Understanding Your Car: The Wheel Alignment Check

Wednesday 28 November, 2012

Ever driven into a tyre shop and been told your car needs the tracking checked? Then they take it away, bring it back 20 minutes later and tell you it’s been adjusted?

And you think, hang on a minute… How did they do that so quickly? And what exactly is tracking anyway?

Good questions! And you know how we love to demystify motor jargon for you, so here are the answers you’re looking for.

What is tracking?

Basically tracking (or Toe) is how much the wheels point inwards or outwards when the car is going in a straight line.

And why did my car tracking check only take 20 minutes?

Probably because they didn’t do it correctly, used second-rate equipment or only checked the front wheels.

If you want your car to drive safely and straight, there’s not much point in just checking the tracking alone. To cure problems like a pull on the steering or premature wearing of tyres, you need to carry out a complete four-wheel alignment check which takes up to two hours.

A lot of garages subcontract this service. But here at RAC London we have up-to-date Beissbarth wheel alignment equipment that we use in-house, the preferred choice of many Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda and Bentley dealers.

And to make sure we carry out the wheel alignment procedure correctly, we always complete a Before/During/After check sheet to confirm every point is covered.

So what’s in a four-wheel alignment check?

Not to get too technical about it, we always use the latest target data, which tells us what your wheels should be doing.  Then we carefully set up the equipment and check or adjust all the relevant steering and suspension angles. These include:

  • Wheel run out – how much each wheel moves as it rotates, from side-to-side and up-and-down
  • Tracking – how much the wheels point inwards/outwards
  • Camber – the tilt of the wheels from the vertical, as seen from the front of the car
  • Caster – the tilt of the steering axis, as it controls the car
  • KPI (King Pin Inclination) – as the name suggests, the king pin is the main pivot in the car’s steering mechanism
  • Set-back – if one front wheel is set further back than the other one

I did say I wasn’t going to get too technical but the above should give you an idea how thorough the check is.

With all this and more being tested on all four wheels (hence the name) you can appreciate why the whole process takes a lot longer than 20 minutes.  So don’t be fooled next time around.  Or bring your wheels to us.


Book in your Audi, VW, Bentley, SEAT or Skoda using our form or call our team on 0208 2000 995.

Fleet Manager, Fleet Van Servicing Centre North London.

Whilst travelling to you you ordered the part, and an hour after my initial call my van was on the lift and a new starter-motor was being fitted. An hour later I was on my way back to work. I cannot thank you enough for your help. Not only did you go out of your way to keep us working, you did it at a very sensible price.


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