No, 101.2 is not meant to be the call sign of the local San Diego radio station, this is the second installment of the Kearny Mesa Automotive and Transmission series on tires, suspension and alignment. We left off last time talking about alignments and the factors that can contribute to tire wear, and vehicle safety issues. We also covered the differences between bias ply tires and radial tires, contact patch and proper tire pressures. This time we would like to dig a little deeper in to the steering system as it relates to wheel alignment and how choosing aftermarket tires can affect the performance and ride of a vehicle. At Kearny Mesa Automotive and Transmission we strive to provide a little extra to our customers, we think of them as family and always have their best interests at heart. Please contact us today for vehicle or transmission service or just for routine maintenance, we want you driving safely and economically. Without further ado we will pull back the curtain on wheel alignments.

Wheel/Tire Alignment Steps

Balance Is The Key

Regardless of what you call it, wheel alignment, tire alignment, or simply alignment, they all mean the same thing to a technician. In order to perform an alignment properly, the tires must be in good shape and balanced. In order to balance a tire it must be removed from the vehicle and properly inflated. The tire is then mounted on a machine that simulates the forces encountered when heading down the road. A tire is by nature, going to fit the rim differently in every situation and not all tires are created equal so balancing is required. The balancing machine indicates where and how much weight should be added to the tire. When a tire is balanced it should be kept at the recommended tire pressure to maintain that balance. A tire that is not properly balanced is at risk for uneven wear and can lead to suspension component damage.

Component Inspection

As we have said in previous blogs, if your suspension components are not in good shape, an alignment will be thrown off very quickly and the tires will begin to wear prematurely. Your vehicle’s suspension functions as a kind of passive stability device. Think of it like your seatbelt, you can still move around but it is providing support in the event of a crash. Your suspension is comprised of a series of shocks and springs that keep your vehicle on the road. If suspension was not present our vehicles would essentially be deathtraps. Which is why damaged suspension is an issue that should be addressed soon. As with anything on your car, your suspension is subject to environmental forces as well as normal wear over time. Shocks will leak and lose their rebound characteristics, spring will not be as “springy” over time and bushings will disintegrate. Each of these components is essential to the the integrity of the handling of the vehicle.

Alignment Indicators

In essence, alignment means that the tires are traveling in a straight line when the steering wheel is straight. When the alignment is out of spec the tires are going to receive extra wear which will make it apparent that you have an alignment issue. The vehicle may also pull to the left or right and make a shimmy pattern as you are driving down the road. All of these conditions should be looked at by a professional. Basically a vehicle that is out of alignment will have exaggerated steering issues that are generally apparent when they get bad enough.

What Does Steering Have To Do With It?

Steering is one of the main reasons for alignment service; not only does a proper alignment save the tires, but it is kind of essential to have the vehicle aimed in the exact direction that your want it to go in. The steering on many modern vehicles is actually quite complex and ensuring that everything is tight and aligned is essential to handling performance. The steering components consist of a steering wheel, and various linkages that terminate directly at the wheels. These linkages are controlled by a steering box that receives input from the steering wheel and translates that input to the tires. Needless to say these mechanisms utilize bushings and ball joints to absorb the shock of the road.        

Alignment

The alignment itself begins by putting the vehicle on a special rack that can assist in determining the proper adjustments. Wheel sensors or clamped to each wheel and then feedback is given to the technician. If everything checks out, no adjustments are necessary but if the toe, camber or caster is out of alignment then adjustments will need to be performed on the tire rod. The tire rods are to keep the wheels an equal distance from one another. Lengthening or shortening the tie rod will either move the adjustment closer or further from the factory settings. Alignments might sound like something that can be done in your garage but in reality, it requires some very expensive equipment.   

Wheel and Tire Upgrades

We all have done it, noticed that car similar to yours driving down the road with an amazing set of wheels and tires. At that moment you vow to upgrade your stock wheels for something a bit more sexy. And while they look awesome, deviating too much from the stock wheel and tire configuration is not something that should be done with a stock vehicle. We have all seen the big tucks that roar around with impossibly tall tires. Make no mistake these vehicles are highly modified to accept the added weight of the tires as well as turning force. The bigger the tire the harder to get it going and some of those big tires weigh a couple hundred pounds. The entire suspension must be upgraded if mounting bigger tires in order to prevent damage to the axles or transmission. Many will simply mount the biggest tires they can without considering the ramifications. For example your speedometer will be wrong due to larger tires and must be reset, either by a scan tool or a gear change in the transmission.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Stay Tuned!

Well we hope you have enjoyed this little foray into wheels, tires and alignments. Regardless, if you are concerned about your vehicle, regardless of the problem, Kearny Mesa Automotive and Transmission is your local repair shop serving San Diego. Please do not hesitate to give us a call for exceptional service at the best prices. We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your business.