If you are somehow familiar with the vehicles' construction, you must have heard how important wheel alignment is. This term refers to a procedure that technicians do to your car to ensure the tires have a correct position on the road. The car runs much more efficiently and more stable when the tires have a correct alignment.
Many of us have traveled at least once in a car, ours or someone else's, and heard a specific sound. It seems to come from the engine, but also seems to come from the suspension system. At the same time, the car appears to pull to one side, when the steering wheel is kept straight. Well, these are nothing but signs that the car needs some wheel adjustments. However, you should know that these signs are not the only signs that suggest a wheel misalignment. Stay with me to find out how to decipher the language of your vehicle to know when it's time for a wheel alignment.
Is it risky to drive with a misaligned wheel?
Absolutely. The danger persists and is quite high. The statistics show an impressive number of road accidents because the car is driving out of lanes due to misalignment. Apart from the eminent risk of accidents, tires deteriorate prematurely, generating additional costs. The incorrect position of the wheels results in excessive friction between the road and the wheels. Consequently, the outer layer of the tires becomes thinner. This consequence entails uneven traction and eminent risk of hydroplaning in wet weather. You can prevent this whole chain of adverse effects by periodically adjusting the wheel alignment.
What leads to wheel misalignment?
The brand-new car has perfect wheel alignment. But this condition doesn't last long because the car starts to be subject to different influencing factors. Bumps, potholes, aggressive driving style - all cause an imbalance in the wheel angles. So, wheel misalignment is, in fact, a natural phenomenon that occurs with the exploitation of the vehicle. During its operation, the car gradually wears out including all of its suspension components. Through careful and wise driving, we can minimize the impact of this phenomenon, but we cannot avoid it completely.
The architectural modifications that some car enthusiasts prefer to make to their cars can also lead to wheel misalignment. For example, many drivers change the height of their cars, omitting the adaptation of the suspension system. This leads to a severe misalignment because the angles between the body and the suspension undergo major changes.
What is wheel alignment, by definition?
Wheel alignment involves 2 major aspects: establishing the correct angles of the wheels to the road and establishing the correct angles to the other tires. This procedure is done at the level of the suspension system, unlike the tire rotation which many confuse. So, wheel alignment does not consist so much of working with the wheels as with the suspension system. It is at the level of this suspension system that the technicians make changes and adjustments to correct the angle of the wheels.
What to expect with wheel misalignment?
As I mentioned before, you are subject to imminent danger if you ignore this issue. The first and most dangerous consequence refers to possible accidents. While driving, wheel misalignment pulls the car to one side. Even if you adjust the steering wheel, the vector of the vehicle is not correct and in a second, you could lose control. In addition, if the angles of the wheels are very misaligned, the steering becomes much too difficult to control. Driving in such circumstances is even more complex if the weather is unfavorable or the road conditions are bad.
With wheel misalignment, you can expect severe premature tire wear. It only takes a few months for the tires to become completely damaged in the context of a misalignment. It is important to inspect the tires regularly to detect the problem at an early stage. Many drivers are sure that the tires are in ideal condition because they change them frequently. However, they do not realize that they are severely damaged due to misalignment. Worn tires are one of the fiercest enemies while driving. There is always the risk of a blowout due to tire thinning.
Ignoring alignment issues is costly. Not only will you pay for a new pair of tires, but you'll also pay for more fuel. Your car will consume more gas because it will need more energy to cope with the additional effort. Yes, misaligned wheels generate an additional effort to the car so that it can offer decent traction. Once you regulate the issue, tires become more fuel-efficient.
Driving with misaligned wheels will impact your comfort. That's because instead of feeling relaxed at full speed, you'll feel an uncomfortable vibration in the steering wheel all the way. In more pessimistic cases, the car will even shake, turning your ride into a nightmare.
Pay attention to the symptoms of vibration and shaking. These can be the result of other defects besides wheel misalignment. It is of the utmost importance to call a technician once you feel them while driving.
Besides the potential unpleasant vibrations, you will encounter difficulties while braking and cornering. This is because tires tend to squeal with wheel misalignment, leading to difficulties in driving. The car will not be as responsive in situations of maximum vigilance such as safe braking. So, misalignment is an issue that causes maximum discomfort while driving and is an imminent risk for drivers.
How does the car tell you that wheel alignment is needed?
Now that you know more details about this topic, you will be able to easily recognize the possible problem in your car. The symptoms I talked about above suggest a possible misalignment and you need to look for a technician right away. Otherwise, you risk undergoing severe damage, to both you as a driver and your car. However, the mentioned symptoms can refer not only to misalignment. They can appear as a result of the failure of other systems in the vehicle. So, it is your responsibility to take the car to the service. The technician will inspect it and decide whether or not it needs alignment. What will the technician draw attention to to understand that it is an alignment problem? It will draw attention to the 3 primary clues: caster, toe, and camber. What are these? You will find out immediately.
Do you remember when I told you about adjusting the angles? These 3 terms determine the angles of the wheels from different positions. The caster angle is somehow responsible for your car's ability to corner, as well as its overall stability on the road. It also regulates the steering axis. Technicians usually detect it by looking from the sideways of your car. If the steering axis tilts towards the driver - then we are talking about a positive caster. In contrast, if the axis leans towards the car's front - we are dealing with a negative caster.
A correct caster angle provides an equal balance between the wheels, improving the stability of the car at high speed and the agility of the car while cornering. In most cases, the cars have a correct caster set by default by the manufacturer. The cars that are subject to customization are the ones that usually need caster alignment.
If you look at the car from the front, you can detect irregularities in the inward and outward angles. This means that we are dealing with camber misalignment. Probably, an ordinary driver will not visually detect irregularities of the angle easily. But a professional with a trained eye will surely do. Camber misalignment is when the wheels tilt too much in or out when they should be perfectly perpendicular to the road. Even a small misalignment of the angle makes the traction of the vehicle difficult.
As in the case of a caster, the camber misalignment can be positive or negative. The positive one refers to the position of the wheels in which their top tilts away from the center. In contrast, the negative one refers to the one in which the wheel top tilts inward. Those positions adversely affect the car's performance and the condition of the tires.
The third aspect of wheel alignment refers to the toe angle. It is about that specific angle that the technicians observe when inspecting the car from above. In this case, again, we are dealing with 2 scenarios. One is when the wheels look at each other, which is known as toe-in alignment. The second is when the wheels "look" in opposite directions. This scenario is known as an outward angle. Both lead to negative consequences and must be corrected accordingly.
The wheel alignment procedure is your duty as a driver to have a safe drive and not to endanger the ride of other drivers. All new cars have perfect wheel alignment when they leave the factory. The technicians do nothing but bring the wheel alignment to the same position in which it was initially. Road and vehicle wear and tear will inevitably lead to misalignment. It's just a matter of time. As a responsible driver, you must take action whenever your car suggests that the wheels are not aligned properly. Be responsive to these symptoms and do not delay the visit to the technician.