Home Front end The Three Wheel Alignment Methods You Need To Understand For Better Driving

The Three Wheel Alignment Methods You Need To Understand For Better Driving


Here are some food for thought for your next visit to a mechanical workshop. What are the common angles that are adjusted during a wheel alignment and why should you care? Correct wheel alignment settings are essential to tire longevity and good road performance. Nothing is more tiring for a driver than being on an extended commute and having to constantly struggle with the steering wheel to keep your vehicle centered on the road. I’ll take a moment to explain the three main angles that relate to you and your car:

Toe angle: Looking from a top point of view, this is the angle of the wheels on the same axle, pointing left or right. When all the wheels are exactly straight, it is called neutral toe-in. Toe-in represents tires that point inward, or the front of the tires is closer than the rear. Toe-in is the reverse, where the rear of the tires is closer together. Most contemporary vehicles are factory set with minimal toe-to-toe, measured in degrees.

Camber angle: viewed from the front of the vehicle. It is the inclination towards the inside or the outside of the tire. When they are perfectly vertical, we again speak of neutral or zero camber. The negative camber represents the tires that lean inward and outward is positive. All contemporary vehicles use a slight amount of negative camber, while sports cars use a generous amount to facilitate aggressive cornering.

The story continues under the ad

Caster angle: It is the most difficult to explain. Seen from the side of the vehicle and applicable only to the front, the steered wheels. Technically, roulette is the relationship between the upper and lower ball joints, but I think explaining it that way is hard to visualize.

Instead, I ask you to think of a bicycle and its front fork. All bike forks have a forward tilt offset to keep the bike stabilized while riding. When you hit a bump in the road, energy is forced into the bike by the front fork. Alternatively, if the forks and head tube were tilted back, that same bump would wreak havoc and the bike would be completely unstable. The front steer wheels of all vehicles have the same orientation as the bicycle and motorcycle. The positive caster in a vehicle stabilizes the vehicle over bumps and improves stability at highway speeds. It also brings your steering wheel back to center after exiting a turn.

As manufacturers are implementing cost-cutting measures, the only angle guaranteed to adjust is the front toe-in angle. When any of the three angles have been altered by a large pothole or a curb impact, strange driving characteristics and increased tire wear will be noticed.

When you send your vehicle in for a wheel alignment, be sure to request a color print of their wheel alignment machine. Ask the technical advisor to tell you where the pre-alignment numbers are displayed, as well as the location of the post-alignment results on the print. Pay attention to the post-alignment results and look for any results that are still displayed in red. This indicates that a problem is still present. Due to the manufacturer’s cost saving measures listed above, all three of these angles are no longer adjustable. However, even if the angle in question cannot be adjustable, you should still be aware that a problem exists and what parts are needed to bring the vehicle into an acceptable green range.

Your automotive questions, answers

Hello Lou,

I drive a 2008 Prius with 190,000 km. I ride on 3 season tires most of the year and switch to winter tires before the snow blows in Calgary. My winter tires are Michelin X-Ice XI3.

Last winter I seemed to have terrible cornering control issues with the Prius. As I drove in long curves (mostly left) at freeway speed, I felt like the front wanted to “dig” and the rear wanted to sway. Slowing down to 60 km / h and straightening the wheels below the curve helped. I don’t get this reaction with my 3 season tires and I’m used to the feeling of the Prius being rocked by wind and uneven roads. Do you have any idea what may be causing this erratic behavior?

The story continues under the ad

Thank you!

Brian B

Now I could make Prius jokes focused on fuel mileage and gearboxes about the dangers of going 60 km / h in a Prius, but that would be too easy. Despite my poor attempt at humor, I’m actually impressed with the Prius. They’ve been around for a while now and are tough, economical, and durable vehicles that, for the most part, do exactly what Toyota intended.

I guess since your winter tires were purchased only a few years ago, they are still in good condition. Your description of the sag in the front of the vehicle and the tilt of the rear of the vehicle describes a situation called oversteer.

The simplest and most obvious cause is incorrect tire inflation. The second and most likely answer is that the vehicle needs wheel alignment. Although everything looks normal with your three-season tires, the different rubber compounds in winter tires can sometimes accentuate and amplify the weird driving dynamics caused by an incorrectly aligned wheel angle. Also, if this happens when turning mainly to the left, it means that an alignment angle called toe in is out of specification on the front left. I am convinced that a simple alignment of the wheels will correct this situation.

Hi Lou,

The story continues under the ad

We have a 2016 Honda CRV and I am very surprised at how often they recommend services that are not specifically mentioned in their National Service Recommendation brochure. Concretely, they recommend an alignment at 24,000 km! This is a time when the vehicle is practically new. In my experience, the alignment is only done at 50,000 miles (80,000 km). Of course, you can do this sooner if you see signs of uneven tire wear, feel vibration, or pull to one side or the other. In addition, they promote a “fuel induction service” to clean injectors, valves, orifices and fuel lines at 40,000 km. My feeling has been that this type of service is not necessary for about 100,000 km given the ultra clean fuels we put in our vehicles these days. Am I wrong?


ralph lauren

Wheel aligners are expensive equipment, but produce a significant return on investment when used all day. Wheel alignment is not required every 24,000 km. I would say the ideal interval is every two to three years, when the tires have uneven wear, during a new tire purchase interval or after a pothole or impact on a curb. Forty thousand kilometers for a fuel induction service is also early in my opinion.

So yes, the two services you mentioned are easily sold to customers because they are right at the top of the easy money list. Your vehicle has a built-in maintenance tracking system that dictates what maintenance is required and when. Use it as a guide for future maintenance needs.

Lou Trottier is the owner and operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. A question about maintenance and repair? E-mail [email protected], by placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

The story continues under the ad

Looking for a new car? Discover the new Globe Drive construction and pricing Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here