Taking Auto Technician Courses? Here’s What You’ll Need to Know About Wheel Alignment

Auto Technicians

Most drivers don’t pay much attention to the wheel alignment of their cars, and this can be a huge and costly mistake. A properly aligned car will drive safer and smoother, and get better mileage. Improper alignment wears out tires, and since a realignment service from an auto mechanic costs less than a single new tire, the benefits for the customer are clear.

If you’re taking auto technician courses, or are thinking of enrolling in a mechanic school, read on to learn how how wheel alignment works.

Wheel Alignment Explained

Wheels go out of alignment because a car’s suspension gets worn out over time, stretching the vehicle’s springs and resulting in wheels sitting at improper angles. When professional auto technicians adjust alignment, they look at three major elements: camber, caster and toe. Each depends on the driving needs of a specific vehicle.

Camber refers to the angle for which a wheel is aligned, which is perpendicular to the road. A perfectly straight wheel, or zero camber, will result in more even tire wear, but can make cornering difficult. Negative camber—where the top of the wheels are tilted inwards towards the car—allows for better grip on corners at high speeds and is widely used in sports cars. However, negative camber reduces surface contact during acceleration, which can affect steering.

Caster is the angle of the steering pivot in relation to the vehicle. Positive caster—where the wheel is in front of the load—is typical and makes cars more stable at high speeds. However, the higher the angle the more steering effort is required, so the degree of caster is usually lowered for heavier vehicles.

Toe simply refers to whether tires point inward or outward, and is pivotal in reducing tire wear. Positive toe—when the wheels face inward—reduces turning ability but straightens driving. Negative toe increases cornering ability, but makes a car less stable when driving straight.

Specific Wheel Alignment Types for Different Autos

Wheel alignment varies depending on vehicle type. Students taking auto technician courses learn that the most sensible thing to do is consult the manufacturer’s settings, as the suspension system will be specifically designed for those angles.

Four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles tend to be aligned in a perfect rectangle, with each of the wheels parallel to one another. Front wheel drives tend to have negative toe, while rear-wheel drive systems have a slightly positive toe in the rear axle, to straighten out the car.

Auto Technician Courses
Wheel alignments in sports cars are often adjusted to suit higher speeds.

How Auto Technicians Perform Wheel Alignments

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Wheel alignment machines take computerized measurements of angles.

Alignments are performed by clamping the tires and hooking them to a computer to take specific measurements of the angles. Mechanics then make the adjustments as needed.  A good mechanic will also use this opportunity to check for problems with the car’s suspension and steering wheel.

When Do Auto Technicians Recommend Wheel Alignment?

An experienced mechanic will often know if something is off with a car’s alignment as soon as it rolls into the shop. However, for those just starting their auto industry careers, it can be little trickier. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Any sign of uneven tire wear
  • The car drifts to one side when driving.
  • The steering wheel isn’t centred when driving straight.
  • The steering wheel vibrates.
  • The vehicle has trouble taking corners.

Technicians should also check the service history and recommend an alignment if a car hasn’t had one in a long while. An Improper alignment can be extremely dangerous, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Would you like to adjust the wheel alignment on a wide range of cars one day?

Visit ATC to learn more about our training programs or speak to an advisor.

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