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Thursday, 28 Aug 2014
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Wheel Alignment: Getting Started

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Wheel Alignment: How To T
It's time to use the simple geometry we learned from high school and apply it to make our cars go faster. Many people are confused when it comes to setting up a wheel street or track setting for our cars. Different kinds of driving requires different types of set-ups as we all know and it doesn’t just end with different performance parts, but it actually means fine tuning our alignments too. Not only are alignments to make the car perform better during driving, but also for the looks and correction of camber when lowering the ride height. Adjustable control arms and hardware are expensive, yet are a key to going fast.  So let’s find out how to use them to our advantage!

Wheel Alignment: ToeWhen thinking of a basic alignment the first thing that comes to mind is the car pulling to the left or the right while the steering wheel is pointed straight ahead. This kind of adjustment is called a toe adjustment. The goal is to have all 4 wheels parallel to each other and facing straight ahead so the car goes in a straight line. After time the wheels start to go in different directions due to bumps and wear that the suspension goes through. The toe is able to be adjusted on all cars. When toe is being adjusted the tie rods are either screwed in tighter or loosened to be spread apart which will make the fine tuning of the angle that the wheel will be facing to get the most accurate and straight angle. On some cars not only the front but also the rear wheels have an adjustable control arm that allows to be adjusted so that all 4 wheels have a good toe adjustment. If a vehicle is not equipped with these control arms, there are aftermarket companies such as SPC that offer adjustable hardware to be able to adjust the toe angle.

Wheel Alignment: CamberThe next way to adjust your wheel angle is through a measurement called camber angle. This is the angle at which the wheel stands. For example the bottom of the wheel is at 85 mm away from the wheel well but the top is 75 mm away. This means that the wheel has negative camber as it is tilted over and leaning in towards the wheel well. Adjusting this angle is important because if there is too much camber only the inside of the tire will have good contact with the road meaning it will wear out unevenly and very fast. Not only does tire wear affect the car but also the braking and accelerating grip because the tire cannot make full contact with the surface of the road. This usually happens when a cars height is lowered and the upper control arm pulls the camber down to a negative. The way to fix it would be to install adjustable control arms, or adjustable cam bolts/ball joints. Only after installing adjustable hardware you can push the camber back out. Having some camber is a good thing because during cornering when the car tilts over so do the wheels, so if you have the wheel at an angle before the turn, when the car actually does go into the turn the wheel will stand straight up and have full contact with the surface making the most grip possible. The key is to find the perfect balance of cornering and straight line action somewhere where you feel most comfortable.

Camber helped race car drivers achieve great cornering abilities but until caster came into play camber settings were only one set angle. When adjustable tension rods are installed, a car gains the ability to have a certain camber setting when the wheels are pointed straight, but when the wheels are turned the camber increases tilting the front wheels over even more. The way this is done is by pulling the front knuckle foreword. An easy way to imagine this is pretending to move the brake rotor with everything foreword and having the shock at an angle instead of straight up. Now with the ability to set some camber while the wheels are straight and more as they turn left or right, the braking ability is much more increased as the wheel suffers less lock up due to more grip and the tire lasts longer due to the even wear.
Alignments are not as expensive as many people think. A one time alignment is around 80 dollars depending on where you go. Some places offer a lifetime alignment for one flat fee of around 180 dollars. It may seem like a lot but if you do it once, go to the track and decide you want to have a more aggressive setting you can go back and not pay again as many times as you want. Sometimes different tracks or driving styles require different settings so you have that option to change your settings. Most places now have 4 wheel alignment machines where they put on 4 sensors on your wheels instead of just the front 2. This enables to calibrate the front and rear for best results and accuracy so if you go to a shop always make sure they will adjust all 4 wheels. It is also good to save your printouts of the results you get so that you can save them for future reference just in case you want to go back to the same setting and not have to second guess and waist time if it’s not what you wanted.

Alignments are not only beneficial to the old cars that have a steering wheel pointing one way and the car going another. The angles of the wheels greatly determine how the car will grip the road. Even though you may have a thousand dollar set of coil over shocks and great sticky tires, if your angles are off you are not going to get good results and all that money in tires and shocks could be going to waste. With the lifetime alignment option you have the ability to change and perfect your car for any race track or for the street for one price until you own your car. Now that you know how and why alignments are so important, its time you make sure you have your car set up right.

Below is a very informative video on wheel alignment.  Despite it being "classroomesque", it's still very good.

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