Automotive alignment refers to the angles of the wheels relative to the body of the car. Ideally, all four wheels will be set at the exact same angle. Over time, however, alignment will naturally become skewed. This can lead to a surprising number of problems, including excessive fuel consumption, uneven tire wear, and even transmission breakdowns.
Fortunately, you can maintain proper alignment simply by having your car serviced on a regular basis. If you would like to learn more about poor alignment, as well as how to recognize that your car may be suffering from it, read on. This article will provide a useful overview of the symptoms, causes, and repair of bad automotive alignment.
Symptoms of Poor Alignment
Far and away, the most common sign that your vehicle suffers from poor alignment involves a steering wheel that constantly seems to be pulling to one side. The longer you go without attending to this issue, the worse it will become. Eventually you will find yourself having to be correcting the steering wheel's pull at virtually all times.
In the early stages, however, things won't be so drastic. In fact, you may completely fail to notice the feeling of being pulled. However, you may notice that your steering wheel appears cocked slightly to one side or the other. This may be the case even when your car shows no difficulty in traveling straight ahead.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from poor alignment, investigate your tires next. Uneven wear offers a strong clue that alignment issues may be at play. To distinguish from other causes of uneven wear — failure to regularly rotate your tires, for example — look closely at where the wear is concentrated. Markedly less tread along the inner or outer wall of the tire strongly suggests that alignment may be at play.
Causes of Poor Alignment
Automotive alignment represents a sensitive system, one that can easily become jarred from its proper state. Shocks and bumps that you would otherwise give little thought to may be more than enough to knock your car out of alignment. This may include such things as hitting a pothole, or accidentally popping a curb. Likewise, even the most seemingly harmless of fender benders may skew your car's alignment.
Be aware, however, that alignment issues may develop even if your car has not suffered an such minor traumas. Alignment may be likened to the tuning of an instrument. Simply by using your car on a regular basis, its alignment will gradually stray from the desired orientation. The normal wear and tear of relevant component systems — ball and socket joints, for example — may cause alignment to fall out of true.
Dealing With Poor Alignment
Poor alignment represents a fairly simple problem for a trained mechanic to fix — provided, that is, that the problem has not been allowed to fester too long. A technician restores proper alignment through a process known, appropriately enough, as wheel alignment. This involves carefully measuring the angle of each of your wheels relative to the axles, as well as to one another.
These measurements fall under the broader category known as primary angles, which involves checking the camber, caster, and toe alignments. Once these have been correctly set, the mechanic attends to what is known as the secondary angles. Secondary angles include taking measurements of such things as:
- Steering axis inclination
- Wheelbase difference
- Frame angle
- Front and rear ride heights
Performing a wheel alignment accurately requires a large degree of skill and patience. The permissible deviation may be as small as a fraction of an inch. For more information about what it means to perform a wheel alignment the right way, please don't hesitate to contact the experts at Greg's Garage.