Take care of your car and it will take care of you. Following basic car maintenance tips can help keep you on the road and out of the repair shop. A little vehicular TLC can even help stretch your fuel dollar and help the environment too.
Most car batteries today are maintenance-free, sealed and can last more than three years. The first sign your battery should be replaced is often trouble starting the engine.
A car tire inflated to 35 pounds per square inch (psi) can lose one psi every month or for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit of temperature change, so your car maintenance checklist should include checking tire pressure. Find the recommended level in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb. And don’t forget the spare.
Rotate tires every 6,000 miles to prevent uneven wear, replace them when they become worn and have the alignment checked if the car pulls to either side when driving or if you notice uneven tire wear.
Checking and changing oil is critical to keep today’s engines running properly and efficiently. Follow manufacturer guidelines for changing the lubricant – generally, every 3,000 miles or three to six months.
Check the oil level with the engine off and the car parked on a level surface. Open the hood, remove the dipstick, wipe it clean with a cloth or paper towel, then return it to the oil reservoir. Take it out again and see whether the level is within the acceptable range marked on the dipstick. If you add oil, don’t overfill, which can damage the engine.
Checking the automatic transmission fluid is another vital item on the car maintenance checklist. Look for a reservoir marked ATF (automatic transmission fluid) and follow the same steps as monitoring the oil level – only this time, with the engine running. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for change intervals, about every 30,000 miles.
Replace most engine coolant or antifreeze every 30,000 miles – or every two to three years. Newer formulas, however, may last up to 50,000 miles. To check coolant level, turn the car off and wait for the engine to cool. Locate the coolant reservoir (usually a translucent plastic tank) and eyeball the level of the coolant against the full and low indicators.
Power steering fluid should be changed every three years or 50,000 miles. If you have a power steering fluid reservoir, check the level visually; otherwise, follow the dipstick method. Low power steering fluid may indicate a leak, so have your mechanic take a look.
Check to ensure that brake fluid levels are within tolerance. How often you need to replace brake pads or other components depends on how you drive and typical driving conditions. Warning signs of a brake problem include noise, vibration or “grabbing” when you apply the brakes. Working on your brakes is a job probably best left to the professionals.
Basic car maintenance suggests changing your air filter each year or every 12,000-15,000 miles. A clean air filter can help your engine “breathe” better and improve gas mileage and reduce harmful emissions.
Replace it annually to help prevent debris from clogging your car’s fuel line.
Windshield wiper care is one of the most neglected basic car care tips. Replace the blades every six to 12 months or whenever the rubber becomes worn. Check the wiper fluid reservoir every week or so and keep it full.
With your car turned on and parked, have someone walk around to see that your lights are working – headlights, brake and tail lights, turn signals, etc. Replacing bulbs in today’s vehicles can be a challenge. Have a mechanic do the job, particularly replacing and aiming headlights. A pro also knows if the problem is a blown fuse, not a burned out bulb.
Take 10 minutes and use our Monthly Checklist to do your own quick visual car inspection and fluid levels check. A few minutes each month could save you a lot of money on repairs down the road. Following a basic car maintenance checklist can help keep you on the road and out of the repair shop. A little vehicular pampering can also help extend your fuel economy and put less of a burden on the environment. Take care of your car, and it will take care of you.
Basic automobile maintenance and upkeep describes the action of examining and testing the state of your car's engine and servicing or replacing parts and fluids. Regular maintenance is necessary to ensure the safety, reliability, drivability, comfort and longevity of your car. Completing a monthly preventive maintenance checklist, will alert you to fixable problems, before it's too late.
The actual schedule for a monthly preventive maintenance checklist varies depending on the year, make, and model of your car, its driving conditions and driver behavior. Auto makers create their recommended service schedules based on boundary factors such as:
Our monthly preventive maintenance checklist (created by experienced service technicians) recommends a maintenance schedule based on the driving conditions and behavior of the car owner or driver.
Common car maintenance tasks include:
Following a basic car maintenance checklist can help keep you on the road and out of the repair shop. A little vehicular pampering can also help extend your fuel economy and put less of a burden on the environment. Take 10 minutes and use our Monthly Checklist to do your own quick visual car inspection and fluid levels check. A few minutes each month could save you a lot of money on repairs down the road. Remember ... Take care of your car, and it will take care of you.
Check and/or change your Air Filter every 6 months to improve fuel economy and keep your engine running smoothly.
