The term “Alignment” refers to how your vehicle tires point in relation to the vehicle. There are 3 main angles that make up the alignment:
1. Toe Angle.
This is the angle that dictates what direction the tires point, left or right. Each tire has its own adjustment, and they are not always the same. If a tire strikes a curb, goes through a pothole, or is driven on rough roads a lot, it can cause one or more tires to lose their adjustment. Toe angle is the leading cause of premature and abnormal tire wear, increasing the need for a wheel alignment service. Even though it seems that if a tire isn’t pointing perfectly straight, it will cause the vehicle to not drive straight, this is usually not the case. Most of the time, there is no drivability issue noted with a bad toe adjustment.
2. Camber angle.
The easiest way to visualize this angle is to think of it in terms of does the tire sit straight up and down or does the top lean in or out. When this angle is out of specification it can cause abnormal and premature tire wear. It can also cause pulling conditions to exist.
This isn’t so much an angle as it is where the tire sits in the wheel well. If you look at the tire from the side it can be described as being farther forward or rearward. This angle is most likely to cause a pulling condition but will generally not cause tire wear.
There are other angles involved with alignments, however, these are the most common for adjustment. It should be noted that not all vehicles can have all of these angles adjusted on all wheels. Because symptoms are not always present when an alignment needs to be performed, it is recommended that an alignment be performed at least 1 time per year.
There are other reasons to perform an alignment, these are all related to other repairs being performed on a vehicle. The most common of these are strut replacement and steering component replacement. It is also relatively common to have to perform an alignment after replacing a wheel bearing on certain vehicles.