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Basics of Alignment- Camber, Caster, and Toe

The Basics of Alignments- Camber, Caster & Toe

Alignment

Normal wear and road conditions can take their toll on your car’s steering and suspension system, possibly throwing alignment settings out of specifications. Therefore the alignment should be checked periodically on an alignment machine that takes readings to make sure everything is within specifications. Your alignment should be checked if you are experiencing uneven wear on your tires, experiencing any kind of steering or handling problem, and it may be required when certain steering and suspension components are replaced. An alignment can help to maximize tread life on a new set of tires and ensure optimum handling and traction for driving safety. Typical service recommendation for an alignment check is annually or when you purchase new tires. Be sure to ask for a four-wheel alignment. This is because all four wheels influence directional stability, steering and handling and should be considered a must for all AWD, 4wd, front wheel drive and minivans as well as rear-wheel drive cars with independent rear suspensions. There are 3 specifications that are checked in an alignment service:

Toe

Toe is probably the easiest measurement to understand. If you look down at your feet and turn your toes inward this is toe-in, turn your toes out, this is toe-out. Most vehicles are intentionally slightly pigeon-toed. The best tip-off to a toe problem is a saw-tooth wear pattern that’s equal on both front tires. If the tread blocks point toward the frame, then toe-in is excessive; pointing outward indicates too much toe-out. You may also find that incorrect toe angle is causing the car to pull left or right.

Camber

Camber is the measurement of vertical tire lean in degrees. Negative camber has the top of the tire leaning into the car. Positive camber has the top of the tire leaning away from the car. Zero camber will have the wheel and tire straight up and down. Camber has to be equal on all sides otherwise the vehicle will pull to one side or the other or tires will wear unevenly.

Caster

Caster is the angle of steering pivot in degrees. This describes the forward (negative caster) or rearward (positive) tilt of the steering axis when viewed from the side. Caster angle settings allow the vehicle manufacturer to balance steering effort, high speed stability and front end cornering effectiveness.
Clues to caster problems include the vehicle pulling to one side (the one with less positive caster). Heavy steering and wheel hopping over bumps are signs of too much positive caster, and light steering but excessive wander are clues of too much negative caster. Aligning-to-spec usually involves repairing or replacing chassis parts.
Vehicle manufacturers’ alignment specifications usually identify a “preferred” angle for camber, caster and toe. The manufacturers also provide the acceptable “minimum” and “maximum” angles for each specification. Bringing the three key alignment measurements into the numbers specified by the manufacturer can prevent expensive tire replacement bills, and vastly improve vehicle handling, braking, and safety.

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