It's hard to give a specific time or mileage figure because the life of the filter depends on how much crud it ingests. A filter that lasts 20,000 or even 30,000 miles on a vehicle that's driven mostly on expressways may last only a month or two in a rural setting where the vehicle is driven frequently on gravel roads. Changing it annually or every 15,000 miles for preventative maintenance may be a good recommendation for the city driver, but not its country cousin.
Regardless of the mileage or time, a filter should be replaced before it reaches the point where it creates a significant restriction to airflow. But when exactly that point is reached is subject to opinion.
A slightly dirty filter actually cleans more efficiently than a brand new filter. That's because the debris trapped by the filter element helps screen out smaller particles that try to get through. But eventually every filter reaches the point where it causes enough of a pressure drop to restrict airflow. Fuel economy, performance and emissions begin to deteriorate and get progressively worse until the dirty filter is replaced.
Many heavy-duty trucks have a "restriction" meter on the air filter housing that signals when the filter is dirty enough to need replacing. But lacking such a device, the best you can do is guess.
Removing the filter and holding it up to a light will show you how dirty it is. If it's really caked with dirt, it obviously needs to be replaced. Trying to shake or blow the dirt out is a waste of time because too much of it will be embedded in the filter fibers.
NOTE: Many filters that appear to be dirty are in fact still good and do not really need to be replaced. So it's up to you. If you think it's dirty, replace it. If you don't think it's dirty enough to need replacing, then don't.
Change transmission fluid every 30,000 miles. Most owner's manuals say it isn't necessary. Yeah, right. That's why transmission shops are making a fortune replacing burned out automatic transmissions. For optimum protection, change the Transmission Fluid and filter every 30,000 miles (unless you have a new vehicle that is filled with Dexron III ATF, which is supposed to be good for 100,000 miles).
Why ATF Wears Out
An automatic transmission creates a lot of internal heat through friction: the friction of the fluid churning inside the torque converter, friction created when the clutch plates engage, and the normal friction created by gears and bearings carrying their loads.
It doesn't take long for the automatic transmission fluid (ATF) to heat up once the vehicle is in motion. Normal driving will raise fluid temperatures to 175 degrees F., which is the usual temperature range at which most fluids are designed to operate. If fluid temperatures can be held to 175 degrees F., ATF will last almost indefinitely -- say up to 100,000 miles. But if the fluid temperature goes much higher, the life of the fluid begins to plummet. The problem is even normal driving can push fluid temperatures well beyond safe limits. And once that happens, the trouble begins.
At elevated operating temperatures, ATF oxidizes, turns brown and takes on a smell like burnt toast. As heat destroys the fluid's lubricating qualities and friction characteristics, varnish begins to form on internal parts (such as the valve body) which interferes with the operation of the transmission. If the temperature gets above 250 degrees F., rubber seals begin to harden, which leads to leaks and pressure losses. At higher temperatures the transmission begins to slip, which only aggravates overheating even more. Eventually the clutches burn out and the transmission calls it quits. The only way to repair the damage now is with an overhaul -- a job which can easily run upwards of $1500 on a late model front-wheel drive car or minivan.
As a rule of thumb, every 20 degree increase in operating temperature above 175 degrees F. cuts the life of the fluid in half!
At 195 degrees F., for instance, fluid life is reduced to 50,000 miles. At 220 degrees, which is commonly encountered in many transmissions, the fluid is only good for about 25,000 miles. At 240 degrees F., the fluid won't go much over 10,000 miles. Add another 20 degrees, and life expectancy drops to 5,000 miles. Go to 295 or 300 degrees F., and 1,000 to 1,500 miles is about all you'll get before the transmission burns up.
If you think this is propaganda put forth by the suppliers of ATF to sell more fluid, think again. According to the Automatic Transmission Re-builders Association, 90% of ALL transmission failures are caused by overheating. And most of these can be blamed on worn out fluid that should have been replaced.
On most vehicles, the automatic transmission fluid is cooled by a small heat exchanger inside the bottom or end tank of the radiator. Hot ATF from the transmission circulates through a short loop of pipe and is thus "cooled." Cooling is a relative term here, however, because the radiator itself may be running at anywhere from 180 to 220 degrees F.!
Tests have shown that the typical original equipment oil cooler is marginal at best. ATF that enters the radiator cooler at 300 degrees F. leaves at 240 to 270 degrees F., which is only a 10 to 20% drop in temperature, and is nowhere good enough for extended fluid life.
