How Does Toe Impact Your Car's Handling?

Have you ever wondered what happens when you take your vehicle in for an alignment service? For most cars, the shop is adjusting three critical aspects of wheel geometry: toe, camber, and caster. Misaligned wheel geometry can affect your vehicle's handling characteristics and lead to excessive wear on steering components, suspension components, and tires.

While you might know that it's inadvisable to drive on misaligned wheels, there's more to the story than that. Each aspect of your wheel geometry impacts your vehicle differently, and manufacturers use different "default" values for each angle. Keep reading to learn a bit more about how proper (and improper) toe can affect your car.

What Is Toe?

The term might sound funny, but your wheel's toe angle is a relatively easy concept to both see and understand. If you look at your car from the front, you might notice that your wheels appear to be subtly angled inward or outward. Specifically, you're looking at whether the fronts of the tires point toward or away from the middle of your car.

Manufacturers choose standard toe angles for their vehicles to achieve certain handling characteristics. For example, rear-wheel drive vehicles tend to oversteer, which can be disconcerting for many drivers. Manufacturers, therefore, often incorporate some amount of toe-in to their cars from the factory, which can help reduce this tendency. The reverse is true on front-wheel drive cars.

What Happens With Excessive Toe Problems?

Like other aspects of your vehicle's wheel geometry, your toe angles can drift over time. This drift can occur slowly, due to normal wear and tear on parts, or more rapidly. Quick changes in wheel geometry are typically the result of sudden impacts, such as hitting a curb or driving over a deep pothole. Even relatively minor bumps and bruises can accelerate alignment problems.

Manufacturers apply small amounts of toe-in or toe-out since these values can help compensate for handling characters, but excessive amounts will lead to trouble. Remember that toe means your front wheels are not pointing straight ahead. As a result, your car may behave unpredictably on uneven roads since your tires will want to drag your vehicle in a direction other than forward.

Tire wear is another symptom you may experience with toe angles that are significantly outside of manufacturer specifications. The more excessive your toe problem, the more excess wear your tires will experience. If this happens on your vehicle, you'll usually notice the individual tread blocks on your tires wearing unevenly. This unusual wear pattern results from the tire "dragging" across the pavement.

To avoid these potential handling and tire wear consequences, be sure to schedule routine alignment services for your vehicle. At a minimum, schedule an alignment any time you replace your tires. To learn more about wheel alignment, contact an automotive service.