If any of these questions apply to you, there is a great chance that your vehicle may need an alignment. There is nothing catastrophically wrong with your vehicle- this is a normal process of car ownership and maintenance. What is most important is to listen to the signs your vehicle is trying to tell you and do your best to be proactive in making sure your vehicle is running in top shape.
What Is An Alignment?
Before entering into symptoms of needing an alignment, it is appropriate to examine what an alignment actually is and why it is so important for a vehicle to function properly. It is no secret that tires are what propel the car forward through rotation, but when the tires are off center by just millimeters the vehicle can experience diminished steering performance. An alignment adjusts these measurements using laser equipment, adjusting measurements in three positions, known as toe, caster, and camber.
What is Toe, Caster, and Camber?
All of these words refer to measurements along the steering knuckle and wheel. Toe is the outward positioning of wheels on a horizontal plane. These measurements can be adjusted inward and outward in order to keep the vehicle driving straight and set in turns. When toe measurements are off, the vehicle can experience “floaty” steering, uneven turn resistance, and wandering when going straight. Tire tread wear is increased on a vehicle with uneven toe. Caster is the positioning of the strut assembly inside of the steering knuckle, determined by a factory set angle. This measurement normally does not need adjustment, but over time this angle can diminish. Laser measurements will ensure the caster measurement is correct in a proper alignment. The last is camber, a measurement that is easily noticeable when offset. Camber is the angling of the wheels, done in order to give the car a greater squat position in turns. This makes cornering both easier and safer, making the vehicle connected to the pavement. This measurement typically does not experience change, but over time can become compromised with shocks and struts that become worn down. Camber adjustments can be needed when noticing an uneven tread wear between the inner and outer treads of a tire.
I Think My Vehicle May Need An Alignment. How Can I Be Sure?
The first thing that might come amiss when a vehicle is experiencing a misalignment is tire tread wear. All tires have a story they are trying to tell with their tread. Whether it be amount of life left or uneven wear, the tread on a tire gives very articulate cues that can give you an idea on how well your alignment is holding up. When doing any type of vehicle maintenance, such as changing the oil or pumping air into the tires, do a quick check of the tread, both on the inside and outside of the tire. Even if the outside tread looks fine, the inner treads may have become compromised. Have a light handy, and inspect all four wheels, both inside and outside. Another clue that an alignment might be off is a wandering vehicle. Performing a quick test gives a great indication on whether or not a vehicle is aligned properly. Drive onto a straight road with speeds of up to 50-60 mph, and when safe to do so, let go of the steering wheel for a few seconds and witness if the car stays straight. If the vehicle veers to one side, the toe setting may be off. Another strong clue is harsh wheel vibration, especially when going at higher speeds. Any offset in vehicle alignment may cause these vibrations, compromising safety and ability to steer properly.
Overall, it is best to pay attention to the signs your vehicle is telling you in order to ensure proper tread wear and vehicle safety. Any trained technician at a professional car service station can recommend an alignment, and with professional machinery and equipment can realign your vehicle and bring it back to factory settings.