Any number of things can push ATF temperatures beyond the system's ability to maintain safe limits: towing a trailer, mountain driving, driving at sustained high speeds during hot weather, stop-and-go driving in city traffic, "rocking" an automatic transmission from drive to reverse to free a tire from mud or snow, etc. Problems in the cooling system itself such as a low coolant level, a defective cooling fan, fan clutch, thermostat or water pump, an obstructed radiator, etc., will also diminish ATF cooling efficiency. In some cases, transmission overheating can even lead to engine coolant overheating! That's why there's a good demand for auxiliary add-on transmission coolers.
An auxiliary transmission fluid cooler is easy to install and can substantially lower fluid operating temperatures. The plate/fin type cooler is somewhat more efficient than the tube and fin design, but either can lower fluid temperatures anywhere from 80 to 140 degrees when installed in series with the stock unit. Typical cooling efficiencies run in the 35 to 50% range.
Atf Fluid Types
What kind of automatic transmission fluid should you use in your transmission? The type specified in your owner's manual or printed on the transmission dipstick.
For older Ford automatics and certain imports, Type "F" is usually required. Most Fords since the 1980s require "Mercon" fluid, which is Ford's equivalent of Dexron II.
For General Motors, Chrysler and other imports, Dexron II is usually specified.
NOTE: Some newer vehicles with electronically-controlled transmissions require Dexron IIe or Dexron III fluid. GM says its new long-life Dexron III fluid can be substituted for Dexron II in older vehicle applications.
CAUTION: Using the wrong type of fluid can affect the way the transmission shifts and feels. Using Type F fluid in an application that calls for Dexron II may make the transmission shift too harshly. Using Dexron II in a transmission that requires Type F may allow the transmission to slip under heavy load, which can accelerate clutch wear.
Changing The Fluid
It's a messy job because there's no drain plug to change the fluid, but you can do it yourself if you're so inclined. To change the fluid, you have to get under your vehicle and remove the pan from the bottom of the transmission.
When you loosen the pan, fluid will start to dribble out in all directions so you need a fairly large catch pan. You should also know that removing the pan doesn't drain all of the old fluid out of the transmission. Approximately a third of the old fluid will still be in the torque converter. There's no drain plug on the converter so you're really only doing a partial fluid change. Even so, a partial fluid change is better than no fluid change at all.
A typical fluid change will require anywhere from 3 to 6 quarts of ATF depending on the application, a new filter and a pan gasket (or RTV sealer) for the transmission pan. The pan must be thoroughly cleaned prior to re-installation. This includes wiping all fluid residue from the inside of the pan and scraping all traces of the old gasket from the pan's sealing surface. Don't forget to clean the mounting flange on the transmission, too.
When the new filter is installed, be sure it is mounted in the exact same position as the original and that any O-rings or other gaskets have been properly positioned prior to tightening the bolts. Then tighten the bolts to the manufacturer's recommended specs.
When refilling the transmission with fresh fluid, be careful not to allow any dirt or debris to enter the dipstick tube. Using a long-neck funnel with a built-in screen is recommended.
CAUTION: Do not overfill the transmission. Too much fluid can cause the fluid to foam, which in turn can lead to erratic shifting, oil starvation and transmission damage. Too much fluid may also force ATF to leak past the transmission seals.
Add half a quart at a time until the dipstick shows full. The transmission really isn't full yet because the dipstick should be checked when the fluid is hot, and the engine is idling with the gear selector in Park. So start the engine, drive the vehicle around the block, then recheck the fluid level while the engine is idling and add fluid as needed until the dipstick reads full.
Get your Timing Belt and Accessory Drive Belt professionally checked every 25,000 miles to make sure they are in working order.
Although the auto makers don't usually specify a replacement interval for V-belts or serpentine (flat, multi-ribbed) belts, most belt manufacturers do recommend periodic replacement for preventative maintenance. Here's why: the incidence of belt failure rises sharply in the fourth year of service for the typical V-belt, and the fifth year for serpentine belts.
What's more, eight out of ten V-belt failures and ten out of ten serpentine belt failures end up causing a breakdown! That's because belts have the uncanny knack of always picking the worst possible moment to fail -- like when you're heading out of town on that long-awaited fishing trip, when you're hurrying to pick up a hot date who told you NOT to be late, or when you're giving your dear mother-in-law a ride to church.
A broken belt is always bad news because when it snaps, all drive power to whatever it turns is lost. That means the water pump quits circulating coolant through the engine, the alternator quits producing amps, the power steering pump ceases to assist steering, and the air conditioner quits cooling. Many newer vehicles have a single serpentine belt that drives all of the engine's accessories, so when it fails everything stops working.
