Often referred to as breaking or tracking, wheel alignment is the procedure of carrying out a check that ensures a vehicle’s wheels are allocated and fixed into an optimal position while abiding by the specifications set by the manufacturer.
Featuring clamp-like devices that attach directly to the car’s wheels, the modern alignment machine links up to a computer that takes the specific measurements of the car’s suspension system and current wheel alignment. During this time, the mechanic will often assess the suspension components to check for excessive wear or broken parts.
An experienced mechanic would be familiar with the numerous suspension angles which are known as camber, caster, thrust and toe. Using these angles, the mechanic influences the positioning and movement of the tyres while ensuring that the steering wheel is central and in an optimum position.
To complete the alignment, the mechanic – using the alignment machine – essentially needs to square the car’s wheels and axles together until they all move in the same precise direction. Dependent upon the differing manufacturer designation for wheel and suspension angles, the mechanic will have to work according to their specifications down to the measure of degrees.
Providing improved handling initially, a mechanic can align the suspension of a sports car or high-performance vehicle to also improve the tyre performance, but at the cost of potential uneven tyre wear as a result of the less efficient alignment. Differing car suspensions require different alignment measurements and specification.
For example, a common alignment sample could be a ‘four-wheel alignment’ that is carried out on either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles. To achieve this, the mechanic would have to align the wheels in a rectangle rather than squaring them. This means the wheels all have to be parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground. If, on the other hand, your vehicle does not have all-wheel or four-wheel drive, the likely service outcome would be to carry out a front-end or thrust-angle alignment on the vehicle.
A front-end alignment would consist of an alignment specification that involves only the front-axle components being adjusted. Alternatively, a thrust-angle alignment refers to the angle of which the vehicle’s rear wheel(s) point relative to the vehicle’s centre. In this alignment, the rear wheel(s) and axle would be realigned to become parallel with the front axle, while maintaining a perpendicular alignment with the centre line of the vehicle.
Once these alignment techniques have been carried out on the vehicle, it can be quite handy to request a before and after printout, although many mechanics already provide this as a mandatory addition to the alignment service. This helpful comparison allows a driver to see the differences in their suspension alignment following the service while confirming that their vehicle has in fact been properly serviced by the mechanic.
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