FOUR WHEEL ALIGNMENT – What is it and why should I get it checked?
Updated: Apr 10
In a nutshell, wheel alignment is how ALL your wheels align with your vehicle in THREE different ways; The Camber, The Tow and The Caster.
2 WHEEL ALIGNMENT OR 4?
A 2-wheel alignment (also known as a ‘front-end alignment’) is performed on just the front set of wheels. This is for vehicles that have a solid rear axle that doesn’t require adjustment. A 4-wheel alignment checks both the front and rear sets as 4-wheel drive vehicles (Land Rovers and Range Rovers) have independent suspension. [Nb: Defender Drivers – Defenders have their own set of rules!]
THE CAMBER, THE TOE AND THE CASTER…
This may sound like the start of a children’s book, but actually they are the different ‘directions’ in which your wheels are aligned.
The Camber – Most of us can grasp the concept of camber the easiest. This is the inward (negative) or outward (positive) tilt of the wheels as you look at them head on from either the front or rear of the vehicle. Easiest detection of incorrect camber is tyre wear. Too much positive camber, your tyres will wear on the outside. Too much negative camber, your tyres will wear on the inside.
Excessive camber, in either direction, puts increased stress on your wheel bearings and can shorten their life expectancy. Too much variation from one side to the other and your Land Rover will pull towards the side with the most positive camber.
(from the top, neutral camber, positive camber and negative camber)
The Toe – This is the alignment as you look down on them – imagine you’re floating above your Land Rover! The wheels should all be parallel.
(From the left, Neutral toe, Toe Out and Toe In)
'Toe in' or 'Toe out' is the difference in the distance between the front and rear of your wheels from one side of your vehicle to the other. If the fronts of the wheels are closer to each other then you have ‘Toe In’ (causing wear on the outside of your tyres). If the rears of your wheels are closer, then you have ‘Toe Out’ (causing wear on the inside). Anything out of parallel can lead to your tyres wearing out quicker, as they are effectively being dragged sideways down the road!
Want an easier explanation? Stand up and look down at your feet – your feet are your wheels and where your legs are is where the tyre wears!
… and the penny drops!!
The Caster – The tilt, or angle, of your steering axis when viewing the wheels from the side of your vehicle.
Unlike camber and toe, the alignment of your caster won’t affect the wear of your tyres BUT it will have a large impact on how your Land Rover drives and its ability to maintain the vehicles straight line stability. As with the camber, if there is too much variation from one side to the other, your Land Rover will pull to the side with the greatest caster.
(From the left, Neutral Caster, Positive Caster, Negative Caster)
Caster and the Shopping Trolley Analogy!!
When you push a trolley, the wheels align behind the pivot point [anyone else hearing Ross shout ‘pivot’ or is it just me?!] and the trolley rolls along beautifully and steers in the direction you want, no problems. This is positive caster. Now, spin the wheels 180° so they are in front of the pivot point. The wheels vibrate and try to turn on their own (you know, that shaky trolley that wants to go in every direction except the one you want). This is negative caster. Positive = Good, Negative = Bad!
HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED TO HAVE MY WHEEL ALIGNMENT CHECKED?
Sadly, there is no warning light on your dashboard. This is something you will feel, you will notice that something just isn’t quite right (very technical term) with the way your Land Rover drives.
You may notice your vehicle drifts to one side or feels like it is pulling against you.
When you’re stationary and your wheels are parallel, but your steering wheel is slightly turned (not centred).
Or your traction control kicks in on a sharp bend (possibly only when turning in one direction but the other way is fine).
These are all indicators of a possible misalignment.
WHAT CAUSES MIS-ALIGNMENT?
Natural wear and tear of the joints and components will alter the alignment over time. This is when that ‘just doesn’t feel right’ creeps up on you, you’ve been driving quite unaware until it becomes noticeable.
Another cause is kerbing or driving over deep potholes. Basically, your wheel hitting something too hard can throw the alignment off.
One of the biggest reasons we see for mis-aligned wheels is when suspension or steering parts have been fitted at a ‘car’ garage. Often their equipment is inadequate for testing the larger Land Rover and Range Rover wheel sizes, in short, their equipment doesn’t fit. Also, some ‘time-managed’ outlets, there is a lack of understanding and little to no training given to the person aligning your vehicle.
A full 4-wheel alignment takes approximately 30-45 minutes from start to finish (with 1 technician), so if it only takes 10 minutes it hasn’t been done properly. Any reputable garage will give you a copy of the alignment print out – there is tangible proof of an alignment being carried out so ask to see it.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I GET MY ALIGNMENT CHECKED?
Your wheel alignment doesn’t have specific time or mileage parameters. However, during your annual Land Rover service, part of the basic checks include your suspension etc and they would pick out if ball joints are worn or uneven wear on the tyres, which would indicate a probable mis-alignment and if so, a 4 wheel alignment check would be advised. [Nb; The frequency of necessity can alter massively between different models.]
You should get your alignment checked
Any time suspension or steering work is undertaken
If the vehicle feels ‘wallowy’
Uneven tyre wear
We often get vehicles in with visible tyre canvas on the inside when the outside is perfectly fine. To check yourself, steer your wheels to full lock to better view the inside tread.
FOUR WHEEL ALIGNMENT AT C.W. FELTHAM LTD
We have the correct equipment for your Land Rover! Many years ago, we understood the need for ‘proper’ 4-wheel alignment. We used to undertake a 110-mile round trip to take vehicles for their checks. It only took a few of these trips in quick succession for us to make the decision to invest in the equipment ourselves and so now, all our 4-wheel alignment checks are done on site.
Our technicians will road test your vehicle to check handling. They will check that your steering linkages are ok; if any ball joints or suspension bushes are worn, these will need to be fixed first. The tyre pressures and tread will also be checked – anything that could contribute to misalignment is checked prior to the alignment process is carried out. [This is another reason why we see vehicles that have has a 4-wheel alignment somewhere else come to see us with steering issues within a matter of days after the alignment – the wheels were realigned without the cause being fixed first.] Your Land Rover will then be road tested again to be sure that the steering ‘feels right’ for a smooth, comfortable drive.
TO BOOK A FOUR-WHEEL ALIGNMENT CHECK GIVE US A CALL ON 01278 741372