Automotive Advisers: Spring is approaching, it’s time for an alignment check
With the Kansas winter nearly in the rearview and the promise of spring on the horizon, there are several maintenance checks to consider for your car, one of which is for alignment.
Your vehicle might need a realignment after hitting potholes or bumping curbs when the roads are slick.
“Alignment” refers to the proper adjustment of your vehicle’s suspension, the system that connects your car to its wheels.
The suspension is made up of springs, shocks and struts that help keep your car level as you travel down bumpy roads.
The shocks and struts also offer a level of protection, giving you control over steering and braking.
A properly aligned car has better handling, which makes for a safer and smoother journey for you and your passengers.
Conversely, when your car is out of alignment, you have less control, which results in a less safe and rougher ride.
Being out of alignment can also have consequences for your vehicle—as poor handling and uneven wear can lead to premature tire replacements and costly suspension repairs. And that’s why it’s important to get an alignment check.
During this service, your technician will focus on three things: the camber, the toe and the caster.
The camber is the term for the angle of the tires when viewed from the front of your car.
Too much of an inward or outward angle is an indicator of improper alignment—and requires adjustment.
Second, the toe is the extent to which your tires turn inward or outward when viewed from above.
To picture what this looks like, look down at your feet and angle them like a pigeon or a ballerina in first position, which is referred to as a toe-in or toe-out alignment respectively. You want your car’s toes to be parallel and even, and your technician will inspect your car and make adjustments to ensure that’s the case.
Lastly, the caster is the angle of your steering axis when viewed from the side of your car, and it helps with steering, stability and cornering.
If the caster tilts toward or away from the driver, that signals the need for an adjustment.
Not sure if you need a realignment? Here are four signs that you might:
Your vehicle pulls to the left or right. While driving down a flat road, your car should drive straight ahead without requiring much effort on the steering wheel. If it pulls to one side or requires more effort on your part to drive straight, you may have an alignment issue. (Note: Another common cause for pulling is underinflated or unequally inflated tires, so checking your tire pressure might be your first step.)
Your tires are unevenly worn or wearing rapidly. Inspect your front and rear tires to see if they have similar wear patterns. If they appear different on the inside or outer edges of the tires, this suggests a problem with the camber. Feathering of the tires, which is when the tread is smooth on one side and sharp on the other, indicates that the toe alignment is off.
Your steering wheel is crooked even while driving straight. When driving down a level, flat road, your steering wheel should be centered and straight. If the wheel is off-center by more than a few degrees in either direction, an alignment check is needed.
Your steering wheel is vibrating. If you experience a vibration around 50 to 55 miles per hour, it could be an alignment issue—as such a vibration is caused by the tires pulling in opposite directions.
If you are experiencing any of these signs, then it’s time to see your technician. If not, alignment checks should simply be part of your car’s ongoing maintenance routine.
It’s a good idea to have your alignment checked every year or every 7,000 to 10,000 miles, and whenever you replace or rotate your tires. This will keep you rolling nice, safe and easy from one season to the next.
-Scott and Tammie Green are the owners of Christian Brothers Automotive, 22240 Midland Dr.