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What is alignment? Wheel alignment consists of adjusting the angles of wheels so that they are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground while ensuring the front and rear tires 'track' correctly. Often a tire shop or a mechanic will notice unusual tire wear and check the alignment to see if that is the cause of the improper wear. Sometimes a suspension component wears unusually which could also be a sign of a vehicle that is 'out of alignment'. If a customer complains of erratic handling or 'pulling' the mechanic will check the alignment to see if that is the reason for the customer's concern. Alignment angles can also be altered beyond the maker's specifications to obtain distinct characteristics. Racing, raising and lowering the vehicle (for appearance or handling), and off-road applications often mean that the different alignment angles will be set beyond what is 'normal' for the vehicle to met the customer's requirements.
Types of Alignments
A Two Wheel or Front End Alignment only aligns the two front wheels in relation to each other. This does not take into account the position of the rear axle. Mechanical gauges are normally used for this type of alignment. Almost all modern alignment is design to complete a Thrust Angle or Four Wheel Total Alignment.
A Thrust Alignment is usually performed on vehicles with a solid rear drive axle. Solid rear axle vehicles normally have no provisions for alignment adjustment. The alignment angles on all four wheels are read by the alignment equipment but only the front axle is adjusted. The front alignment angles are set parallel to the rear wheels thrust line. This is better than a two wheel alignment but there can still be issues with pulling and steering wheel position.
A Four Wheel Total Alignment is performed on vehicles with independent rear suspension that have alignment adjustment on both front and rear axles. Both axles are adjusted to the vehicle centerline. This insures the vehicle will track straight and the steering wheel will be centered. On all types of alignments the front and rear suspensions may require additional parts in order to make the proper alignment adjustments.
Check out these sections to find out more about why you may need a total wheel alignment.