Enrolled in Automotive School? Learn the Science Behind Wheel Alignment Theory

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Because servicing wheels is an important part of your automotive training, it’s good to know the actual science behind the process. Current technology allows technicians to rely on computerized systems to perform calculations and instruct on angle adjustments. However, if you don’t understand the mechanics of wheel angles and how they affect other parts of the vehicle, you may run into other issues.

There are three main adjustable angles in wheel alignment theory, each being its own factor in the overall effect on the vehicle. Read on to learn about toe, camber, and caster wheel alignment to better understand wheel alignment theory.

Assessing Toe Wheel Alignment and Diagnosing the Cause

Toe alignment is viewed from overhead, with the right and left wheels on the same axis. When the wheels are parallel, they have “zero toe.” Alternatively, when the front edges of the tires are closer together than the rear edges, they have “toe in.” And when the rear edges of the tires are closer together than the front edges, they have “toe out.”

Toe in isn’t much of an issue, whereas toe out can cause rapid and severe wear on the tires. New tires can replace these worn out treads, however if the alignment issue isn’t addressed then the brand new tires will have the same fate. Some common causes of toe out that you may learn about in automotive school include misalignment, worn or bent steering parts, and faulty tie rods.

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Toe alignment is one of three adjustable angles in the wheel alignment theory

What to Know about Camber Wheel Alignment for Auto Careers

Camber wheel alignment is viewed from front to rear, and refers to the inward or outward tilt of the wheels, resulting in a negative or positive tilt, respectively. Zero camber is the ideal alignment structure, but as the vehicle encounters bumps and dips in the road, the suspension alters the geometry of the control arms, resulting in a change in the camber alignment.

Mechanics in various auto careers are able to recognize camber misalignment by the unusually high wear of just one tire. You may also get reports that the vehicle is pulling hard to one side, alerting you to check the camber alignment. Common culprits of camber misalignment include bent spindles, lost or bent struts, worn or collapsed control arms, and broken or weakened springs.

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Camber wheel alignment assesses the inward (negative) or outward (positive) tilt to tires when viewed from front to rear

Implications of Front Wheel Caster Alignment

Caster wheel alignment is viewed from the side and refers to the forward or rearward tilt of the steering axis, referred to as a negative or positive tilt, respectively. This angle is often ignored, as it doesn’t affect the wear of the tires so much as the stability of the steering, steering effort, and steering return.

Caster alignment helps keep the wheels aimed straight ahead when driving on a straight road, and improves steering stability in this scenario. When making a turn, caster alignment is involved when returning back to the straight ahead position after completion of the turn. Caster misalignment may be caused by the same faulty parts that can cause camber misalignment – so if you’ve replaced or adjusted any of these parts, then you should check to make sure caster alignment is correct.

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