Do I need to get my wheels aligned when I get new wheels? If I change the wheel size do I need an alignment? These are all frequent questions. And the answer is – it depends on what you are doing.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING WHEEL ALIGNMENT?
The wheel alignment process is concerned with getting the camber, caster, and toe-in correct. So, you aren’t really concerned with the wheel itself, but how the wheel is operating with the suspension and the steering.
Camber is the angle of the wheel when viewed from the front of the vehicle. It’s measured in degrees.
If the wheel angles out from the vehicle, you’ve got a positive camber. If it angles in, you have a negative camber. If it is perfectly vertical with no angle, it’s a neutral or zero camber. If the camber isn’t adjusted properly, your tires won’t wear evenly. So, if your negative camber is too far negative, the tires wear on the inside.
Caster is a bit more complicated because it refers to the angle of the steering pivot that’s attached to your suspension. When you turn your steering wheel, this steering pivot is what turns the wheels to the right or left accordingly.
When the top of the pivot leans to the rear of the car, the caster is positive. If instead the top of the pivot leans towards the front of the car then the caster is negative. If the caster is out of adjustment it can cause the vehicle to veer or pull to one side or the other. Everyone’s driven on a flat straight road and taken their hands off the wheel at some time. If you continue forward in a straight line, it’s because the caster is perfect. When you pull to the right or the left, it’s a good sign the caster may be off (in addition to other things).
Toe-in is a bit easier concept to understand. It measures the difference in distance between the front of the tire and the back of the tire. No, not the distance between the front set of tires and the back set of tires! It is the distance between the front and back of the set of tires.
If the tires have toe-in, then the front of the tires are closer than the back of the tires. If it is toe-out, then the distance between the back is smaller than the distance between the front of the tires. Toe-in is measured in fractions of an inch and is usually close to zero. That’s because you want your wheels to be riding parallel. When toe-in is off, your tires wear improperly.
Now that you understand what is adjusted during an alignment, you can better understand the impact on changing wheels.
CHANGING OEM FOR AFTERMARKET SAME SIZE
Let’s say you want to swap out your stock wheels for something with a little more power. Like Rolling Big Power or RBP. If you go with the RBP Glock in the 20” with a 10” or 12” diameter, you’ll get a wheel that looks like this:
Now, not only is that a great looking wheel it’s hassle-free if you got it at Wheelfire. That’s because every wheel and tire package comes not only with free shipping and an install kit, but the tires are mounted and balanced. And when you install, you don’t need to worry about alignment. That’s because when you swap OEM for aftermarket and stay the same size of the wheel you don’t need to worry about alignment.
You aren’t changing the geometry just by changing the wheels. And remember from the alignment primer above, you aren’t adjusting the wheels when you adjust alignment.
CHANGING OEM FOR UPSIZE
Let’s say you decide you want even bigger wheels. Remember, when you upsize your wheels you downsize the standing height of the tire to keep the same total diameter.
So, now you decide to go for something like this ATX OffRoad Yukon wheel in a 20”. American Racing makes some of the most rugged wheels on the market, so it’s an excellent choice.
And because you are upsizing the wheel and adjusting the standing height of the tire, you don’t need to worry about changing the overall geometry of the wheel.
CHANGING OEM FOR OFFSET
So, let’s say you want to change the look of the vehicle by changing the offset. You want to push those wheels further out or even bring them closer in to emulate a deeper dish.
This is where it gets tricky.
You shouldn’t need an alignment unless you are making an extreme change in the offset. Remember wheel offset refers to the distance from the centerline of the hub. So, to begin with, you shouldn’t be making drastic changes to the offset unless you are adjusting the suspension. Like you wouldn’t go from -10 to +30 offset without making other changes.
However, slight changes in the offset (like -10 to zero) aren’t changing the geometry and you don’t need an alignment.
Remember, the term wheel alignment is a misnomer. You aren’t aligning the wheels; you are aligning the suspension. Most times changing the wheels doesn’t require a wheel alignment.