Vehicles have a long list of ongoing maintenance needs. From keeping the spark plugs, plug wires, and brakes in good condition to ensuring the oil and coolant are changed at regular intervals, it certainly takes a lot to keep a vehicle running properly and performing as it should.
How To Do Wheel Alignment at Home
Of course, those are only a few of the aspects vehicle owners must stay on top of if they want their cars, trucks, vans, or SUVs to last as long as possible. Tires and wheels also need their fair share of attention. Tires wear thin over time, and the wheels and suspension sometimes go a bit awry.
Discussing the Importance of Wheel Alignment
Wheel alignment revolves around a vehicle’s suspension components and the way they connect to the wheels. When all is right with a vehicle, the suspension keeps the wheels parallel to one another so they’ll keep a vehicle moving forward in a straight line as it’s supposed to when the steering wheel itself is straight.
Vehicle alignments performed by professionals like those at Hamm’s Tires help keep those wheels straight both literally and figuratively.
When wheels are aligned properly, they’ll make good contact with the road. If they’re out of alignment, they could result in numerous problems. Improper alignment can cause tires to wear unevenly. It may also place extra strain on the suspension. At the same time, it can cause your vehicle to handle poorly. You’ll have to keep the steering wheel turned at an odd angle to keep it going in a straight line. Misalignment could make for a rough ride, as well, even on smooth roads.
Checking Your Wheel Alignment
Many vehicle owners opt to take their vehicles to professional mechanics when they’re concerned their wheels may be out of alignment. Some, though, prefer the do-it-yourself route. If you fall into the latter category, it’s certainly possible to check a vehicle’s wheel alignment at home.
This is the case even if you don’t have much experience in working on vehicles. If you choose to check a vehicle’s wheel alignment on your own, keep the following points in mind.
1) Consider Obvious Signs First
Before getting out the toolbox and preparing for a day in the garage, be sure to look for obvious signs of misalignment. For one, think about how the vehicle rides and drives. Is it riding more roughly than it once did? Does it feel like you’re crashing down a dirt road even if you’re driving on new asphalt? Do you have to fight the steering wheel just to keep the vehicle going in a straight line? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, there’s probably an alignment issue at hand. If you’re still not sure, though, don’t hesitate to move on to the next steps.
2) Check the Camber Angles
Camber is a fancy word for how the wheels and tires lean. No matter what type, brand, or model you own, its wheels aren’t supposed to sit perfectly perpendicular to the road.
They’re supposed to be tilted slightly outward or inward depending on the vehicle. Some tires and wheels tilt outward at the top. That’s a positive camber. Others tilt inward at the top, which is a negative camber.
Those wheels should, however, have the same camber. If the left front wheel and tire tilt outward by one degree, so should all the others. If they don’t, they’re not aligned properly. You can check the camber angles by using an angle finder and a ruler, plumb bob, or other item with a straight edge.
3) Look at the Caster Angles
Caster angles refer to the positions of the upper and lower ball joints on a wheel in relation to one another. Those with a zero angle would be completely vertical.
With a positive caster angle, the lower ball joint sits slightly in front of the upper one. With a negative caster angle, the opposite is true. These days, the majority of vehicles are built with a slight positive caster angle for better stability.
Caster angles should be uniform across all four corners of the vehicle. If not all of the caster angles of your vehicle match up, something is out of alignment.
4) Examine the Toe Angles
Another aspect to look at is the toe angle. That’s the angle of the tires in relation to each other when they’re turned straight and parallel to the vehicle itself. Toe-in refers to two wheels on the same axle, as in either the two front or rear tires, being closer together at the fronts of the tires and farther apart at the backs.
Toe-out occurs when the centers of the fronts of the tires are further apart and the centers of the backs of the tires are closer together. If the tires are exactly parallel with the fronts and backs equal distances apart, you have zero toe.
5) Checking and Changing Are Entirely Different Matters
With all that in mind, it’s important to understand that figuring out if wheel alignment is off and correcting the problem are entirely different situations.
It’s a fairly simple matter to determine if a vehicle is riding rough or pulling to one side. Looking at the tires to see if they’re wearing evenly in the middle or they’re showing more wear on the inside or outside edges isn’t overly difficult.
Once an alignment issue has been diagnosed, though, it needs to be resolved. Unless you have all the right tools and equipment as well as extensive experience in vehicle repair, it’s best to take a vehicle to a mechanic to have those alignment problems corrected.
Keeping Your Vehicle In Line
Several things can go wrong with a vehicle’s wheel alignment. Sometimes, misalignment is a result of a collision or inadvertently running over a curb. Other times, it’s simply caused by normal wear and tear.
Either way, it’ll affect the way a vehicle rides and handles. If it’s not taken care of promptly, it can also cause more extensive damage. Whether you’ve pulled out all the stops and checked all these aspects or simply noticed that your vehicle isn’t riding as smoothly as it used to, don’t hesitate to take it to a mechanic to have the alignment problems taken care of.