Q: What is a vehicle alignment and why might my car need one?
A. Vehicle alignment is a process undertaken by a technician that ensures your vehicle is roadworthy and optimized to perform at its best.
Your vehicle's wheel alignment can make an enormous difference to its performance and your safety. The process consists of adjusting the angles of the wheels on your car so that they are absolutely parallel to one another, and that they are perpendicular to the ground. This is a technical and complex mechanical procedure that should only be carried out by a qualified technician.
Explanation of Terms
As part of a wheel alignment, your technician will take a number of measurements and will adjust a number of different components to ensure that the vehicle performs appropriately. The mechanic will measure the camber of the wheels—the angle that the wheel tilts outwards (positive camber) or inwards (negative camber). Either of these conditions can cause uneven and dangerous tire wear.
Caster is the term given to the angle of the steering axis. If the wheel is in front of the load (that is, the axis is leaning backward), this is described as positive caster. If the reverse is the case, then the car is experiencing negative caster. Caster will not affect the tire wear, but it may affect the vehicle’s steering. As part of a wheel alignment, your mechanic will check several other measurements.
Signs You Need an Alignment
There are a number of signs that your vehicle might require an alignment. An obvious sign will be visible traces of uneven tire wear. This most often occurs on the outside of the tire. If left unresolved, this could eventually affect the integrity of the tire and your safety while on the road. If you see any signs of tire wear, contact your mechanic as soon as possible.
Other signs will be more evident while you're driving. Your car may drift to one side of the road without you turning the steering wheel or when you're otherwise driving straight. Your steering wheel may vibrate or judder. If you're driving straight, your steering wheel may not be centered and you may find yourself compensating to one side or the other. If any of these signs occur, arrange to have your vehicle inspected as soon as possible.
When To Get an Alignment
Whenever you have new tires fitted or get maintenance done on your wheels or suspension, get an alignment before driving away. Adjusting any of the mechanical parts of the car’s suspension, even by a very small amount, can affect the alignment. Make sure your technician undertakes this procedure whenever you have work carried out. It is important to bring your vehicle in for routine maintenance, especially if you've driven a long distance.
Vehicle alignments ensure that your car’s suspension is performing at its optimum capability, enabling better fuel economy and protecting your safety. Here at Mike Smith Nissan, we recommend you make them a part of your regular service routine. Schedule an appointment today, and we can make sure your tires are functioning just like they ought to.