Pictured is a graphic of how alignment angles work and the tire wear that occurs when a vehicle’s wheel alignment is not properly set. It’s not just front wheel alignment anymore; most vehicles have four wheel alignment adjustments available.
Bad wheel alignment can cost you a lot of money in premature and excessive tire wear. Tires are expensive, wheel alignments are relatively inexpensive, usually less than the cost of a single tire. The most common and costly alignment problem is with “toe-in”. Toe-in is the relationship of the leading edge of the tire to the rear edge. Rolling road forces tend to push the leading edge of the wheel outward so the wheels must be set with the front edges of the tires slightly inward as seen in the graphic (the graphics are greatly exaggerated to better show the angles). Bad “toe” settings will chew up a pair of tires rather quickly so pay attention to the wear patterns on your tires.
Caster settings place the bottom edge of the wheel slightly forward in relation to the top of the wheel. This is to keep the steering wheel straight while rolling. It’s the same principle as your bicycle’s front forks. Ever notice when sitting still on a bicycle that the front lifts slightly when you turn the wheel to one side? Let go of the handlebars and the wheel will got to nearly straight as gravity pulls that lifting motion down. It’s the same for a car.
Camber settings combat pulling to one side or the other. Ever notice how the center of most roadways is higher than the edges (the “crown”)? That’s for rain runoff to keep streets as clear of water as possible. Camber settings tilt the wheels slightly to combat the natural pull to the right side of the road. Camber and caster settings are often not the same from the left to the right side as both are used to combat the natural pull to the right due to the crown of the roadway.
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