The good news is that replacing the belts periodically can go a long way towards minimizing the risk of a breakdown caused by belt failure. After all, it's a lot easier to replace a belt at your convenience than having the belt fail unexpectedly Heavens knows where.
For optimum protection, most experts recommend replacing V-belts every three to four years, or every 36,000 to 48,000 miles. A recommended replacement interval for serpentine belts would be every four or five years, or 50,000 miles.
The service life of a V-belt depends on mileage as well as load, tension and heat. Every time a belt passes around a pulley, it bends and flexes. This produces heat which age hardens the rubber over time. The wear process can be greatly accelerated if the belt is loose and slips because any added friction between belt and pulley makes the belt run even hotter. This can cause glazing on the faces of the belt and cause it to slip even more. So one of the most important factors that affects belt life is making sure it is properly tensioned when it is installed and that the proper tension is maintained throughout its service life.
Symptoms that may be the result of improper belt tension include:
Replacement V-belts must be the same length and width as the original. A belt that's too long or too short may not allow enough adjustment for proper tension. A belt that's too wide or too narrow will not ride at the right depth in the pulley grooves.
CAUTION: When installing a new belt, do not attempt to "stretch" it over pulleys. Doing so can break the internal cords causing the belt to fail. Always loosen the pulleys so there is adequate clearance to slip the belt over the pulleys.
Once the belt has been installed on the pulleys, a belt gauge should be used to adjust belt tension to factory specifications. The old rule of thumb of allowing 1/2 inch of "give" between the furthest pulleys is not a very accurate guide for today's engines. So follow the manufacturer's recommendations for belt tension.
Once tension has been adjusted, it should be rechecked and readjusted (if necessary) after a short break-in period (say after 500 to 1,000 miles of driving). It should then be checked twice a year or every 5,000 or 6,000 miles thereafter.
On vehicles with a single serpentine belt, tension is usually self-adjusted automatically via a spring loaded tensioner. No additional adjustment is necessary.
If your engine has been eating or twisting belts, misaligned pulleys may be your problem. Alignment can be checked with a straightedge. If a pulley is bent or not in the same plane as the rest, the problem should be corrected otherwise the "bad" pulley will continue to ruin belts.
Have your antifreeze fluid changed and Cooling System flushed every 30,000 miles or 2 years. Newer formulas, however, may last up to 50,000 miles. To check coolant level, turn the car off and wait for the engine to cool. Locate the coolant reservoir (usually a translucent plastic tank) and eyeball the level of the coolant against the full and low indicators.
Just like human beings, the car needs to dissipate heat in order to avoid overheating and exhaustion. During combustion, the engine produces large amount of heat - about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is too much for the engine to bear so a cooling system is needed to keep it at a normal temperature. Cars usually overheat due to a damaged part in the cooling system, especially the radiator, the heart of the cooling system. It is therefore necessary that all its auto parts must be in proper working condition to ensure that the whole system works efficiently.
Aside from the radiator, the cooling system is composed water pump, freeze plugs, head gasket, thermostat, hoses, heater core, fan clutch and radiator fan. All these auto parts have special roles to perform thus the absence of one could significantly affect the whole cooling process and of course, the engine’s performance. Take for example the hose, this may seem to be just an ordinary part but once broken, the coolant can escape and so it’s no longer possible for the system to cool the engine. Even just the cap of the radiator is important. It holds the pressure in the cooing system; thereby, affects its stability.
How does the cooling system of your car work? The coolant, which is a mixture of anti-freeze and water, is the one that absorbs the heat from the engine. It is drawn by the water pump from the radiator and is pumped through engine block and the cylinder head to absorb the heat from the engine and its parts. It goes back to the receiving tank of the radiator through the radiator hose. The radiator has tubes that contain large amount of water and has fin area to allow outside air to pass through. As the coolant spreads over the top of the radiator tubes, it transfers heat to the air.
The performance of your car is greatly dependent on your cooling system. No matter how gutsy its engine is, it can’t work normally without a cooling system. The engine can even be inutile in an instant if it overheats and all other auto parts under the hood can also be damaged. They could melt as the engine burns the fuel inside the combustion chamber and the pistons in the cylinder could expand extremely that they can no longer move to complete the whole process in the engine.
Your car can possibly overheat as well. Engine overheating is one of the most common problems auto users encounter. You can avoid this by adding water to your radiator. So if you notice a problem on a particular part in your cooling system, consult the best auto mechanic in town. But if you think the problem is worst, you may as well replace it right away.
