Do you ever get the feeling that your mechanic is speaking a different language than you? It might sound like English, but the average person could easily be lost after the first sentence or two?
We’d like to shed some light on a handful of mechanical terms you are likely hear if you’ve recently hit a pot-hole, a curb, been involved in a collision or taken your vehicle for some off-road joy-riding. Terms like: wheel alignment, tire balance, caster angle, camber angle and toe.
Wheel Alignment vs Tire Balancing.
You probably already know that these are two very different things, but people often get the two mixed up. Any time you get new tires mounted (put on), the mechanic will typically add some adhesive weights to the inside edge of your wheel. Believe it or not, those little weights help reduce vibrations or wobbling of the steering wheel.
Wheel alignment also has a significant impact on a vehicle’s driveability. Unlike balancing, which focuses on the individual tire and wheel, an alignment looks at how a set of wheels tires on each axle interact with each other and the axle itself. Your typical alignment looks to see if tires run parallel to each other, if they are set perpendicular to the road and if they are positioned in front of or behind the upper ball joint.
Technically the caster angle is determined by the position of both the upper and lower ball joints. A simplified way to look at the caster angle on a vehicle would be to examine the shocks. Are your shocks straight up and down or do they appear to lean toward the front or rear of the vehicle? Acceptable caster angle can be anywhere from zero to slightly positive.
Camber angle refers to the resulting angle of the tires as they sit on a flat road. When the tires appear to lean away from the body of the vehicle, they have a positive camber. Tires that lean in, toward the body, have a negative camber. A slightly negative camber can help to enhance stability when cornering, however, to maximize straight-line acceleration a 0 degree camber angle will provide the best traction.
In this case, your mechanic is probably not referring to the phalanges on your feet…or your vehicle’s capacity to pull (tow) a trailer. Rather, he is likely talking about the difference in distance between the front of the tires and the rear of the tires (ideally they will be either parallel or have a very small amount of toe in).
According to Greg, Shop Foreman at Axleboy, “As your vehicle moves down the road, the tires create a certain amount of “rolling resistance” which basically means that they naturally pull outward. Bigger tires experience more rolling resistance, so it is important to align them properly to avoid fighting a floating steering wheel.”
Proper wheel alignment plays a critical role in vehicle handling and performance, and is one of the primary factors in determining life expectancy of tires. So next time you take a little off-road detour or just happen to notice your vehicle drifting to one side or the other, give us a call and set up an appointment for a wheel alignment.