When we talk about things related to the steering system, things that come to mind usually include ball joints, tie-rod ends, pitman arm, idler arm, center link, rack ends, steering box, power-steering pump and so on and so forth. When we are at an alignment shop, we see the mechanics mount gadgets on the wheels that start reading out measurements like toe-in, camber and caster. You see them fiddle underneath the car and after a few minutes the say, “done.” But when you look at the car, you don’t see anything changed. Hmmm.
Think of it this way… Look at the wheels of a shopping cart. Basically they are called caster wheels. If you notice they keep the shopping cart straight, unless you push the rear of the shopping cart to the left or right. If you mount the front caster wheels at slight angle just a few degrees, lets say backwards, you will notice that it will be easier to turn the front wheels to any direction and will even return to the center, on its own. This is your caster setting.
When they say camber, imagine the sole of your foot. You have the tendency to shift your weight from the inside of your foot to the outside to keep a firm footing. Check the sole of your shoe. You could see the worn out portion. This will indicate where you tend to shift your weight when you walk. Now if you shift your knee to from side to side, you can feel the shift on your foot if the weight is in the inner or outer portion. Now, the line from your knee to the center of your foot is your camber. Remember what the technician says if he shows you the wear of the front tire is more evident on one side, “Sir, you need camber adjustment.”
Now for “toe in”… stand up and look at the position of your feet. They point slightly outward. Now try making them parallel to each other and try to walk. Now, try walking with your toes pointed really out ward… hard to balance and keep track, isn’t it?
Now think of your tires as a pair of shoes… your tires would have to be in contact with the road as evenly as possible and when you turn the steering wheel, the tires will try and maintain contact with the road and the steering wheel will return to center when turned to do so.
These small changes have a big impact on the performance of your car, not to mention on your tires. If your car is pulling to one side or you notice that your tires are not wearing out evenly, then it may be time to have the underneath of your car checked.
Each car has its own setting for its steering geometry because for what the engineers have designed it for. Now, if you want your car to handle like a slot car, you would need to do a lot of work. Even your suspension would need to be redone. Lowering the profile of your tires will also affect your steering. Even the weight of your mag wheels can make a difference. Now if you deviate too much from your stock set-up (the set up that your car from the dealer has been tested by the manufacturer), your warranty can be in question. Lowering your car can also affect road handling and comfort. Too much lowering can also affect the dynamics of a car, especially when it is engaged in an accident.
Now your suspension must also be in good shape if you want your steering to perform well. These two systems go hand-in-hand with each other. A bad suspension can affect the handling of the car and the life span of the steering components. If you can’t see it (problem), it doesn’t mean that it’s not broken. But if you feel something, have it checked right away.