneven tire wear during everyday driving.
Positive camber is the opposite of a negative one. The top of the tires leans outward relative to the car.
Positive camber benefits steering on surfaces that are not flat. Because of this, positive camber is usually seen on agricultural vehicles.
Heavy-duty vehicles such as loaded trucks also tend to have a positive camber angle as it compensates for the load, helping the tire maintain the 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.
In simpler terms, it is just like you standing and looking down at your feet. Your toes can be angled toward your body’s midline or away from it.
Similarly, the toe describes the wheel angle when viewed from above the car, where the front of the wheels is pointed either toward the center of the car or away from it.
If the fronts of the wheels are pointing toward each other, it is called toe-in, while the opposite is referred to as toe-out.
Like camber, the optimal toe differs for different types of vehicles and their intended uses. However, in the case of the toe, there are 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 will have provided recommendations for your car, and, in most cases, these should be followed.
The goal of the toe is to ensure that all the wheels are parallel when driving straight. It is also the most common alignment that will need to be adjusted.
Last but not least, the caster is a parameter that is only adjusted on the wheels that turn.
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 upward through the center of the wheel (from a side view). If that line directly intersects with the suspension components, the caster angle is 0 degrees.
An angle of zero is probably what most people consider 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 release it after turning.
A negative caster is rarely used. It provides easier steering but also causes instability at higher speeds. Because modern cars use power steering, the easier steering provided by a negative caster is not needed.
How Much Is A Wheel Alignment?
Now that you know what a wheel alignment is and what it does, you might be wondering what the wheel alignment cost is.
There is no specific time that a wheel alignment should be performed. However, it can be a good idea to do it when you get new tires installed or every 2 to 3 years.
It is worth double-checking the wheel alignment if you commonly drive on bumpy roads or have been exposed to a fender bender.
Typically, a wheel alignment will cost you between $100 and $250. This price will vary depending on where you take your car and what type of car you have.
It is also important to note that not all shops will be able to align your wheels properly. This is why it is recommended to align your wheels at a specialized alignment shop or an authorized shop dedicated to your car brand.
If your wheels are not properly aligned it could lead to increased fuel consumption, uneven tire wear, vibrations, and more.
Wheel alignment is not the same as wheel balancing. A wheel alignment adjusts the suspension of your car to ensure that the tires have the maximum amount of surface contact with the road.
Three parameters are adjusted when performing a wheel alignment: camber, toe, and caster. Toe is the parameter that most commonly needs to be adjusted.
The ideal camber and toe depend on what type of car you drive and what you use it for, such as off-roading, racing, or normal street use. The caster angle is almost always positive.
The cost of a wheel alignment is usually around $100 to $250 but may vary depending on the type of car and your chosen wheel alignment shop.
It is recommended to perform a wheel alignment when installing new tires or every 2-3 years.