Understanding Camber, Caster, and Toe

Whether you’re getting behind the wheel of a family sedan or a 4x4 with plenty of ground clearance, proper alignment goes a long way. You want to be able to go around a corner without spilling your latte or energy drink, and you certainly want to be able to drive in a straight line without fighting your way through every mile. When the camber, caster, and toe are properly aligned to your vehicle’s specifications, it’s easy to forget about those settings. But when any of the three are out of alignment, you’ll notice it in your steering wheel, gas mileage, and tire wear.

Here's how camber, caster, and toe help you get the most from your tires and fuel economy, and improve your safety and handling.

Camber Affects Tire Wear

The inward and outward tilt of the tire and wheel assembly (viewed from the front of the vehicle) is called camber. When the top of the tire is leaning inward, it is a negative camber. Positive camber has the top of the tire tilting outward. Each manufacturer sets a specific camber alignment for every vehicle it produces, which might be either positive, negative or zero (0º). When the camber is at the correct angle, the tire and wheel will roll straight.

Generally, camber plays a key-role in cornering performance. If the camber is out of the manufacturer’s range, it can cause handling issues and excessive tire wear, which costs you money. If a vehicle has rear-camber adjustments, adjusting the rear camber plays a big role in straight-line stability and cornering.

Illustration of Camber
Image: Hunter Engineering Company

Caster Affects Steering and Handling

Ever tried to ride a bicycle without using your hands? The fact you could meant that your bicycle had a positive caster. If the caster had been zero (0º) or negative, riding that way would be nearly impossible. The same can be said for your vehicle.

Modern vehicles run a certain amount of positive caster with the steering axis tilted rearward toward the driver. While caster doesn’t affect tire wear like camber, it does have a big impact on steering and handling.

The higher the caster, the more stability a vehicle will have at higher speeds. Lower caster equals more responsive handling.

Illustration of Caster
Image: Hunter Engineering Company

Toe is the Most Important Angle for Tire Life

Of all the angles, the toe can fall out of alignment the easiest. A toe that is properly calibrated to manufacturer specifications (which can be either slightly positive or negative) will be at zero (0º) when on the road. This means all of the tire and wheel assemblies (front and rear) are pointing in the same direction.

What does it mean when the toe is out of alignment? It means your tires are wearing out faster than they should and you’re burning more fuel than is necessary. When the toe is at the correct angle, there’s less friction on the tires as they roll. When they are facing away from each other (toe-out) or toward each other (toe-in), they’re essentially scrubbing on the road ever so slightly with every passing mile.

Illustration of Toe
Image: Hunter Engineering Company

Les Schwab Does Alignments

At Les Schwab, we want to help you get the most out of your tires. If you haven’t had your alignment checked in a while, or you suspect an issue, stop by any of our stores. Our experts will show you what is needed to get your camber, caster, and toe back within your manufacturer’s specifications for prolonged tire life, improved safety and handling, and increased fuel economy.

Schedule an Alignment