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One of the most disappointing bits of news that our Mazda Service Technicians sometimes have to share with customers is that their relatively new tires need replacing. This is because the tire tread shows severely uneven wear patterns, which is almost always the result of poor wheel alignment. While the badly worn tires themselves present a safety risk due to handling issues or potential blowout, the poor wheel alignment exacerbates these handling issues and can reduce gas mileage by as much as 10%. Either way, these are expenses that can be avoided by having your wheel alignment regularly inspected and corrected.
Wheel Alignment Explained
The concept of “proper wheel alignment” is fairly intuitive, but there’s a lot more to it than most car owners assume.
In simple terms, wheel alignment refers to adjustments made to your car’s suspension that determine how the tires make contact with the pavement. When our trained Mazda Service Technicians inspect your vehicle’s suspension, they are focused on three determinants of “alignment”: Camber, Toe, and Caster.
- Camber — This is the degree to which a wheel (and, therefore, the tire) is angled from side-to-side. If you imagine that you are standing next to a tire with your hand on the top of it, then gently rock it toward one side or the other, you would be impacting the camber. Clearly, if the camber is either “negative” or “positive” with respect to the vehicle, you will be riding toward one edge of the tire or the other.
- Toe — This is the extent to which the wheels are either pointing in, toward the center of the vehicle, or pointing out, toward the side of the road. Imagine walking either “pigeon toed” (your toes pointed in) or “duck footed” (your toes pointed out). When this happens with your tires, your wheels are essentially trying to take your car in opposite directions.
- Caster — This is a bit more difficult to explain. Caster is the angle of your steering axis as it relates to the wheels. The important thing to know is that proper caster angle serves to balance steering, stability, and cornering.
How Does Poor Wheel Alignment “Trash” Tires?
If you’ve ever pushed a shopping cart with damaged wheels across a parking lot or through a grocery store, you know it requires more energy to keep that cart going in a straight line. Conceptually, it’s the same issue with your Mazda if the wheel alignment is bad. Your tires are essentially fighting the road and/or each other to make your car go where you want it to go. Basically, you end up dragging your tires as you drive. Clearly, this is going to wear down the rubber far faster than normal and it generally does it in an uneven pattern.
What Causes Bad Wheel Alignment?
Driving. Sorry, but the reality is that normal, day-to-day driving simply takes a toll on your suspension and it will almost certainly lose proper alignment as you travel. Obviously, there are sudden causes of poor alignment, such as hitting a curb or pothole at speed, or a collision of some sort, but that type of impact isn’t required. Even turning into a sloped driveway, repeatedly in the same direction, could serve to gradually knock your suspension out of alignment.
Another cause is the failure of other suspension components, such as shocks or struts that have become badly worn or loosened.
And if you’ve altered your suspension in any way, such as adding a lift kit, you will need to make adjustments to ensure your wheels are properly aligned.
Protect Your Tires: Have Your Alignment Inspected
There are widely varying recommendations on how frequently you should have your wheels inspected and/or aligned, but the obvious answer is going to relate to how many miles you drive; how you drive; and where you drive. If you don’t drive many miles each year, tend to drive cautiously, and stick to smooth roads, you may be fine going 2-3 years without severe alignment issues. Conversely, if you drive a lot, particularly at high freeway speeds, and sometimes experience less-than-perfect pavement or dirt roads, you might want to have your alignment checked at least every 6 months; for many of us in San Joaquin County, that’s a more typical scenario.
Another indication that you need to have your alignment inspected and, probably, corrected is if you notice that your vehicle tends to pull to one side of the road or the other. Clearly, this could be caused by traveling on a severely “crowned”, or sloping, road, but if you’re on flat pavement, your vehicle should travel in a straight line.
We also recommend that you take a look at your tires every time you fill your gas tank. Just make a quick visual inspection to see if there are any signs of uneven wear on the treads. Naturally, this is also a good opportunity to inspect for any damage to the exterior sidewall.
If You Buy New Tires, Have Your Wheels Aligned
Sadly, some tire shops don’t perform wheel alignments, which means their customers may be heading back onto the road and damaging their brand new tires with every mile they drive. Or, if they perform wheel alignments, they may not have the state-of-the-art equipment that provides the best results. Regards of where you buy your tires, just be sure to bring your Mazda to Tracy Mazda for a follow-up inspection and wheel alignment. It will literally save you money down the road.
And Be Sure to Buy the Right Tires for Your Mazda
Another common mistake is buying tires based largely on price and size, but not some of the other specifications that determine optimum performance. Every car on the road was designed and engineered with specific tire characteristics in mind. Our Mazda Tire experts can offer you name brand tires that are designed to match your particular model of Mazda and driving conditions.
Mazda Tire Sale: September and October
If you think you may be in need of new tires, bring your Mazda to us for a tire inspection and we’ll not only check overall condition and inflation level, but we’ll actually measure tread depths so you have an idea of how many miles remain in the life of your tires.
If you do need new tires, your timing is exceptional: Mazda is running a tire sale in September and October that allows you to save essentially 25% on name brand tires. Specifically, if you buy 3 tires at regular prices, you can buy the 4th tire in the set for just $1!
Trust Your Tires to Tracy Mazda
Whenever you have your Mazda serviced at Tracy Mazda, our factory-certified Service Technicians have the opportunity to visually inspect your vehicle for any obvious signs of problems, including tire condition and uneven wear. Plus, entrusting your Mazda to our Authorized Mazda Service Center means your vehicle will maintain its “pure Mazda” status. We use Genuine Mazda Parts, follow Mazda service guidelines, and have the support of the Mazda factory when it comes to training, diagnostics, and technical support.
Tracy Mazda – Authorized Mazda Dealership
Tracy Mazda in Tracy, California, offers the full Mazda experience. Shop for a new Mazda, Certified Pre-Owned Mazda, or other quality used Mazdas online or visit Tracy Mazda in Tracy, CA, conveniently located in the just off I-205 in the Tracy Auto Mall. And when it comes time to service your current Mazda, trust the experienced, factory-trained Mazda technicians at the Tracy Mazda Service Center in Tracy, California. Tracy Mazda, family-owned and locally operated. Shop online or visit Tracy Mazda in Tracy, CA today.