The undersides of our vehicles take a lot of abuse. Potholes, bumps and other road hazards seem to lie quietly in wait and spring at the last second to smack your vehicle with a deafening thump. The result? Things underneath your car thrown out of whack.

Fortunately, the world's car manufacturers know all to well about the road hazards that their vehicles face and have designed in adjustments so the geometry of the wheels and suspension components can be restored to factory specs. This is called getting a "wheel alignment."

In this article, we'll look at some of the reasons why you should bring your car in for a wheel alignment and what the direct benefits are to you and your car when you have one done.

What is Wheel Alignment?

The world's car manufacturers build the undercarriages of their cars and trucks with considerable precision. This is so their vehicles handle well and are easy to control. As we discussed above, however, this precision can be disturbed when you plow into potholes or other road hazards. Fortunately, the car manufacturers allow you to adjust-out anything that gets bend or thrown out of line.

How It's Done

The first step in the wheel alignment process is to put the vehicle up on the machine and measure the basic wheel geometry. Once the readings are taken, they are compared to factory specifications and any deviations are adjusted. Our sources at Star Dodge of Abilene, TX, this is usually a 30 minute process or so.

Front and Rear Alignments

In the old days when cars and trucks had solid axle rear ends, the only thing adjusted on an undercarriage was the front end. This is because the alignment of solid rear axles rarely went out of spec. Today, many modern vehicles with front wheel drive have articulating rear ends and they can be affected by road hazards also.

Angles Measured with an Alignment Machine

Alignment technicians measure three basic angles during a standard service. Note that this applies to both two-wheel and four-wheel alignments. The three angles include Camber, Caster and Toe-In.

How Do I Know I Need An Alignment

One of the biggest telltale signs that a driver complains about when they need an alignment is that their steering wheel seems off center when driving straight. This is an indication of a Toe-In setting out of specification.

Another issue common when the caster settings fall outside of factory specification is a pulling condition. This happens when the automobile wanders to the left or the right. Drivers with this condition often complain about having to fight to keep the vehicle going straight.

The last issue presents itself as uneven wear on the front or rear tires. If your tires are wearing towards the inside or outside of the tread unevenly, the camber likely needs to be adjusted.

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