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Reader Question: car shakes and vibrates on the freeway, does this mean my car needs a vehicle alignment?
concerned car owner,
How do you know if your car needs a front alignment? Vibrations, shimmy, and shaking felt in the steering are usually not a sign of needing a front end alignment. A front alignment, or four wheel alignment as it is commonly referred to days due to the fact that the rear end of the vehicle can also adjusted, does just what the name implies align, or line up direction of the wheels so the vehicle is pointed in a straight line.
Caster, camber, and toe are terms used describe the direction of the wheel in relation to the body of vehicle. The front of the tire can be pointed in toward the center the vehicle thus "toed in." When the front of the tire pointed outward, it is referred to as "toed out." Both these problems can quickly wear down the tread of a tire and can cause "pull" in one direction of the front end. The top of the can also lean in toward the center of the vehicle or lean out away the vehicle, causing a camber problem. This situation can also tire wear and a pull to one direction in the front end. Caster the relationship of the left and right wheels to each other. If wheel is farther forward or back from the other wheel, then there is caster problem. Caster will usually not cause tire wear, but will a pull in one direction, and this problem is commonly found on vehicles.
So what causes shimmy and shakes in the end? The biggest culprit is an out-of-balance or out-of-round tire. the tread on the tire wears, it will need to be re-balanced to distribute the weight of the tire and the wheel. To do this, small weight is attached to the outside of the wheel and a machine is used spin the tire and wheel to check balance. Tires should be balanced rotated every 12,000 miles (approximately every four oil changes) ensure even tire wear and extend tread life. Out-of-round means the has worn unevenly and cannot be balanced. An out-of-round tire will to be replaced. I have even seen new tires that were out-of-round due a manufacturing defect.
Hitting a curb or large pot hole can cause wheel weights to come off, and sometimes the weights sling off the at high speed if they were not installed properly. Out-of-round out-of-balance will not cause a pull in the front end, but definitely cause shakes and shimmies. If you can drive out of a shake shimmy by varying the speed of the car, it is a good clue that you an out-of-balance problem. A simple way to check tire balance: if shimmy is present at one speed, but better or not present at a speed, then a balance problem is likely. An out-of-round tire or a wheel will usually produce a wobble or shimmy at all speeds, replacement of the tire or wheel is usually the cure.
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