Published on July 14, 2016 by Jeffry Gardner
What’s your angle? All about alignments
Anybody who has driven on the streets here in Tucson know that it’s difficult to keep your vehicle in alignment. But why is that? In today’s article we’ll discuss the different alignment angles, how their adjustment/misadjustment impacts your car, and what factors cause your alignment to go out. In all cases, potholes, curbs and exceptionally rough roads can knock your vehicle out of alignment. Less common (but still possible) is a situation where bent parts can cause this misalignment. Unfortunately, the only remedy for that is part replacement.
Camber Alignment Angle
This angle describes the inward or outward angle of the tire when looking straight at the vehicle front or rear. All manufacturers have different specifications based on the stance and size of the vehicle. Positive Camber is a condition where the topmost part of the tire is further away from the vehicle. Negative Camber is a condition where the topmost part of the tire is closer to the vehicle. A vehicle out of adjustment on camber can exhibit a ‘pull’ to one side or the other, suffer from premature and uneven tire wear, and become difficult to steer.
Camber is adjustable from the factory (meaning, without requiring additional modifications or parts replacements) on many different vehicles, but not on all. In some cases, a camber/caster kit or shim kit installation may be necessary to properly address this angle. A simple alignment check will reveal your vehicle’s measurements and compare them to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Caster Alignment Angle
The caster angle more or less describes the inclination/angle of the steering axis while observing the vehicle from the side. A vehicle with positive caster will have it’s steering axis angled towards the rear of the vehicle. A vehicle with negative caster will have it’s steering axis angled towards the front of the vehicle. Again, all manufacturers have specifications for each vehicle.
Caster may also be adjustable from the factory on many vehicles. In those where this is not the case, the aforementioned camber/caster kit may help to adjust the angle back to manufacturer’s specifications. A vehicle with caster measurements out of specification can exhibit a pull to one side or another, especially if the angles on each side are significantly different (for example, positive caster on the right and negative caster on the left). This is because, if you were to look at the vehicle from straight above, you would see that the tire on one side was ‘ahead’ of the tire on the other side. This is what causes the pull to the side with the most positive caster.
Toe Alignment Angle
The most common misaligned angle is the Toe alignment angle. The toe angle refers to the left/right angle of the tires while observing from the front. A vehicle that is toed-in has the front of the tires angled in towards one another (an expression commonly used is pigeon-toed). A vehicle that is toed-out will have the front of the tires angled outward, away from one another.
Toe angles may be the most commonly misaligned, but they will not cause a pull. Where the toe angle causes trouble is in tire wear. Basically speaking, the vehicle is going to track forwards more often than not. As a result, a vehicle with toe misalignment will ‘scrub’ the tire surface on the inner or outer edges, depending on if the vehicle is toed out or in.
Know your angles
Keeping your vehicle in alignment is the best way to keep your tires healthy and your handling precise.
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