What is a Front-end Alignment

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Proper maintenance of your automobile is very important in keeping your car in excellent driving condition and keeping problems from occurring. Generally speaking, you only hear about needing a front-end alignment of your wheels, tires, and suspension, when you purchase a new set of tires. But you can throw the alignment out at any time by hitting a pothole or curb. An overall wheel alignment checks all four wheels, while a front-end alignment only focuses on the front two wheels and tires.
A front-end alignment makes sure that your car's suspension components are positioned at the correct angles and properly adjusted to maintain performance and safe driving. It assures that your vehicle is tracking true and handling as the manufacturer intended. Proper alignment will make sure your tires are wearing properly, that you are getting maximum performance, and will actually increase your gas mileage.

When to get a Front-end Alignment

Most automakers will suggest you have a front-end alignment for your vehicle every 50,000 miles. Check your Owner's Manual to find out when your car is required to have this service. However, sometimes you may need to have an alignment performed if you notice uneven wear on your tires when comparing both front tires. Are your front tires wearing unevenly on the outer edges or inner edges?
You might notice that your car is pulling consistently towards the right or left. This is most noticeable on the highway at 55 miles per hour or more. Reduce your grip on the steering wheel and see if your car pulls towards the left or right on a straight and flat section of road. When your car is going straight, is the steering wheel angled toward the left or right? If so, it is likely out of alignment. You may also notice a pulsing or vibrating feeling in the steering wheel.
How to get a Wheel Alignment
Most auto service centers that sell tires have tire alignment machines that are required to handle the complex series of measurements and adjustments necessary to make sure your vehicle is tracking properly. Each vehicle has a specific set of alignment specifications that must be met for proper alignment and the process takes at least an hour to perform. It is best to make an appointment with your local Lithia Motors Service Center for a wheel alignment.
What is Camber, Caster, and Toe?
There are three very important alignment elements that affect how well your vehicle handles. Together, they make sure your car is properly aligned. They are known as camber, caster, and toe and when any of the three are out of alignment, it will limit your tire wear and impact the safety of your auto. Here's what these settings mean:
Toe has to do with if your tires and wheels are angled inward or outward more than they should be. You may have heard of a person being "pigeon toed" when their toes point inward, well cars can have a situation where the tires and wheels are toed in or out. A toe-in situation will wear your tires on the outside edge more than usual, and toe-out means your tires will wear more on the inside edge. Either way, improper toe will cause your tires to scrub at an improper angle and cause you to wear your tires out sooner. A small amount of inward toe is advisable for best grip on the road as friction pushes your tires further apart while you're driving and brings your tires close to zero point. Properly aligned toe means less friction and a smoother ride.
Similarly, camber has to do with the wheel and tires pointing in toward the top, which is known as negative camber, or pointing in toward the bottom, which is positive camber. Many sports cars such as Porsche have a slightly negative camber where the top of the wheel points inward for the best handling. The tire plants itself in cornering. Positive camber, where the top of the wheel points outward can cause the car to drift in one direction or the other and not track true. Your car's cornering performance is affected by the camber angle.
Caster is a bit more difficult to explain. Basically, it is the difference between the upper and lower ball joint. When the lower ball joint is leading, you have positive caster. It is just like the front forks of a bicycle. The forks point forward for better stability. A straighter caster would cause your car to drift left or right easily. Positive caster calms this down and allows the front wheels to track true. Negative caster is the opposite, when the steering axis is pointing forward. Your car will always pull towards negative caster or toward positive camber. The correct caster angle for your car as designed by the automaker ensures your safety on the road. How does camber, caster, and toe get thrown out of whack?  Partially because many suspension parts are currently made out of aluminum to lighten the weight of the vehicle, but aluminum is a softer metal than steel and it is easier for it to bend under stress. Couple that with today's low-profile tires and higher impact to the suspension parts and you have a chance that your car's alignment will shift over time.
One thing that can knock your alignment out of true is going over potholes. You can bend suspension parts or even bend a wheel. You can hit a pothole so hard that it literally breaks the bead on a tire or even break the belts inside the tire. How do you know if a pothole has knocked your alignment out? Look at your steering wheel. It may be turned at an angle instead of tracking straight. If your steering wheel is turned at an angle while you are going straight, your car is out of alignment. Another tell-tale sign that you need an alignment is when you notice a lot of shaking in the steering wheel. Many people only get an alignment done when they buy a new set of tires. But if your car drifts to one side or the other, or if it vibrates when going down the road, there's a good chance it needs a front-end alignment.
Let Lithia Help
If you don't get an alignment, your car will handle poorly, use up tires quicker, and get poor gas mileage. Find a Lithia Motors dealer near you right here. We sell quality tires and handle tire alignment at many of our locations. Your safety is important to us because we want to keep you as a customer for life!