Tech Stuff

Taming Alignment in Winter

Proper wheel alignment is obviously important in terms of preventing premature tire wear, and to maintain predictable and controllable handling and braking. But in winter weather, where the customer encounters slippery conditions, wheel angles become much more critical. The effect of improper toe, camber and/or caster angles becomes more pronounced and are compounded as the coefficient of friction between the tires and the road are reduced.

As an example, if the vehicle tends to pull or wander to one side during dry conditions, as contact patch friction is reduced due to ice and/or snow, the directional control of the vehicle is worsened as the rolling direction of the tires tend to follow an unwanted path. Once the slip begins, it tends to exponentially increase because the off-center momentum will initiate sooner, which makes it more difficult for the driver to recover directional control.

When a vehicle exhibits uneven or isolated tire tread wear, naturally you will suspect either worn suspension or steering components and/or wheel alignment concerns. If you know that wheel angles require correction (whether or not components are being replaced), if the customer balks at the added expense of a wheel alignment job, it’s important to stress the importance of this service with a higher level of urgency during winter months, from a safety concern in addition to preventing premature tire wear.

While inept drivers can certainly lose control on slippery roads even with correct wheel angles and the best of winter tires, the variable of ice and snow makes the situation much more critical. If wheel angles are incorrect, even the most skilled drivers are at risk.

The point I’m making is to stress the need for wheel alignment service even more robustly when faced with adverse weather conditions.

Proper wheel alignment isn’t only a tire wear issue. Maintaining suspension and steering geometry is a safety concern. Yes, selling wheel alignments adds to your shop’s income, but more importantly, promoting the service can help your customer prevent an otherwise avoidable accident.   ■

To see more Straight Talk columns, click:

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