wheels aligned to a blue car

Wheel Alignment

How do I know if my car is out of alignment? An alignment refers to the adjustment of a vehicle’s suspension. Your suspension points your vehicle’s tires straight down the road when it is properly aligned. When your suspension goes out of alignment, it causes irregular tire wear and steering inconsistences. Although it is commonly referred to as a wheel alignment, the result can effect multiple points on your vehicle.

A variety of factors can cause your vehicle to go out of alignment, most commonly impacts with potholes, brushing up against curbs or other objects. Each of these jarring blows shakes your suspension, causing it to stray from its ideal alignment settings. But, you don't neccessarily have to bump into something, your vehicle can naturally go out of alignment over time. Normal wear and tear causes rubber suspension components to crack, ball and socket joints to loosen, and the build-up of thousands of small impacts can eventually effect your vehicle’s ideal alignment settings.

What else might cause your vehicle to be out of alignment? In many other cases, worn suspension parts also cause alignment problems. Worn springs can slightly lower your ride height, altering your vehicle’s geometry and creating misalignment. Weak springs contribute to uneven tire wear, sometimes referred to as "cupping". Worn ball joints can commonly cause erratic handling, slow steering response and irregular tire wear. Finally, worn tire rods allow the tires to wander left to right. This unwanted motion changes the tire’s ideal angle, and causes irregular tire wear as the vehicle rolls down the road.

If you notice your vehicle pulling to the left or right, you detect irregular tire wear, or if the steering wheel is off center when driving straight, you should have your vehicle inspected for possible alignment concerns. Alignment issues that go uncorrected will cause tires to wear down and need to be replaced prematurely.

Discount Tire does not perform alignment services, but we want to provide you with useful information about how alignment settings can affect your tires.

What is a Wheel Alignment?

Alignment technicians adjust four different settings to put a vehicle in alignment:
Caster
Camber
Toe
Ride height

Caster

Caster refers to the angle of the steering axis, which is the suspension component supporting the wheel and tire assembly. You can visualize the caster as an imaginary line that runs along the vehicle’s axle. The caster can be negative, centered or positive. When properly aligned, caster contributes to your steering feel and high-speed stability.

Wheel caster diagram

Camber

Camber describes the tire’s inward or outward tilt, when viewed from the front of your vehicle. Negative camber refers to a tire tilted in, while positive camber refers to a tire tilted out. This adjustment can maximize the tire-to-road contact, and account for changes in force as a vehicle turns. Out of each alignment adjustment, camber has the widest range of recommended settings. This range can accommodate different vehicle handling characteristics. Higher negative camber suits those who corner aggressively, while less negative camber suits those who perform very little hard cornering.

Wheel camber illustration, positive and negative


Toe

Toe describes the relationship between a tire’s front and rear end, as viewed from above. The front of the tire can be either closer or farther from each other. A front wheel drive (FWD) vehicle require a compensating toe-out setting on the front axle, since the front wheels pull toward each other as the vehicle moves. A rear wheel drive (RWD) vehicle can have a toe-in setting on the front axle, since these wheels pull away from each other during acceleration.

Wheel toe illustration, toe in and toe out


Ride Height

Ride height simply refers to the distance between the road and the vehicle frame. The ride height provides reference points for all alignment measurements. Any deviation from the factory ride height, such as lifting or lowering a vehicle, will need to have an alignment check after the customizations have been performed.

How to troubleshoot tire wear patterns

A tire expert can often observe wear on a tire and determine where your vehicle is out of alignment. Check out our troubleshooting guide below.


camber tread wear

Symptom:

Premature smooth wear on
inside/outside shoulder


Possible Cause:

Incorrect Camber Setting



toe tread wear

Symptom:

Feathered wear across tread,
raised tread block edges


Possible Cause:

Incorrect Toe Setting


caster tread wear

Symptom:

Excessive shoulder wear, tread
blocks show “heel-toe” wear pattern


Possible Cause:

Incorrect Caster Setting



unequal caster tread wear

Symptom:

Sharp pulling necessitates steering
compensation and feathered wear


Possible Cause:

Unequal Caster Setting (either right
or left side out of specification)


unequal toe tread wear

Symptom:

Sharp pulling necessitates steering
compensation and feathered wear


Possible Cause:

Unequal Toe Setting (either right or
left side out of specification)


multiple tread wear symptoms

Symptom:

Irregular tread wear with feathering
and smooth spots


Possible Cause:

Combination of two or more settings
are out of specification



Each of these cases will need an alignment to correct the issue and prevent future irregular wear. This list does not include every wear and misalignment possibility, but spotting these major symptoms can help you get the most from your tires.

Learn more about Tire Rotations.

If you have any questions or require any assistance, stop by any of our Discount Tire locations and we'll get you taken care of!

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