The shoe’s on the other foot

With wheel alignment, garages are the cobbler to the motorist says Gareth. Don’t knock it – How would you do in the workshop with worn out boots?

Published:  20 July, 2020

After my recent articles on tyres and TPMS systems, this month’s topic is wheel alignment, and the massive impact excessive toe-in or toe-out could have come MOT time.
A lot of us can spot alignment issues a mile off. I would worry if after 17 years in the trade, that a technician such as myself couldn’t tell the difference between a tyre that had been toeing-in and a tyre that had been toeing-out most of its life. If you look at a front tyre on a car and only the outer edge is bald (and the tyre has plenty of pressure in) then you walk around to the other side and discover the same issue with that tyre, it would be plain enough to see that the wheel geometry isn’t correct.

A car with tyres like this and wheel alignment so far out must handle like it has a mind of its own - like Herbie the Beetle. However, people get used to a car in this state and will compensate to a surprising extent. When we take the car for a test drive, we may come back to the customer and say things like; “there maybe an issue with the tracking” or “the car is pulling rather a lot to one side.”
The customer then looks at us in amazement as if we are saying things just get their hard-earned money from them. We then offer a FREE wheel alignment check, and show them the virtual view on the screen. By Jove, the customer can then see with their own eyes exactly why their tyres have worn the way they have.
I first mentioned toe in and toe out. This is the way the wheels ‘point’ in relation to the forward motion of the car. Look down at your feet. Now keep your heels in position, and point your toes inwards so they point towards each other. If you try walking like this you will wear off the outside of your shoes first.
Do the same again with your heels, but point your toes outwards. This is toe-out and walking with excessive toe-out will wear the inner part of your nice new shoes and that’s the last thing you want. I’m sure you’d like it if your shoes wear evenly.  The majority of track cars/race cars will be running with toe-out and negative camber. This will be topic of conversation next time as wheel geometry is a large subject.

Minutes and degrees
I also mentioned minutes and degrees earlier too. A while ago I tried explaining this to another tech and he struggled to grasp the concept of the theory behind alignment/ geometry, but he knew how to set the wheel alignment up on 99% of cars.
Getting your head around the actual maths is a different story. Think of it as a clock; there are 60 seconds in one minute; there are 60 minutes in one degree; and there are 360 degrees in a full turn. Our alignment set-up only works in minutes and degrees as it is really sensitive so no need for seconds-it would be worthless. The wind could blow and move the car slightly and that’s enough to make you panic and pick up your spanners again.
Once the alignment is set-up correctly and you’re happy with the end result, your customer will in turn be very happy. Remember, in the end they are the ones paying our wages, not just your boss. It does help if you have a happy boss too of course.


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