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Why Is Suspension Alignment Important?

One of the most challenging concepts for any technician is how the alignment angles change when the vehicle accelerates, brakes and corners. When the sensors and targets are on the vehicle in the alignment bay, the view is just a small snapshot of the suspension geometry. 

The weight, center of gravity, height, and dimensions of the vehicle will influence the amount of weight transferred. The amount of weight transferred shall be equal to the vehicle times the center of gravity height, times the lateral or fore-and-aft force coefficient (expressed in g force), all divided by the track or wheelbase dimension in inches. 

Weight transfer can be reduced by lowering the center of gravity, reducing the car's overall weight, or increasing the width of the track or wheelbase of the vehicle. Moving the wheels further apart works because it expands the base that supports the center of gravity.

When the driver hits the brakes and turns the steering wheel, several things happen. When the brakes are applied, the weight is transferred to the front wheels, the nose of the vehicle dives, and the rear wheels may rise. When the driver turns the wheel, the weight is transferred to the outer front wheel, and the body is tilted to that side. As the driver returns the steering wheel to the center and accelerates out of turn, the weight is transferred to the rear, and squats down. 

The changing attitude of the body and the suspension concerning the road during the weight transfer directly affect the wheels' angles. These angle changes may increase traction by changing the tire's footprint or may cause the vehicle to skip out of control.

Modern suspension systems offer certain adjustments to allow for variables such as manufacturing tolerances, wear, tire changes, and even accidents. But wherever an adjustment is made, it is possible for parts to wear over time or slip a bit, especially when struck), resulting in misalignment. Also, any time something related to suspension changes, such as when a new set of tires is installed, alignment may change as a result. Checking and adjusting the alignment periodically is a necessary part of keeping every vehicle running safely and economically.

One thing to note when you get alignment: you can have either a two-wheel alignment (only foreheads) or a four-wheel alignment. Suppose your vehicle has an adjustable rear suspension (as most of the cars and trucks sold in the last 30 years). It's almost always worth the small incremental cost to get a four-wheel alignment long-term savings on tire costs, if nothing else.

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