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How to correct misconceptions about wheel alignment

Before and After by Don Stec, author badge, myoutdoorbuddy.com

isconceptions about wheel alignment are common among the general public. Here at Coachmaster in Redding we do our best to explain to customers why what they think is wrong with their vehicle is incorrect. Here are a few examples of what we hear.

Complaint: I have had my car aligned three times at three different shops and it just keeps slipping out of alignment.

Alignments do not slip out unless a bolt or steering component is loose.

Vehicle owners often imply a mistake was made because the alignment technicians neglected to tighten something adequately. However it would be highly unlikely that 3 technicians would make the same mistake.

What I have found most often is, wheel alignment is set as a front wheel to wheel comparison, not to the centerline of the vehicle or the thrust line of the rear axle. New or rotated tires develop the same unusual wear pattern, giving the car owner the impression the alignment has slipped out.

I have discovered that many of these vehicles have frame alignment or steering linkage problems. Some problems were so minor they could not be detected by the naked eye. The alignment technician did the best he could, but he could not achieve “Total Vehicle Alignment,” due to the condition of the vehicle or limitations of shop equipment. This is one of the major reasons I decided to buy my own equipment and do total vehicle wheel alignments.

Coachmaster has been doing frame repairs on vehicles for over forty-seven years and it only made sense to do our own wheel alignments. This is not very common in body shops today and was very uncommon forty-seven years ago.

Complaint: No one can align my car: it has a constant pull.

After vehicle owners tell me they have had multiple alignments and the car still pulls, I look for the unusual, starting with air pressure and different brands of tires. Just because tires have the same number on the sidewall does not guarantee they are the same diameter if they are different brands. I use a large caliper gauge to check the diameter of each tire. I have found tires with the same numbers on the sidewall differ in diameter by as much as ½ inch.

Even if the wheel alignment specifications are perfect the total vehicle geometry will not be if the tires do not match! A pull or unusual tire wear can occur. I continue to be surprised to learn very few people know this.

Complaint: My tires wear funny but my car does not need a wheel alignment because I have never hit anything.

If your tires are wearing funny you have a tire, frame or wheel alignment problem!

During the life span of a tire and many thousands of miles traveled, the tires may have turned a million times. The roads today are in desperate need of repair and it would seem unlikely that a driver would never hit a chuckhole or a hole on the shoulder during the life of a tire. Normal wear of steering components and a defective tire are also possible causes to be considered.

Complaint: The tires on my trailer wear uneven. Isn’t that just the nature of trailer tires?

Many trailer owners seem to accept this as a fact. Some have told me they just buy new tires every year or two. A major problem with trailer wheel alignment is the trailer ran off the roadway hitting the curb or chuck holes on the shoulder. A wider turn is necessary when towing, especially when the trailers are very long as travel trailers often are.

Example underside of a trailer with high ground clearance. Photo courtesy of Coachmaster Collision Repair
Example underside of a trailer with high ground clearance.

A new problem has started to show up. Some travel trailers are being built with the body raised much higher to provide more ground clearance.

After a few years of use we have discovered frame fractures and complete breakage of the frame.

Note stress crack full length, next to the weld. This is what you need to look for when inspecting. Use a powerful flashlight., Photo courtesy of Coachmaster Collision Repair
Note stress crack full lengt, next to the weld. This is what you need to look for when inspecting. Use a powerful flashlight.

This is caused by the additional stress to the frame by lifting the body higher. I only know of one manufacturer that has provided a reinforcement kit. We have successfully built our own reinforcements for many trailers.

Cross beam weld failure. Separated from main frame. Photos courtesy of Coachmaster Collision Repair
Cross beam weld failure; separated from main frame. Photos courtesy of Coachmaster Collision Repair

Don Stec is the owner of Coachmaster Collision Repair, a technically advanced body shop in the North valley. If you have rapid or uneven tire wear on your motor vehicle or trailer please stop in at Coachmaster, 6851 Eastside Road in Redding and discuss your concerns with him or his crew of experts. Or call 530-243-1310 for an appointment for repair.

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