Did you hit a pothole or clip that curb as you turned the corner? These are just a couple examples of the causes of bad wheel alignment in your car. If you think you can tolerate fighting a crooked steering wheel or excessive vibration, without long-term damages, guess again. Not only can poor wheel alignment accelerate tire wear, it can reduce your fuel efficiency, make wheels work against each other, place strain on suspension components, and impede braking ability. When your vehicle is out of alignment, it effects your entire vehicle and may put your safety at risk. Here’s why you should make sure your tires stay aligned.
What Does A Wheel Alignment Do?
Alignment is the geometry of the suspension system made up of several components working together to support and turn the vehicle. Suspension systems are comprised of control arms, struts, shocks, mounting points, and steering components made to fit in designated areas. In order for all four tires to work together to travel in the same direction and rotate simultaneously, wheels must be properly aligned. Even a minor divergence of the geometry can impact the vehicle’s suspension. Premature tire wear and damage are a direct result of poor alignment.
When technicians perform a wheel alignment, they measure the angles of the toe, camber, and caster of the car’s alignment to determine if the car is in alignment. An alignment machine is used to calculate the position of each wheel’s existing alignment and the adjustments required to align the vehicle to the measurements set forth by the vehicle manufacturer. All four wheels must roll in the same direction, Toe determines the direction the wheels are rolling. Camber has to do with the angle or the vertical slope of the wheels. The camber is off when wheels slope in the wrong direction or angle on the road. Finally, Caster relates to the balance in relation to the steering and weight of the vehicle. Positive caster is similar to a bicycle’s front wheel kicked forward at the bottom. The more positive the caster, the more stable your vehicle is likely to drive. Caster must be at the perfect place. Too much or too little caster affects vehicle handling and steering, causing wandering, drifting, or difficulties steering.
What Causes Bad Wheel Alignment?
Misalignment is caused by several factors including environmental conditions, age and wear of suspension components, and driver error. Though constructed of metal, these components are quite delicate and are prone to damage from impacts of curbs and potholes. Impacts, at any speed, can change the shape of the wheel, affecting the alignment. Likewise, over time suspension system components such as bushings that begin to weaken and crack and joints that become loose, affecting their ability to keep the wheels in alignment. Finally, vehicle modifications including lowering or lift kits alter the alignment of the vehicle. Automotive manufactures calculate the suspension based on the height of the vehicle. When modifications are made, the suspension must also be adjusted to accommodate the change in height.
Driving with Poor Alignment
Can bad alignment cause your steering wheel to shake? Absolutely. In addition to causing a nuisance, wheels that are out of alignment can cost you; from the need to purchase new tires, costly repairs of suspension components, and an increase in fuel consumption. Here’s why you should avoid driving with wheels that are out of alignment:
- Fuel economy – Instead of rolling easily, tires will drag, reducing fuel efficiency by up to 10%.
- Handling – This could be dangerous as it hinders your ability to maintain control and contact with the road.
- Excessive Shaking or Vibration – Wheels that aren’t in a straight line are unable to turn properly in either direction and cause uneven, premature tire wear.
- Tire Blow Out – Traveling at high speeds with poor alignment places excessive pressure and wear on the tire, risking a dangerous blow out.
- Braking Trouble – When wheels are unable to turn or travel in the same direction, they are also unable to brake evenly.
Driving at high speeds with misalignment is rather dangerous as it affects your ability to steer, increasing the threat of an accident. Wheels that are out of alignment have a tendency to pull to the side, forcing drivers to tighten their grip on the steering wheel in an attempt to keep control of the vehicle. Misalignments can also negatively affect the handling and braking of the vehicle, compromising the safety of drivers and passengers. In addition to safety risks, poor wheel alignment can affect your wallet by placing unnecessary stress on the suspension system resulting in costly repairs, poor fuel efficiency, and tire damages requiring replacement.
How often you should get an alignment depends on several factors, however, one to two times per year is the recommendation. Yet, this timeline can vary depending on driving conditions and driving habits. One thing to note is that there is no guaranteed timeline of when a vehicle will fall out of alignment. If you hit a curb leaving the repair shop, you may find your wheels misaligned all over again.
Wheel alignments can be performed in as little as one hour on most vehicles. Invest in the longevity of your vehicle’s suspension and tires by having a wheel alignment performed on your vehicle by Sun Devil Auto. Our expert technicians utilize top of the line alignment machines to ensure your vehicle is aligned properly, saving you money from the expense of new tires for replacement, suspension repairs, and frequent trips to the pump. Schedule your next alignment at any of our valley locations today!