The Positives & Negatives of Alignment
Alignment issues usually start with a complaint. Tire wear, brake pulling, tracking (a vague pull or drift to one side), crooked steering wheel, and lack of stability at highway speed are a few common observations. But even if you haven’t noticed anything like that, your car may still be out of alignment.
Have you driven on bumpier-than-usual roads? Gone camping off-road? Hit a pothole that jarred your teeth? Been in an auto accident, no matter how minor? Is the steering response not quite what it used to be, even after those new tires? What if you’ve installed new components, lowering springs, a large subwoofer, or a bigger engine? Do you ever tow a boat, motorcycle, or horse trailer? How about the age of your car (vehicle springs naturally settle over time)?
Even if the caster, camber and toe alignments are “fixed” by the manufacturer, they’re often out of spec because of age, or worn/damaged parts.
If you answered no to all of the above, consider this: if typically driven by one person only, a car’s left spring will settle more than the right spring. The higher side of the car will gradually develop more negative camber, which is further accentuated during driving by the driver’s weight. This isn’t limited to those of us who have experienced a little weight gain with age: this change in camber can occur in cars with drivers who weigh little more than 100 pounds. If it occurs in a vehicle with no alignment adjustments, modifications to the front strut’s connection points are necessary to decrease the negative camber.
Experts in the field of vehicle suspension and alignment start by checking out front-end suspension components — bushings, tie rod ends, ball joints, springs, and shocks. Then they assess the driver and his or her preferences. Caster and camber adjustments are based on the weight of the driver, the types of roads being driven, the frequency with which the driver carries passengers, the owner’s driving style, and whether or not the vehicle has had any damage.
For the majority of drivers, staying within the manufacturer’s suggested ranges will provide proper alignment as well enough customization to address unique driving preferences and conditions. Whether you’re someone who spends most of the day chauffeuring kids between school, soccer practice, piano lessons, and errands, or a person who owns a modified Volvo that gets taken out for an occasional track day, your vehicle’s alignment makes all the difference to its performance, safety, and longevity.