How to Interpret an Alignment Printout

by Contributor

Your mechanic has recommended an alignment. When you leave, he hands you a printout. Camber, toe, caster ... . What does it all mean?

Recognize that although tires are just one component of your car's suspension system wear patterns can give early indications of problems with other parts in the system.

Understand the three main measurements in an alignment: toe, camber and caster.

Think of the two front and back tires each as a set of feet; are their toes pointed in toward each other or out and away? On each set, an alignment service measures the distance between the fronts and rears of the tires. The difference is the toe. If the distance is greater at the front of the tire than at the rear, it is called "toe-out." If the distance is less in the front than at the rear, it's called "toe-in."

Imagine the tire's vertical plane viewed from the front of the car. If the top of a tire leans towards the car, it has negative camber. If it leans away from the car, it has positive camber. When camber doesn't match, you may feel pulling while driving.

Turn the wheels while moving and your tires will tilt slightly. If you were to draw an imaginary line through the upper and lower ball joints, the angle formed by these lines and a 90-degree plane tells you the caster angle. Caster affects stability and steering effort but typically won't affect tire wear.

Tips

  • check The best setting for toe, camber and caster are zero, although some shops set the camber slightly negative to improve handling and stability.
  • check On many front-wheel-drive vehicles, camber and caster are not adjustable. If these settings are off, you may have to repair or replace parts.

Warnings

  • close Get your wheel alignment checked regularly.
  • close Make sure your tires are not over- or underinflated. This can affect steering and performance as well as cause uneven wear.

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