Wheel Balance and Alignment

Wheel balance is how the weight is distributed around the wheel. This can be rather fiddly to achieve; it is done by adding weights to the rims of the tires. In order for it to be balanced, you will need to add a number of weights to the other side. If you leave it unbalanced the tire will lean to one side. You can only achieve a comfortable ride in a car with balanced wheels. There may also be a feeling of nausea if you travel at high speeds in an unbalanced car.

Types of Alignment

There are a number of alignments to consider when you balance your tires – sorry but it now becomes rather complicated! – the front caster, the front and rear camber, the front and rear toe and finally the thrust angle. How these relate to each other is the amount of balance a vehicle has as a whole.

The Front Caster – is all about the stability of the front tire vertically; this should be as straight as possible; the front camber is how vertically upright the front wheel stands; surprisingly this is a negative number as the top of the wheel is meant to lean in rather than out, towards the center of the vehicle.

The Front Toe – The final variable of the front wheel is called the front toe which determines how straight your wheel is when it pulls forwards. (Think pigeon toe.)

The Rear Camber – Now to the back wheels…the rear camber is similar to the front camber, but in order to keep the vehicle stable the camber at the back should be greater (It’s in order to keep the car’s center of gravity).

The Rear Toe – is how much the back wheels point forward; unlike the front toe this doesn’t alter that much during driving.

The Thrust Angle – describes the angle of the rear axle to the vehicle. If this is off you may have to oversteer or understeer in order to achieve the desired effect.

This type of thing is also known as breaking and tracking and the idea is to keep the wheel as “straight and true” as possible. In adjusting the tire’s angle you are affecting how the wheel makes contact to the ground. It’s important to get the wheels back to factory settings, but also to make sure that they are aligned with each other.

What a Layman Needs to Know!

It’s complex for a layman but like so many things it’s not that bad if you do it every day. What you need to know is this:

  • You will damage your tires if you don’t regularly add air or rotate your tires. If your suspension has been changed or parts have been replaced it may affect the state of the tires.
  • If the suspension is damaged or you constantly hit potholes you should have your alignment looked at.
  • With the wrong alignment the fuel consumption is worse, thanks to drag or the rolling resistance. It will mean you will probably have to fork out for new tires, and you will take longer to brake.

Okay, there has been a great deal of jargon here but it does go to show how so many variables keep a car operating to the best of its ability and how much balance and alignment play a part.

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