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|"Alignment" can be a scary word for motorists.
The term, especially "four wheel alignment" conjures up visions of highly specialized automotive service. Even drivers who understand the term "tune-up" are often mystified by "alignment." And the new trend toward four wheel alignment can appear to be an expensive service for which the unwary motorist seems to be paying extra.
Don't reject out of hand the terms "alignment" or "four wheel alignment" the next time a service technician recommends it to you. Alignment is an important service that your car really needs from time to time.
Alignment Services are recommended for most modern car in four these four situations;
1. When you buy new tires. "In fact," says Jones, "if your old tires wore unevenly, bad alignment could be the reason they had to be replaced, and the same thing could happen quickly to your brand-new tires!"
2. When you have a rack & pinion steering unit or certain other steering parts in your car replaced, alignment is necessary.
3. When certain warning signs appear on your car, indicating that alignment is needed.
4. Or about every 30,000 miles, whether warning signs appear or not.
Just What Is An Alignment
Basically, alignment is making sure the wheels are operating parallel with one another, and that the tires meet the road at the correct angle. Wheel alignment is much simpler than most people think. It is simply adjusting the relationship between the suspension and steering components, the wheels, and the frame of the vehicle.
Carmakers recommend certain measurement specifications for each of these angles on every one of their vehicles. When the angles are all as specified, the car or truck is properly aligned, and the best possible compromise has been achieved among minimum rolling friction, maximum tire mileage, stability of the car on the road, and steering control for the driver.
Everyday road shock and general wear and tear can knock some of these angles out of spec. When that happens, control of the vehicle may be threatened, and the tires may begin to wear unevenly and rapidly. The car needs to be 'realigned,' to have all the proper angles restored.
Warning Signs Are Easy To Spot
The warning signs suggesting the need for alignment are easy to spot. They include:
There are three basic wheel angles which determine whether a vehicle is properly aligned and goes where it is pointed. Not every angle applies to every wheel, and not all angles are adjustable on all cars, but the three angles must be set properly for the alignment to be correct:
Four-wheel alignment is the standard service today, and it is essential on vehicles with front wheel drive (FWD) and independent rear suspension. The rear wheels should follow the fronts in a parallel path. If the rear wheels are pointed in a slightly different direction, they cause a condition called "rear axle steer," which can affect tire wear and the vehicle's stability.
What Happens During An Alignment?
Before an alignment, the technician will begin with a thorough inspection of the entire undercar, including steering linkage, suspension parts, wheels and tires, and the vehicle's frame and ride height. He's looking for parts that are loose, bent or near failure.
Once this inspection is complete, your car will be driven onto the alignment machine. The technician will check and adjust, in order, camber, caster and finally toe, beginning with the rear wheels. (Remember, not all wheels are adjustable on all vehicles.) He may use regular wrenches and variety of specialized tools and devices, manufactured by automotive suppliers such as Perfect Circle, to make the necessary adjustments. The tools can include:
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