Alignments – why they are so important
There is a dirty little secret in the auto industry; it’s the “Toe and Go” alignment. This refers to a really fast yet inadequate technique of only adjusting toe on an alignment and nothing else. Even though a lot of times the same equipment is used, not all alignments are same.
A frustrated truck owner recently came in to our store for an alignment. His truck was not aligned, though he had 3 previous alignments at other businesses. This is because nothing but the toe had been touched. This is common practice because its fast, it fixes the most common problems felt by a bad alignment (such as the car pulling), and less qualified people can do it. The problem is that is doesn’t fix problems like uneven tire wear that will void your tire mileage warranty. It also doesn’t address erratic handling or reduced braking caused by improperly adjusted camber. This is why all the alignments, including our free alignments at Vermont Tire & Service are complete and use ALL available adjustments to make it right. Our alignment technicians are the best in the business, each with over 20 years of experience.
So what is an alignment anyway?
Your car has many suspension parts that all work together to not only cushion your ride, but also drive the wheels and allow you to turn. It also keeps your wheels straight. This last function is where the need for an alignment comes in and many variables need to all be checked and adjusted during the alignment for everything to be right. Below are the three main components of a good car alignment.
Vehicle that’s aligned properly
- Handles correctly
- Achieves optimal fuel efficiency
- Maximizes your tire life
Vehicle is even slightly out of alignment
- Tires wear out faster
- Vehicle might pull or wander to one side
- Uses more gas
- Unnecessary wear and tear
Toe is what is most commonly thought of as alignment. This controls if the tires are pointed the same direction going down the road. Misalignment in toe is also most noticeable to the driver because, if the wheels are pointed towards or away from each other, the problem can feel like poor balancing as the tires fight each other. This can also show itself in drifting if the tires are pointed more in one direction that the other. In time, this will cause the tire to “chop” leading to the tread actually look serrated.
Camber is the adjustment that ensures that wheels are aligned vertically. Race drivers use negative camber, which angles the wheels towards each other, to improve grip on corners. The down side of this is that when going straight tires will wear unevenly either on the inside or outside and in the worst cases, the handling of the car will be very twitchy. This is the most common alignment problem to be overlooked by a driver because the tires still wear smoothly.
Caster is least understood by the common driver. Caster refers to how straight up and down the steering and suspension assembly are. If one wheel has more positive caster than the other, that wheel will pull toward the center of the vehicle. This condition will cause the vehicle to pull or lead to the side with the least amount of positive caster.