Britain's Cars are surprisingly misaligned, here’s what you need to know

Bradley Jando | Friday 12th February 2021 9:00am

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More than four million drivers would be pulled off the road if their car had its own way. A study of ours found that one in eight motorists (12%) said the steering on their car pulls to one side or the other.

Almost one million people who are experiencing the problem say their steering pulls significantly.

Wayward steering is more prevalent amongst younger car owners, with a quarter (25%) of those under 34 saying that their car pulled to one side when driving on a straight road. This contrasts dramatically with older drivers – only 2% of drivers over 55 say they experience this problem.

Why does a car pull to one side?

There are a number of possible reasons why cars pull to one side and it appears that more experienced drivers know how to spot the danger signs. It could be as simple as a difference in pressures between the left and right tyres, or that they are mismatched and the tyres have worn at different rates. If that is not the case, it may be a wheel alignment issue, with the car’s wheels not running at the angles set out in the manufacturer’s specifications. This is also known as a tracking problem.

This can be the result of gradual wear, but also be caused by an impact. Unsurprisingly, 40% of drivers said that they had hit a pothole in the last year, and many wheel alignment problems stem from the conditions of the nation’s roads. Depending on the severity of the impact, hitting a pothole can lead to tyre damage, balancing weights falling off rims, a loss of tyre pressure, or even damage to suspension components.

Other than heavy impacts, like hitting a curb or pothole, wheel misalignment can also be caused by general wear and tear, as well as modifications to the height of the car. A suspension system is designed to work at a certain height, so if you’ve lowered your car and not properly adjusted the suspension, then wheel misalignment is highly likely.

How to tell if your wheels might be misaligned

Some of the most common symptom of wheel misalignment are:

  • Steering that doesn’t return easily after turning
  • Drifting to a particular side when driving normally
  • Steering wheel vibrates when driving
  • Tyres wearing unevenly or abnormally quickly
  • Tyres sometimes squeal

What can be done about wheel misalignment?

At Kwik Fit we offer Hunter Wheel Alignment technology at many of our UK centres. Hunter uses laser positioning to accurately set up your wheel alignment to the manufacturer’s original recommendation.

This video runs you through what happens with our state-of-the-art wheel alignment and balancing technology.

The main three angle angles measured and adjusted are called camber, toe, & caster.

Camber – is a measurement of how much a wheel tilts relative to the road. This is expressed in ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ camber, where positive means the top of the wheel tilts away from the car, and negative means the top of the wheel tilts towards the car. You’ll often see different camber settings on Formula 1 cars, as different settings can have beneficial effects for racing. Though these are established by expert engineers for each individual Formula 1 car – so it’s not worth trying to emulate it on a road vehicle.

Toe – Toe is how the wheels are set relative to the direction of the vehicle. If one wheel constantly points inwards, for example, it’s said to have ‘negative toe’ or ‘toe in’, with ‘positive toe’ or ‘toe out’ meaning that a wheel points away from the direction of the vehicle. If it helps visualise, when you turn the steering wheel of your car, the wheels turn in a direction that you want to go. This is like changing the Toe of the wheels temporarily. If this happens as a default, however, it can significantly affect handling.

Caster – Caster is the angle that’s created by the suspension’s connection to the wheel. It’s how far the suspension tilts forward or behind a wheel. If you imagine the front of a typical Harley Davidson motorbike, they have significant positive caster because the suspension arm is angled with the bottom as the most forward part.

It may seem obvious, but tyres are the only thing that connects a car to the road, so it’s vital that they are set up properly. Not only that, but having to constantly oversteer due to an alignment issue increases the risk of your car going off course without you realising – it also makes it harder to control a vehicle in an emergency situation.

The fact that four million drivers are struggling with their steering on a daily basis is not only a safety issue but increases tyre wear and fuel consumption.

Come to Kwik Fit

If your vehicle pulls to one side, put your safety in the hands of people you can trust, contact your local Kwik Fit centre to have your alignment and suspension checked for free. You can also get your whole car checked, serviced, or MOT tested, too!

For service you can rely on, rely on Kwik Fit.

Any facts, figures and prices shown in our blog articles are correct at time of publication.

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