What is wheel alignment?

Wheel alignment is a must. This adjustment will increase driving comfort and safety levels. In addition, a car with properly adjusted geometry uses less fuel (less drag). Properly adjusted wheel alignment significantly prolongs the life of tires, as well as steering and suspension components. What is wheel alignment? How to set it properly?


What is meant by wheel alignment?

Wheel alignment is a general term for a number of settings (including wheel alignment), which should be regularly checked and corrected if necessary. Wheel alignment is corrected according to factory data, set by car manufacturers for each car model.


What changes wheel alignment?

Wheel alignment changes during the use of a car. Most often, changes occur due to wear and tear of suspension components, as a result of driving into a larger pothole after a collision or accident, as well as interference with the suspension and steering system by installing new components or fitting new tires.

Remember that if your car is severely damaged in an accident, it may not be possible to restore proper alignment. This usually happens when there has been a serious twisting of the chassis, or when the car has been hit by a wheel. You should also check that if you choose a car from the last sold vehicles list – most of them may have chassis issues after an accident or collision. 


What are the signs of bad wheel alignment?

Popular signs of bad wheel alignment are:

- The car does not keep its track when driving straight and pulls to one side. 

- The car requires frequent steering corrections. Remember that pulling to one side can also be the result of a broken tie rod, damage to the tie rod end, or a piston in one of the brake calipers getting stuck.


Bad wheel alignment causes accelerated and uneven tire tread wear (known as clipping). This significantly shortens the life of the tires - even by half. Other signs of bad wheel alignment:

- accelerated wear of suspension components,

- accelerated wear of steering components,

- increased fuel consumption, as a result of additional resistance while driving,

- poor driving comfort, requiring the driver to make constant corrections to the track, which tires and reduces driving safety.


When should you do wheel alignment?

Mechanics recommend that every car have its wheel alignment checked once a year. It is best to check wheel alignment after winter because during this cold season, the car is most likely to drive into a pothole hidden under a layer of ice or snow.

It is recommended to check and adjust wheel alignment in the following cases:

- installation of a new set of tires,

- seasonal tire replacement,

- any suspension repair (such as replacement of control arms, spring columns, torsion beam, etc.),

- any steering repair (from replacing tie rod ends to replacing the steering gear),

- car repair after a collision or accident,

- driving into a larger road pothole,

- noticing that the car pulls and driving comfort has significantly decreased,

- observing that there is uneven tread wear (clipping).


Where can you do wheel alignment?

Wheel alignment is done in specialized workshops. It is not possible to set the geometry properly on your own. A wheel alignment device is an expensive and complicated piece of equipment, operated only by qualified professionals. The mechanic must also have access to the car manufacturer's data on proper wheel alignment. You can easily find the nearest workshop offering this service on the Internet.

What should you keep in mind? Wheel alignment can only be done on an efficient car with suspension and steering in excellent condition. It will not be possible to properly align a car with damaged tie rod ends, worn control arm bushings, or tires with widely varying tread wear.


What will a wheel alignment do?

The basic parameter is wheel alignment. This is the mutual alignment of the front and rear wheels with each other. The measurement error is only half a millimeter. The setting range is from minus three to plus seven millimeters. In typical front-drive passenger cars, alignment is set by turning the counter-nut, mounted on the steering rod. This allows the transverse rod to be properly aligned. The wheel alignment adjustment should be made on both sides of the vehicle.

Wheel alignment also includes checking and possibly correcting the settings of other parameters. This depends on the type of car, which axle is driven, as well as the requirements of the car manufacturer, which determine which settings are possible to check and correct on a given car.

Wheel alignment can change the following parameters:

- coasting angle,

- wheel camber angle,

- front wheel kingpin camber angle,

- rear wheel toe angle,

- rear steering differential angle,

- rear vehicle height and front wheel offset (e.g., cars),

- rear wheel camber angle,

- rear toe angle,

- steering differential angle,

- vehicle height at the rear and front,

- wheel offset (e.g., in sports cars),

- lower and upper ball joint settings (e.g., in pickups)


For each of these settings, the car manufacturer provides precise factory data - either in degrees or millimeters.

Read also:

- Why are my brakes squeaking?


Why is proper alignment important?

A car with properly adjusted wheel alignment is pleasant to drive – it maintains the track on its own, making it comfortable and easy to drive. There is no need to hold the steering wheel tightly or correct the direction of travel. A set of tires will be able to withstand five years of use. Suspension and steering components will not wear out prematurely, which has an impact on driving safety and on the vehicle's operating costs.

Photo by Connor Betts on Unsplash