Wheel alignment: What you need to know

It goes without saying that wheels are one of the most important parts of a car: they’re the middle man between the engine and the road, and they move the car in the direction that you steer it. This is why wheel alignment is crucial to both the safety and performance ability of your car, and why it’s important to know the signs so you can act immediately if you notice them. In this guide to wheel alignment, you’ll learn everything you need to know about wheel alignment, from how to check for symptoms to the process mechanics follow to fix an alignment issue.

What is a wheel alignment?

A wheel alignment, also called a tyre alignment, is a service provided by qualified mechanics to correct the angle of the wheels and tyres of your vehicle so they match the manufacturer’s recommended position. 

How to check wheel alignment

If you notice any of these symptoms in your car, that’s a sure sign it’s time to get a wheel alignment at your local mechanic.

  • Screeching wheels: If your wheels aren’t aligned properly, they make metallic screeching sounds as they rotate on a crooked axis
  • Steering wheel vibration or noises: Out-of-alignment wheels cause excess friction where the steering wheel joins to the tyres and make steering harder
  • Vehicle pulling to one side: Your car wants to move to one side even though you are driving in a straight line, so you have to steer in the opposite direction to correct it
  • Steering wheel being crooked while driving in a straight line: Your steering wheel’s default position when driving straight is off-centre

How is a wheel alignment done?

During your wheel alignment, the mechanic will do these checks and adjustments.

Toe

Toe alignment is how far tyres point inward or outward as seen from a birdseye view. If the toe is in, the front of the wheels turn inwards towards the centre of the vehicle. Toe out alignment is when the front of the wheels turn outwards away from the car. 

Toe alignment doesn’t have to be straight – every vehicle has a different tolerance for toe in and toe out, so mechanics always follow manufacturer recommendations. 

wheel alignment - camberCamber 

Wheel camber alignment is the way your tyres lean towards or away from the vehicle when viewed from in front. Negative camber means your tyres lean in too much, so the top edge is angling in while the bottom edge that makes contact with the road angles outward. Positive camber is when the bottom edge of the tyres are angled inwards towards the centre of the car.

Both positive and negative camber result in excessive and uneven tyre wear.

Caster

Caster alignment is the forward or backward tilt of the tyres as viewed from the side. Too much tilting backwards (towards the driver) is called positive caster, and too much forward tilt is called negative caster. Both results in excessive tyre tread wear.

Ride height

This is the distance between the road and the body of the vehicle. It’s important to get tyres re-aligned and choose the correct new tyre size if you customise your vehicle to make the chassis lower or higher.

Once all checks have been done, your mechanic will use the wheel alignment machine to get things back to the manufacturer’s recommended position.

 

Wheel alignment is one of the most important items on every service schedule. If it’s time for a tune up, Google ‘Wheel alignment near me’ or drop into your nearest Express Lube Auto Service Centre