Schedule a complete and Engine Diagnostics (Professional Maintenance) check every 15, 30, 60, and 90,000 miles.
The diagnostics of a car's engine are very complicated. Nothing really tells you when anything has gone awry. Most cars have a Check Engine light that turns on, but even this light does not indicate exactly what the problem is. The only way to find out is to have your mechanic run an engine diagnostics test on your vehicle.
There are several reasons to have a full diagnostics test run on your car. With today’s vehicles being basically run by computers, if anything goes wrong an indicator light will turn on. Take the vehicle to your mechanic when the light comes on. Make sure you have a qualified, certified mechanic that you know and trust. He will be the one, who will help keep your car running smoothly for a long time.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you can get many diagnostic supplies at your local mechanic shop as well. In addition, he can help you with any questions you may have. For most new cars it is necessary to have state of the art diagnostic equipment and trained technicians to decipher the root cause of your car engine's issues.
It is recommended that you get an Oil Change on your vehicle every 3,500 miles for regular oil and every 5,000 miles for synthetic oil. Checking and changing the oil is essential to keep today's engines working properly and efficiently. Check the oil level with the engine and the car parked on a flat surface. Open the hood, remove the dipstick, wipe off with a cloth towel or paper, then back into the oil tank. Pull it again and see if the level is within the acceptable range marked on the dipstick. If you add the oil yourself, do not over fill. Over filling can damage the engine.
Most automobile manufacturers recommend oil changes once every year or every 7,500 miles of car and light truck gasoline engines. Diesel engines and turbocharged gasoline engines, the usual recommendation is every 3,000 miles or six months.
You’ll find that a once a year (7,500 mile) oil change is for vehicles driven in ideal circumstances. What most of us think is "normal" driving is actually "severe service" driving. This includes frequent short trips (less than 10 miles, especially in cold weather), stop-and-go city traffic driving, driving in dusty conditions (gravel roads, etc), and sustained highway driving speed during the warm season. For this type of driving behavior, the recommendation is to change the oil every 3,000 miles or six months.
For maximum protection, most oil companies say to change the oil every 3,000 miles or three to six months regardless of what type of driving you do. Regular oil changes for preventative maintenance are cheap insurance against engine wear, and will always save you money in the long run if you keep a car for more than three or four years. It's very uncommon to see an engine that has been well maintained with regular oil changes develop major bearing, ring, cam or valve problems under 100,000 miles.
What About The Oil Filter?
To reduce the costs of vehicle ownership and maintenance, many car makers say the oil filter only needs to be replaced at every other oil change. Most mechanics will tell you this is false economy.
The oil filters on most engines today have been downsized to save weight, cost and space. The "standard" quart-sized filter that was once common on most engines has been replaced by a pint-sized (or smaller) filter. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a smaller filter has less total filtering capacity. Even so, the little filters should be adequate for a 3,000 mile oil change intervals -- but may run out of capacity long before a second oil change at 6,000 or 15,000 miles.
Replacing the oil filter every time the oil is changed, therefore, is highly recommended.
If you do your own oil changes, make sure you get the correct filter for your engine. Follow the filter manufacturer's listings in its catalog. Many filters that look the same on the outside have different internal valving. Many overhead cam engines, for example, require an "anti-drain-back" valve in the filter to prevent oil from draining out of the filter when the engine is shut off. This allows oil pressure to reach critical engine parts more quickly when the engine is restarted. Filters that are mounted sideways on the engine typically require an anti-drain-back valve.
Used motor oil should be disposed of properly. The Environmental Protection Agency does not consider used motor oil to be a hazardous chemical, but it can foul ground water and does contain traces of lead. The best way to dispose of used motor oil is to take it to a service station, quick lube shop, parts store or other facility for recycling. Your old oil will either be rerefined into other lubricants or petroleum products, or burned as fuel.
Do not dump used motor oil on the ground, down a drain, into a storm sewer or place it in the trash. Many landfills will not accept used motor oil even if it is in a sealed container because it will eventually leak out into the ground. If you can't find an environmentally-acceptable way to dispose of the stuff, maybe you shouldn't be changing your own oil. Service facilities that do oil changes all have storage tanks and recycling programs to dispose of used oil.
It is recommended that you get an Oil Change on your vehicle every 3,500 miles for regular oil and every 5,000 miles for synthetic oil. Checking and changing the oil is essential to keep today's engines working properly and efficiently.
