Necessary Maintenance: Car Alignment

April 9th, 2021 by

A close up shows multiple stacks of tires.

There are some forms of vehicle maintenance that are inescapable for every vehicle owner. Whether you drive a Chevy, Dodge, Ford, or any other model, the basic rules and requirements of vehicle upkeep never change. One such requirement is car alignment. This is a somewhat specialized field, not quite so easy to accomplish at home as an oil change, though it is easy to monitor and check to see if you need this service. For the best Indianapolis area alignment service that money can buy, check out Blossom Chevrolet.

Blossom Chevrolet is dedicated to quality work and ensuring safety and security for every driver who comes through our doors. Over time, a car will lose alignment, requiring adjustments to be made in order to bring things back into balance. Alignment can also be changed by the simplest things, such as hitting a pothole or curb. Improper wheel alignment can do more than affect gas mileage or tire tread – it can make your vehicle a hazard for other drivers on the road. Alignment affects the way your car handles and could keep you from traveling in a straight line when you need to, causing you to swerve into other lanes of traffic. There are many signs you can look for to know if your car needs a realignment.

Two mechanics are shown balancing a wheel.

Tires Out of Balance? Here’s How to Know

What is a wheel alignment? This important maintenance step is an adjustment of the vehicle’s suspension. The suspension is what connects the wheels to the vehicle, making it one of the most important components to check on regularly and take care of as soon as possible if it needs to be fixed. If the suspension components shift or fall out of alignment, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with the vehicle. These components are designed to absorb impacts to protect the rest of the vehicle from damage.

Some people can get overwhelmed at the idea of yet another system to monitor on their vehicle. Though it can seem like a lot of work, there are some clear-cut signs that every driver is sure to notice if their alignment needs to be adjusted. Most of these signs can be found by paying attention to the tires or the steering. If any of these signs show up, it is a good move to get your car to a shop to be looked at before the alignment needs more work.

One sign to watch for is abnormal tire wear. This means paying attention to the tread on your tires and watching as it begins to wear down over time. Tire wear is most often noticed by mechanics during other routine maintenance, such as a tire rotation, but that doesn’t mean vehicle owners can’t take note as well. When a tire feels rough along the side of the tread, it is known as “feathered.” This is a sign of poor toe alignment. If the tire is more worn down along one side of the tread, it is known as camber wear. However, uneven tread wear is not always the result of a bad alignment. It is often the product of improper tire inflation, so be sure to visit a skilled technician for a proper diagnostic.

The different types of alignment make sense once you understand the terminology. Toe alignment is the term applied to the extent that tires turn inward or outward when viewed from above. To picture this easily, just stand up and turn your own feet inward or outward. Toe-in alignment is the term used when the tires are pointing in towards the center of the car. Toe-out alignment is used when the tires are pointed to the outside. Toe is one of the easiest alignment angles to check for yourself, but Blossom Chevrolet is always here to do it for you if you want an expert’s opinion.

The next type of alignment that needs to be looked at is camber alignment. This is the inward or outward angle of the tire when viewed from the front of the vehicle. Inward tilt is known as negative camber, while outward tilt is called positive camber. Most cars will have a couple of degrees of negative camber to help maintain the tire’s grip on the road while cornering, but too much negative or positive camber indicates improper alignment. That can be affected by things like worn ball bearings or ball joints, and it is important to have it corrected soon to prevent unnecessary tire wear.

The third aspect is called the caster angle. This angle helps with balanced steering, stability, and cornering. The caster angle is the angle of the steering axis when viewed from the side of the vehicle. If you have a negative caster, the steering axis will tilt to the front of the vehicle. Positive caster, on the other hand, angles the steering access towards the driver. However, the vast majority of production cars come with a fixed caster angle, so this part of an alignment is usually reserved for high-performance vehicles.

These various angles are usually examined by technicians rather than drivers, though either can spot problems with them. To know if your car needs an alignment, there are some easier ways to tell than circling the vehicle to measure tire angles. These simpler methods mostly revolve around a vehicle’s steering. If the steering wheel is not centered, pulls to one side or the other, feels loose, or does not return to center on its own after a turn, these are all signs of an alignment problem. The steering wheel on a vehicle with no alignment issues should be sitting close to perfectly straight when driving down a flat, level road.

Just as there are different angles to look for in a proper alignment, there are also different alignments that can be performed. A two-wheel alignment sets the proper angles only on the front wheels. This is the simplest type of alignment that can be done but has no guarantee of fixing any major alignment issues. The second type of alignment is a thrust-angle alignment. This is also a two-wheel alignment but based on the rear wheels instead of the front. Using the back wheels as a reference allows the vehicle’s alignment to compensate for any problems in the rear suspension that might otherwise keep the vehicle’s rear end from driving straight. The final type of alignment is a four-wheel alignment, also the most common. This involves adjusting all four wheels to the manufacturer’s specifications for alignment, inflation, and balance.

A mechanic is adjusting a target during a Indianapolis alignment service.

Proper Alignment in Indianapolis

Checking a vehicle’s suspension is little more than basic maintenance as well as a standard safety precaution. This type of maintenance is easy to monitor and should be performed regularly. Blossom Chevrolet has plenty of expert technicians ready and willing to adjust and align tires any time it is needed. In addition to performing suspension alignments, we also offer tire rotations and tire pressure monitoring. These services are all offered as part of regular vehicle maintenance in an effort to keep every single vehicle that leaves our lot the safest it can be for the sake of every driver on the road. Come and check us out for all your tire alignment and suspension needs today!