Wheel alignment and balancing are two procedures that all vehicle owners have to carry out on their vehicles regularly. While these procedures seem trivial and are sometimes neglected by vehicle owners, they are actually crucial to a vehicle’s tire and suspension health. Let’s take a look at what is involved during wheel alignment and balancing, and also why they’re important.
What is Wheel Alignment?
A car wheel alignment refers to the adjustment to the vehicle’s suspension system so the angle between the suspension and wheels are correctly aligned. This is so the tires are able to make optimum contact with the road surface, ensuring a safe and comfortable drive. When adjusting the wheel alignment, a mechanic will adjust the vehicle’s suspension to change three things – the wheel camber, toe, and caster. Here is what each of these mean:
This refers to the inward or outward angle of the tire when viewed from the front of the car. Too much negative camber (inward tilt) or positive camber (outward tilt) is a sign that the wheel alignment needs to be adjusted. Some things that can cause camber misalignment are worn ball joints, bushings, bearings, and other suspension parts. Improper camber can cause the tires to wear out faster on one edge and even cause the vehicle to pull to one side while driving.
This refers to how much your tires angle inward or outward when viewed from above the car. Toe-in alignment occurs when the tires are angled inwards, while toe-out alignment is when the tires are angled outwards away from the vehicle. Improper toe alignment can cause difficulty in turning or taking sharp corners, as well as reduce a vehicle’s stability when driving at high speed.
When viewed from the side of your vehicle, you can picture caster as a vertical axis (line) that runs straight through the center of your front wheels. You can also imagine it as the line from the top of the suspension to where it meets the wheel. The caster angle refers to the top to bottom angle of this line.
A zero/neutral caster is when the center of the wheel is positioned directly below the suspension mount. With a positive caster, the center of the wheel is positioned in front of the suspension mount and away from the driver. On the other hand, a negative caster is when the center of the wheel is positioned behind the suspension mount and closer to the driver. In general, a positive caster is desirable as it improves straight-line stability at speed as well as handling.
Signs of Improper Wheel Alignment
Improper wheel alignment can cause a number of issues including uneven tire wear. However, it can also put extra strain on your car’s suspension and steering components, thus affecting the handling. If the wear and tear are easily observable, they’ll also speed up the depreciation of your car’s value. Here are some signs that your car may need a wheel alignment.
1. Uneven and excessive tire wear
If your wheel alignment is off, it could cause the tires on your car to rotate off-center which creates uneven friction between the tires and the road surface. As a result, your tires will develop excessive wear patterns on different parts of their surfaces. Misalignment can also cause one or more tires to wear out faster than the others. This not only incurs extra cost since you have to replace your tires earlier but is also dangerous since worn tires have reduced grip on the road.
2. Vibrating steering wheel
Another sign that your wheels could be misaligned is if your steering wheel vibrates at high speeds. Misaligned wheels tend to not rotate unevenly, and this causes increased vibrations to travel up to the steering wheel. If the vibrations in your steering wheel are severe, it could be a sign that other serious issues such as a tire blowout or suspension problems are soon to follow.
3. Car pulling to one side
If your car pulls to one side while you’re trying to drive straight down a road, it means you have some kind of an alignment issue. The pulling effect can vary in severity but if left unchecked, it can get worse and even result in suspension-related problems.
Read More: 5 Reasons Your Car Breaks Down
What is Wheel Balancing
Most wheels do not have perfect weight distribution throughout their structure. During wheel balancing, your mechanic will check your wheels for any heavy spots and install a measured weight on the opposite side of the heavy spot to compensate for the imbalance. Unlike wheel alignment, the wheels are always removed from the car during balancing and balanced on a wheel balancer which checks for both static (non-moving) and dynamic (moving) balance.
Why Should You Balance Your Wheels?
Wheel balancing is important because wheels can lose their balance over time due to road conditions, existing tread wear, and uneven weight distribution on your vehicle. Any imbalance in your wheels can have a negative impact on the way your car drives, especially at high speeds. Wheel balancing ensures that the weight distribution on your tire and wheel assembly is perfectly balanced, thus eliminating vibrations when you drive. This ensures a smooth and comfortable ride as well as prevents excessive tire wear. Here are some signs that you have an imbalance in your wheels:
- Tire noise
- Vibrations in the steering wheel and problems with steering
- Vibrations in the seat or floor
- Uneven and fast tire wear
When Should You Get Wheel Alignment and Balancing Done?
Balancing is generally performed in conjunction with a wheel alignment, at about every 10,000 kilometers or when you take your car in for a scheduled service. Wheel alignment and balancing are also done when you buy new tires. Having misaligned and imbalanced wheels will not only reduce the ride comfort in your car but could also cause accidents if they affect the steering and suspension components. So if you notice any of the signs mentioned above, be sure to get them checked.
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