Frontend Alignment Basics
It seems like talk of frontend alignments are one of those things that get put off until it’s either too late and the tires are badly worn or you're just tired of wandering all over the road. Getting your hot rod down the road straight from the start not only ensures proper handling, but it also gives your tires an even wear pattern and long life. Anytime you’ve installed new components to the front suspension you should check the frontend alignment. We’ll take a look at some of the leading symptoms to an improperly aligned frontend and some of basic definitions to alignments.
- A Pull - Generally, you will notice this when you let go of the steering wheel and the vehicle automatically “pulls” left or right while driving. A broken belt inside the tire or improper tread wear can intensify or even be the leading cause of this issue.
- If you think you may have a bad tire and you have non-directional tires, you can try switching the front driver side tire to the passenger side. If the vehicle changes the direction of pull, you know the issue is within the tire.
- A Drift - A lead or a drift is a mild pull that does not cause any change to the steering wheel. Usually the driver must counteract the vehicle drifting left or right. This issue can also be caused by the crown of the road, which should always be taken into consideration when making frontend adjustments.
- Steering Wheel Misalignment - Often times you may not notice a pull or a drift, the vehicle drives straight, but the steering wheel is off either to the left or right. This is usually caused by an improper toe adjustment and can lead to premature tire wear.
Camber is defined as the inward or outward tilt of a wheel at the top, relative to vertical at the center of the wheel in the lateral plane. If the top of the tire is leaning inward toward the center of the car (viewed from the front of the vehicle), the tire has negative camber. If the top of the tire is leaning outward, it has positive camber.
Caster is the inclination of the steering axis from vertical line the longitudinal plane (wheel viewed from the side). Positive caster is achieved when the steering axis is inclined toward the rear of the vehicle at the top in the side view. Negative caster is achieved when the steering axis is is inclined toward the front of the vehicle at the top in the side view.
Toe is a measurement of how much the front wheels are turned in or out viewed from a straight-ahead position. When the wheels are turned in, toe is positive. When the wheels are turned out, toe is negative. The actual measure of toe is normally only a fraction of a degree. The purpose of toe is to ensure that the wheels roll parallel. Toe also serves to offset the small deflections of the wheel support system that occur when the vehicle is rolling forward. Improper toe adjustment can cause premature tire wear and steering instability.