Tire rotation or rotating tires is the the practice of moving automobile wheels and tires from one position on the car to another, to ensure even tire wear. Tire wear becomes uneven for any number of reasons. Even tire wear is necessary to maintain consistent performance in the vehicle and to extend the overall life of a set of tires.
By design, the weight on the front and rear axles of your car is different, which causes uneven wear. With most cars being front-engine cars, the front axle usually carries the majority of the weight. For rear wheel drive vehicles, the weight distribution between front and back is near 50:50. Front wheel drive vehicles also have the differential in front, adding to the weight, with a typical weight distribution of no better than 60:40. The result of this is that the front tires wear out at almost twice the rate of the rear tires, particularly when you factor in the included stress that braking adds to the front tires. Therefore, tire rotation for front-wheel drive vehicles is even more of a necessity.
Turning your car (which is unavoidable) also contributes to uneven wear. The outside, front tire is worn disproportionately. In right hand traffic countries the left front tire wears faster than the right front. Also, right turns are tighter than left turns, causing more tire wear. On the other hand the sidewalls on the right tire tend to be more often bumped and rubbed against the curb while parking the vehicle, causing asymmetric sidewall wear. As would be expected, the exact opposite occurs in countries that drive on the left hand side of the road.
Mechanical issues in the vehicle may also cause uneven tire wear. The wheels need to not only be aligned with each other but also with the vehicle. The wheel that is out of alignment will tend to be pulled along by the other wheels, causing uneven wear in that tire. If the alignment is such that the vehicle pulls to one side or the other, the driver will correct by steering against the pull. Essentially, the vehicle is constantly turning in this case, causing uneven tire wear. Additionally, if a tire is under or over-inflated, then it will wear differently than the other tires on the vehicle. Rotating will not help in this case and the inflation needs to be corrected.
Automobile manufacturers recommend tire rotation frequency and pattern. Depending on the vehicle, tire rotation may be recommended every 8,000 miles. The rotation pattern is typically moving the back wheels to the front, and the front to the back, but crossing them when moving to the back. If the tires are unidirectional, the rotation can only be rotated front to back on the same side of the vehicle to preserve the rotational direction of the tires. Most unidirectional tires can be moved from side to side if they are remounted.
The current school of thought recommends keeping the best tires on the rear wheels of the vehicle, whether it is front, or rear wheel drive. The logic is that, if the rear wheels lose grip before the front wheels, an “over-steer” situation will occur, which is harder to control than an “under-steer” situation. The intuitive idea that the front steering/driving tires need to be the best quality is not actually the case.
Tire wear becomes uneven for any number of reasons. Even tire wear is necessary to maintain consistent performance in the vehicle and to extend the overall life of a set of tires. Tire rotation or rotating tires is the the practice of moving automobile wheels and tires from one position on the car to another, to ensure even tire wear.
Have your Wheel Alignment checked every other tire rotation and always when installing new tires. Wheel alignment sometimes referred to as tracking, is part of standard automobile maintenance that consists of adjusting the angles of the wheels so that they are set to the car maker's specification. The purpose of these adjustments is to reduce tire wear, and to ensure that vehicle travel, is straight and true (without "pulling" to one side). Alignment angles can also be altered beyond the maker's specifications to obtain a specific handling characteristic. Motorsport and off-road applications may call for angles to be adjusted well beyond "normal" for a variety of reasons.
The primary angles are the basic angle alignment of the wheels relative to each other and to the car body. These adjustments are the camber, caster and toe. On some cars, not all of these can be adjusted on every wheel.
These three parameters can be further categorized into front and rear, so summarily the parameters are:
The secondary angles include numerous other adjustments, such as:
Setback (front & rear) is often referred as a wheel alignment angle. However setback simply exists because of the measuring system and does not have any specification from car manufacturers.
A camera unit (sometimes called a "head") is attached to a specially designed clamp which holds on to a wheel. There are usually four camera units in a wheel alignment system (a camera unit for each wheel). The camera units communicate their physical positioning with respect to other camera units to a central computer which calculates and displays how much the camber, toe and caster are misaligned.
Often with alignment equipment, these "heads" can be a large precision reflector. In this case, the alignment "tower" contains the cameras as well as arrays of LEDs. This system flashes one array of LEDs for each reflector whilst a camera centrally located in the LED array "looks for" an image of the reflectors patterned face. These cameras perform the same function as the other style of alignment equipment, yet alleviate numerous issues prone to relocating a heavy precision camera assembly on each vehicle serviced.