Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

4-wheel alignment becomes necessity

  • Print
THE installer had just finished bolting a new wheel aligner to our shop floor and was about to give a demonstration.

The machine looked impressive -- shiny red paint, glittery chrome, a large colour computer display, and flashing LED sensors made it seem more suitable for a disco club than an automotive shop. Do we really need this high-tech equipment just to check wheel alignment, or is it all smoke and mirrors?

Regular wheel alignments usually will save you as much in tire wear as they cost. A hard bump from hitting a curb or pothole can throw your wheels out of alignment and damage your tires.

Front-end alignment, sometimes called two-wheel alignment, checks only the front wheel angles. This might be fine for old rear-wheel-drive vehicles, but it doesn't check if the front tires are properly positioned relative to the rear tires. To do this, you need a four-wheel alignment, and that is what this fancy new wheel aligner I was looking at specializes in doing.

Four-wheel alignment checks the front wheel angles, the rear wheel angles, and the thrust angle alignment, as well. Thrust angle alignment is checked so that the wheels are "squared" to each other. This eliminates the "dog tracking" that you may have seen on a car that appears to be going down the road with the rear end driving on a different track than the front.

Independent rear suspensions and front-wheel-drive have made four-wheel alignments a must. Three angles are checked at each wheel -- camber, caster and toe.

Camber is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel at the top. Its purpose is to provide directional control stability by placing the maximum tire tread in contact with the road surface under all conditions of vehicle operation and to prevent tire wear.

Caster is the forward or backward tilt of the steering knuckle at the top. The purpose of caster angle is to provide directional control stability of the wheels for travel in a straight course with minimum steering effort. It also assists in returning the front wheels to the straight-ahead position after cornering, but caster has no effect on tire wear.

Toe-in is when the front of the wheels are closer together than the rear of the wheels on the same axle. Toe-out is when the front of the wheels are farther apart than the rear of the wheels on the same axle. Toe is the most important alignment adjustment on the vehicle for preventing tire wear. An incorrect toe measurement of 1/8 inch is equal to driving a car one-mile (1.6 kilometres) and having the tire dragged sideways 11 feet (3.3 metres). Too much toe and the tread is soon scraped off!

Some vehicles have all the angles adjustable. Others require special adjusting kits or are non-adjustable, although toe angles are adjustable on almost all vehicles.

Vehicles that are too far out of adjustment may have worn or bent parts. Part of any wheel alignment is a suspension inspection to identify worn or damaged parts. Getting an alignment with worn parts is a lot like jogging in running shoes four sizes too big -- sure it can be done, but you are never sure which way the shoes will touch the ground.

Besides preventing excessive tire wear, a four-wheel alignment also provides stable handling. If the wheel angles are wrong, then the vehicle can be unpredictable or twitchy during cornering or braking.

This usually doesn't show up on good road surfaces, but water or ice on the road can make driving your car more exciting than a roller-coaster ride.

I could have done the same with some simple tools and a level, but it would have taken several hours to do what this aligner did in five minutes. Not only did it show me the wheel angles, but bent suspension parts and even a twisted frame can be displayed.

No wonder a four-wheel alignment is required by many provinces when severely damaged vehicles are repaired and put back on the road. The alignment readings can pick out improper repairs.

After taking the readings, it still takes a few minutes to make adjustments and verify everything is good. Abnormal treadwear, a vehicle pulling to one side, or unpredictable handling are all symptoms of a vehicle that requires an alignment. An alignment can even make your vehicle roll easier, saving you money at the gas pumps.

Make an alignment part of your vehicle's routine, preventative maintenance. It pays in the long run.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets this week - Tim and Gary Game 2 review in Anaheim

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.
  • A Canada Goose cools off in a water pond Monday afternoon at Brookside Cemetary- See Bryksa’s Goose a day Challenge– Day 27-June 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google