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Everything You Need to Know About Heavy-Duty Truck Alignment

Nov 24, 2021 ·
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There are many parts at work in a vehicle’s suspension system that help contribute to a smooth and safe drive. Alignment is an important service to have performed on the suspension system, especially for big rigs and heavy-duty trucks.

Diesel-powered vehicles need to stay up and running efficiently. Many different industries rely on them to transport and deliver goods that the country relies on.

Keep reading to learn more about heavy-duty truck alignment and how it works.

What Is Alignment?

Over time, the suspension system can start to experience wear and tear. This can happen more quickly if a vehicle is being used consistently, which is often true in the case of semitrucks and heavy-duty vehicles.

Alignment is a term used to describe the adjustment of the truck’s suspension system. The suspension is connected to a vehicle’s wheels and helps allow them to travel and pivot as needed. An alignment is performed to make sure that the tires are meeting the road at the right angle.

Alignment is not an adjustment of the wheels themselves, but rather the axles and tires to ensure that the wheels are pointing straight and in the right direction.

How Does an Alignment Work?

It takes trained diesel technicians to perform heavy-duty and semitruck alignments. To begin the process, they will get the tolerances and specifications for the specific ride they’re working on. They do this by looking through a database of heavy-duty vehicles.

Angles are measured on each wheel using electronic sensors, and these are compared to the specifications that are listed for the vehicle using an alignment machine. Then, technicians will work to adjust different suspension angles. Some of the angles are:

  • Caster: Caster refers to the angle of the steering axis when viewed from the side of a vehicle. A positive caster can occur when the steering axis tilts more toward the driver, and negative caster refers to when the steering axis tilts toward the front of a vehicle.
  • Toe: The toe suspension angle is how much tires are turning inward or outward when viewed from above. Toe-in alignment is when both tires are angled in, and toe-out is the opposite.
  • Thrust: The thrust angle is used to help see if a rear axle is lined up with the front axle and the center of a vehicle. The angle is an imaginary line that comes down from the centerline of the rear axle all the way through the vehicle.

Technicians will check these suspension angles, along with kingpin inclination, axle offset and turning radius. They’ll also do an overview of the suspension system as a whole to ensure there are no broken or overly worn parts.

Why Heavy-Duty Truck Alignment Is Important

There are many reasons why alignment for big rigs and other heavy-duty vehicles is important. One of them is to prevent against irregular tire wear. Misalignment of tires can cause inner and outer tire wear, as well as the tread wearing down too quickly.

Commercial truck tires are expensive to replace (the average cost is around $500 per tire), so maximizing the amount of time they can be used is important, especially for the fleet/vehicle owners. Proper alignment can help ensure that tires are not being replaced prematurely.

Tires that are properly aligned can also improve performance on the road and ensure that rigs are traveling with the highest possible fuel efficiency.

Having proper alignment is also a benefit to truck drivers in many ways. Misaligned commercial vehicles can cause more work for drivers when it comes to keeping the truck moving in the right direction.

Fatigue can also build up with drivers who have to deal with poorly aligned suspensions, so it’s crucial that tires are properly aligned to prevent this from happening.

Signs a Vehicle Needs Alignment

There are several signs that a vehicle needs alignment. The most common ones include:

  • Steering wheel drifting: If the steering wheel is pulling to the right or left while a vehicle is traveling down the road, this can be a sign of misalignment. Keeping the wheel straight shouldn’t require a lot of effort.
  • Abnormal tire wear: As mentioned before, a misaligned vehicle can cause abnormal wear and tear on tires. The tread might start to prematurely come off in unusual wear patterns.
  • Steering wheel vibrations: Vibrations in the steering wheel can be caused by tires that are out of balance or misaligned.

Other signs include noisy steering or squealing tires. If you experience any of these issues, taking your vehicle to a trained auto or diesel technician is important so you can have the problems fixed as soon as possible.

Learn to Perform Heavy-Duty Alignments at UTI

The demand for skilled trade professionals continues to increase. Total diesel technician employment is expected to exceed 290,000 by 2029.48 If working with your hands on big rigs and other diesel vehicles sounds interesting to you, it’s a great time to train for a career in the industry.

Enrolling in Universal Technical Institute’s Diesel Technology program can help give you the education and hands-on experience required in the role. You’ll get to work on all kinds of systems to diagnose and make repairs on diesel vehicles, including vehicle alignments.

The Diesel Truck Steering & Suspension Systems portion of the program introduces students to the servicing of suspension systems. The course provides hands-on instruction on how to perform multiple vehicle alignments.

Students can graduate in less than a year7 prepared for an entry-level career in the industry.1 You can take the first step toward a future you’re excited about when you enroll today. Get more information here!

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