Frequently Asked Questions

 

Wheel Alignment

Q: How do I know if I need an alignment?

To find out if you need an alignment, first check each tire and look for uneven wear patterns.

The problem with this method, however, is that if you can see a wear pattern like the ones listed below, it may be too late to save that tire, which is why it is a good idea to have your alignment checked yearly at West Coast Alignment.


Over Inflated Tire

Over Inflated
If the tread is deeper on the edges than in the center, the tire is over inflated.
Under Inflated Tire

Under Inflated
If the tread is deeper in the center than the edges, the tire is under inflated.

Out of Alignment

Out of Alignment
If the tread is deeper on one side than the other, have your wheel alignment checked soon.

Toe-In problem

Toe-in Problem
Run your hand back and forth across the tread, being careful not to cut yourself on any debris or exposed steel belt wire. If the tread is smooth in one direction, but jagged in the other you have what is caused by a toe-in problem causing rapid tire wear.


Proper Alignment

Proper Alignment
Your tread should be the same depth from outside to center.

Another indication of an out-of-alignment condition is a car that continuously drifts or pulls to one side of the road when you let go of the wheel. A car that is hard to keep in a straight line without constant steering corrections is also a candidate. These conditions may or may not also contribute to premature tire wear. Ask your West Coast Alignment specialist to be sure.

A wheel alignment cannot be done on a car with loose or worn front end parts. At West Coast Alignment our technician will first check for worn parts and inform you of any problems before beginning the alignment.

The best type of wheel alignment is a four wheel alignment. Many cars today have adjustable rear alignment settings, but even for cars without adjustments in the rear, a four wheel alignment will allow the technician to identify any rear tracking problems.

After the wheel alignment is finished, you should drive the car on a straight and level road and check that the car goes straight and that the steering wheel is in the proper position with the spokes level.

Camber

Q: What is Camber?

camber

 

Camber is the angle of the wheel, measured in degrees, when viewed from the front of the vehicle.

If the top of the wheel is leaning out from the center of the car, then the camber is positive, if it's leaning in, then the camber is negative.

If the camber is out of adjustment, it will cause tire wear on one side of the tire's tread.

If the camber is too far negative, for instance, then the tire will wear on the inside of the tread.

 


Camber wear pattern

Camber wear pattern

If the camber is different from side to side it can cause a pulling problem. The vehicle will pull to the side with the more positive camber. On many front-wheel-drive vehicles, camber is not adjustable. If the camber is out on these cars, it indicates that something is worn or bent, possibly from an accident and must be repaired or replaced.

Caster

Q: What is Caster?

When you turn the steering wheel, the front wheels respond by turning on a pivot attached to the suspension system. Caster is the angle of this steering pivot, measured in degrees, when viewed from the side of the vehicle.

If the top of the pivot is leaning toward the rear of the car, then the caster is positive, if it is leaning toward the front, it is negative. If the caster is out of adjustment, it can cause problems in straight line tracking. If the caster is different from side to side, the vehicle will pull to the side with the less positive caster. If the caster is equal but too negative, the steering will be light and the vehicle will wander and be difficult to keep in a straight line. If the caster is equal but too positive, the steering will be heavy and the steering wheel may kick when you hit a bump. Caster has little affect on tire wear.

 

caster

The best way to visualize caster is to picture a shopping cart caster.

The pivot of this type of caster, while not at an angle, intersects the ground ahead of the wheel contact patch. When the wheel is behind the pivot at the point where it contacts the ground, it is in positive caster.

Picture yourself trying to push the cart and keep the wheel ahead of the pivot. The wheel will continually try to turn from straight ahead. That is what happens when a car has the caster set too far negative. Like camber, on many front-wheel-drive vehicles, caster is not adjustable. If the caster is out on these cars, it indicates that something is worn or bent, possibly from an accident, and must be repaired or replaced.

Toe-In

Q: What is Toe-In?


toe-in

The toe measurement is the difference in the distance between the front of the tires and the back of the tires.

It is measured in fractions of an inch in the US and is usually set close to zero which means that the wheels are parallel with each other. Toe-in means that the fronts of the tires are closer to each other than the rears.

Toe-out is just the opposite.

An incorrect toe-in will cause rapid tire wear to both tires equally. This type of tire wear is called a saw-tooth wear pattern as shown in this illustration.

 


Toe-in

If the sharp edges of the tread sections are pointing to the center of the car, then there is too much toe-in.

If they are pointed to the outside of the car then there is too much toe-out. Toe is always adjustable on the front wheels and on some cars, is also adjustable for the rear wheels.

Wheel Balance

Q: What is Wheel Balance?

Out-of-balance tires will cause a car to vibrate at certain speeds, usually between 50 and 70 mph. A tire is out of balance when one section of the tire is heavier than the others. One ounce of imbalance on a front tire is enough to cause a noticeable vibration in the steering wheel at about 60 mph.

To balance a wheel, the technician will mount it on a balancing machine which spins the wheel to locate the heavier part. He will then compensate for the heavy part by attaching a lead weight on the opposite side. Many people are pleasantly surprised at how smooth their car drives after balancing all four wheels.

Most high quality tires will hold their balance fairly well and go out of balance very gradually. If you notice a vibration that wasn't there the day before, it is possible that one of the lead balancing weights fell off. If you feel the vibration mostly in the steering wheel, the problem is most likely in a front wheel. If the vibration is mostly in the seat, the problem is probably in the rear.

Wheel Alignment Specifications

Q: Can you align any type of vehicle?

At West Coast Alignment we have a complete database of Wheel Alignment specifications and can align any car or truck from a Mini to a Kenworth!