What is wheel alignment and how much does alignment cost?
Does your car pull to one side? Does the steering wheel vibrate? Do you constantly have to make steering corrections to keep your car traveling straight ahead? If so, chances are you need an alignment. Many handling problems can be corrected by complete four wheel alignment. Another symptom that a car is out of alignment is uneven or rapid tire wear. To determine if you need an alignment, first check each tire and look for uneven wear patterns. The trouble with this method, however, is that if you notice a wear pattern, it may be too late to save that tire. It is a good idea to have your alignment checked periodically because regular wheel alignments will usually save you as much or more in tire wear as the alignment costs.
So, what exactly is wheel alignment? To put it briefly, "alignment" or "wheel alignment" consists of adjusting the angles of your vehicles wheels so that they are perpendicular (at a 90 degree angle) to the ground and parallel to each other. In actuality, wheel alignment is a process of measuring and adjusting a variety of complex suspension angles and suspension components, not the tires and wheels. The main reason for making these suspension adjustments is to get the most wear and performance from your tires. Additionally, wheel alignment provides safe, vehicle control as well as a smooth and comfortable ride that's free of vibration and pulling.
Out-of-alignment conditions occur when the suspension and steering components are not functioning at their proper angles. Out-of-alignment conditions are most often caused by spring sag or worn out suspension parts (ball joints, bushings, sway bar links, center links, idler arms/pitman arms, rack and pinion units, tie rod ends/sleeves, shock absorbers, struts/cartridges and coil springs, etc.). You can also knock your vehicle Out-of-alignment by hitting a pothole, curb, parking block or any other road hazard. Alignment should be checked whenever new tires or suspension components are installed as lowering or raising the vehicle's ride height we likely create an Out-of -alignment condition.
A wheel alignment cannot be properly completed on a car with loose or worn front-end parts. A full suspension system inspection is part of our alignment procedure at Texas Tire Sales. This allows us to spot worn parts and inform you of any problems before beginning the alignment. After the wheel alignment is completed, our mechanic will drive the car on a straight and level road to be sure that the car goes straight and that the steering wheel is in the proper position.
Today's modern suspensions require a precise four-wheel alignment that can only be achieved through a modern computerized alignment system like those offered at either location of Texas Tire Sales in Fort Worth or Weatherford, Texas. The suspension angles that typically need to be measured and adjusted during a wheel alignment are caster, camber, toe and thrust angle. Here's a definition of each angle and its influence on a vehicle and its tires.
Caster is the tilting of the uppermost point of the steering axis either forward or backward (when viewed from the side of the vehicle). A backward tilt is positive (+) and a forward tilt is negative (-). Caster influences directional control of the steering but does not affect the tire wear. Caster is affected by the vehicle height, therefore it is important to keep the body at its designed height. Overloading the vehicle or a weak or sagging rear spring will affect caster. When the rear of the vehicle is lower than its designated trim height, the front suspension moves to a more positive caster. If the rear of the vehicle is higher than its designated trim height, the front suspension moves to a less positive caster.
With too little positive caster, steering may be touchy at high speed and wheel return ability may be reduced when coming out of a turn. If one wheel has more positive caster than the other, that wheel will pull toward the center of the vehicle. This condition will cause the vehicle to pull to the side with the least amount of positive caster.
Camber is the tilting of the wheels from the vertical when viewed from the front of the vehicle. When the wheels tilt outward at the top, the camber is positive (+). When the wheel tilts inward at the top, the camber is negative (-). The amount of tilt is measured in degrees from the vertical. Camber settings influence the directional control and also tire wear.
Too much positive camber will typically result in premature wear on the outside of the tire and cause excessive wear on other suspension parts.
Too much negative camber will result in premature wear on the inside of the tire and cause excessive wear on other suspension parts.
Unequal side-to-side camber of 1° or more will cause a vehicle to pull to the side of the vehicle with the most positive camber.
Viewed from above the vehicle, toe describes whether the fronts of the tires are closer (toe-in) or farther (toe-out) apart than the rears of the tires. Toe settings will vary between front and rear wheel drive vehicles. In a front wheel drive vehicle, the front wheels try to pull toward each other when the vehicle is in motion, which requires a toe-out setting to compensate. A rear wheel drive vehicle works in just the opposite fashion, requiring a toe-in setting. In other words, toe is set to allow the tires roll parallel to each other (at zero toe) when the vehicle is in motion. Improper toe adjustment will cause premature tire wear and cause steering instability.
The thrust angle refers to all four wheels and their relationship to each other in addition to their relationship to an imaginary centerline that runs from each pair of wheels down the center of the vehicle. The term "thrust line" refers to the direction in which the rear wheels are pointing. The thrust angle can be adjusted on vehicles with adjustable rear suspensions. On vehicles that do not have adjustable rear suspensions, the thrust angle can be compensated for by aligning the front wheels to the rear wheels. Referencing the front steering geometry to the rear is very important. A 4 wheel alignment involves aligning all four wheels in relation to each other.
If the thrust angle is not correct on a vehicle with a solid rear axle, it may requires a visit to a frame straightening shop to correctly reposition the rear axle.
An alignment check includes:
- Inspection of the steering and suspension components
- Examination of the tires for size, inflation and wear
- Comparison of your alignment to vehicle manufacturer proper alignment specs.
How much does wheel alignment cost?
Alignments come in one of two forms: two-wheel and four-wheel alignments. At TEXAS TIRE SALES, we offer four wheel computerized alignment with frequent periodic alignment specials and coupons to help keep prices in an affordable range of $40 to $70 depending on the vehicle.
Spending time and money to keep wheels & tires in proper alignment now will save hundreds of dollars later by improving fuel economy and reducing the number of new tires needed over the life of the vehicle.
Visit us to have our certified technicians provide you with an efficient wheel alignment service. Schedule an appointment today!