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Wheel Alignment. Caster, Camber and Toe, all you need to know

Ask any Trentyre tyre fitter about what causes the most wear on a tyre and they’ll reply “wheel alignment”, but wheel alignment doesn’t just affect tyre life – it has an impact on how your vehicle steers, handles and brakes. Wheel alignment is a general term used to cover three main parameters namely; caster, camber and toe. Tyres that are properly fitted and aligned will offer the best performance, grip and of course last longer.

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Ask any Trentyre tyre fitter about what causes the most wear on a tyre and they’ll reply “wheel alignment”, but wheel alignment doesn’t just affect tyre life – it has an impact on how your vehicle steers, handles and brakes. Wheel alignment is a general term used to cover three main parameters namely; caster, camber and toe. Tyres that are properly fitted and aligned will offer the best performance, grip and of course last longer.

It is easy to just say "I'm getting  my wheels aligned", but it is also important to know the science behind it and how it works. So what is wheel alignment?

Alignment refers to an adjustment of a vehicle’s suspension, which is the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels. It is important to note that wheel alignment is not an adjustment of the tyres or wheels themselves. The key to proper alignment is adjusting the angles of the tyres (measured in degrees) which affects how they make contact with the road. This is where Caster, Camber and Toe come into the equation.

Caster

The caster angle helps balance steering, stability, and cornering. Specifically, caster is the angle of your steering axis when viewed from the side of your vehicle. A positive caster means the steering axis will tilt toward the driver. A negative caster, means the steering axis tilts toward the front of your vehicle.

What does caster provide to your alignment?

  • Directional stability: The ability to stay on a straight course with little or no effort.
  • Returnability – this is when your steering wheel spins back to the “straight ahead” position after completing a turn.

Camber

Camber is the inward or outward angle of the tyre when viewed from the front of the vehicle. Too much inward tilt or outward tilt, which is also known as negative and positive camber, respectively, means improper tyre alignment and it will need to be adjusted accordingly. Worn bearings, ball joints, and other wheel-suspension parts may contribute to camber misalignment.

Camber plays a big role in corning and stability. A great way to explain camber is an easy exercise, so if you’d like a physical demonstration, stand up. Place all your weight on the outside of both feet. This is what is called “positive camber.” Then do the reverse and place all your weight on the inside of your feet. That’s ’negative camber.’ Positive camber is for stability, while negative camber is common in high performance vehicles that require better cornering. Camber can cause a pull, but it doesn't do it by being extremely negative or positive, but by being different from side to side. If camber is the cause of your pull, it will always pull to the side with more camber.

Toe

Toe problems are the leading cause of most tyre problems and tyre wear. It’s easy to miss the signs of a toe alignment problem. To fully appreciate and understand this alignment angle, you’ll want to walk like a penguin. Stand straight then point your feet out. That is considered “toe out.” Now adjust and point them inwards. That’s “toe in.” Apply these “toe positions” to your front and rear tires, and you’re will understand the principle.

Total toe is meant to be at zero or close to zero while you’re cruising. If the total toe is off, severe tyre wear can result. Proper toe settings make it possible for the least amount of resistance to occur when your tyres spin. If the total toe is out, you’ll experience uneven wear on the outside or inside part of your tyres depending on whether your vehicle has a “toe-in” or “toe-out” setting.

Having your alignment performed as recommended (approx. every 10000kms) will help protect your tyre investment in the long run. Less tyres replaced, more money in your pocket.

The vehicle's suspension parts must also be checked every 10,000km for wear or worn out components such as tie rod ends, ball joints, control arm bushes and the rubber boots that protect them, as these play a significant part in a vehicle's wheel alignment. Faulty or worn-out suspension parts will inevitably result in poor Caster, Camber and Toe adjustments affecting your tyres. Regular suspension checks and replacement of worn components is important for both your safety and extending the life of your tyres.

Daniel Perlman, Managing Director of Trentyre Zimbabwe; “Camber and caster will cause your vehicle to pull if they're uneven, but will cause little tyre wear, while toe-in or toe-out, won't cause your vehicle to pull, but can cause extremely fast tyre wear. This is why your vehicle can pull and not wear out tyres, or it can drive perfectly straight and destroy them in a hurry! Remember that four little 20-square-centimetre pads of rubber are all that sit between you and the road surface. You need to take care of your tyres, so they can do their job properly. Worn tyres can’t be expected to perform in an emergency situation. The key is to check your tyres regularly and ask for expert advice”

With properly aligned wheels, you'll get:

  • Tyres that last longer
  • Easier steering
  • Improved fuel economy
  • Smoother ride
  • Safer, more secure driving

Improper wheel alignment can cause your tyres to wear unevenly and prematurely. Here are some specific types of undue tread wear attributable to misalignment:

-       Feathering

Tyres are “feathered” when the tread is smooth on one side and sharp on another. This is usually a sign of poor toe alignment.

-       Camber wear

This strain of tread wear means the inside or outside of the tread is significantly more worn than the center of the tread. As its name implies, positive or negative camber causes this type of wear.

-       Toe wear

This happens when one side of your tread blocks wears down more quickly than the other in a circumferential direction.

Any of the abovementioned unusual wear patterns are warning signs, or if your car pulls to one side or is steering erratically, you probably have an alignment problem. Get a qualified technician to inspect your vehicle. Trentyre staff are experts and will give you the best advice.

Contact Trentyre at any of their four branches nationwide. Visit www.trentyre.co.zw.