Kid Turbo - Camber Kits
Be nice to your tires!
I was sitting at the house this weekend looking over some of the more recent articles I've written and noticed a pattern developing. I've been on a "be nice to your ride" kick for the last few articles. I originally thought I was slacking a bit on the performance and style areas, but that's not the case. Anytime you tend to normal maintenance requirements is a perfect time for upgrades from factory parts since the work needs to be done anyway!
I've received several emails from the Kid Turbo faithful regarding uneven tire wear. The most common complaint is accelerated wear to the inside 3" of the tread. Some say their tires are worn to the point of exposing the steel belts deep inside the tire! Needless to say burnouts at night look pretty cool, but at a price. One thing that all these emails have in common is recently having been lowered with a damper kit, coilover kit, or lowering springs. Bingo! Anytime there is a change to a vehicle's ride height, the geometry of the suspension is affected, altering the angle of contact between tire and ground. If left unchecked, this can eat up a perfectly good set of treads faster than you can say, "They cost how much?" This not only affects your bank account, but also overall safety and performance suffer in a big way. The only part on your car that makes contact with the ground is the tires, and proper contact is essential for optimal handling, braking, and ride quality.
Getting the most from your tires and maximizing your ride's handling and braking performance requires proper vehicle alignment. The alignment process consists of 3 basic parameters: toe, caster, and camber. Toe adjustment keeps the wheels pointed straight down the road. Think of it as standing up straight with your feet shoulder width apart and parallel to each other. This is perfect, straight toe.
Pointing your feet slightly toward each other would be toe-in; away from each other would be toe-out. Caster adjustment positions the wheel forward and rearward. Positive caster positions the wheel closer to the front bumper, and negative caster positions the wheel toward the rear of the fender. Camber adjustments alter the angle of the wheel relative to vertical, as viewed from the front or the rear of the car. If the wheel slants in towards the chassis, it has negative camber; if it slants away from the car, it has positive camber. For instance, if you squat down in front of your car and look down the side at the angle created by the wheel and the ground, you're checking out your vehicle's camber.
All vehicles have manufacturer specifications for proper alignment settings. They usually consist of an acceptable + or - range for your alignment tech to shoot for. If all three settings are within these specs, your ride is aligned correctly per the manufacturer. The ability to adjust toe and caster (if needed) is built into most vehicles' suspension set-ups. Unless you decide to run down a cinder block in the road or take a quick trip up a curb, the factory range of adjustment will be plenty to keep the alignment maintained. Camber adjustments are a different story. Less than half of vehicles manufactured have factory camber adjustability. Even if the adjustability is built into the suspension, typically it's only a small range designed make minor corrections to an otherwise stock suspension. A lowered vehicle will exhibit a certain amount of negative camber (slanting towards the chassis). As the drop increases, so does the amount of negative camber.
So for the sake of the discussion let's say that you just installed a set of coilovers and dropped your ride a modest 2 inches. Depending on your application, you'll most certainly notice some negative camber. After you have the car aligned, caster and toe are within spec, but the camber is not within the specified range. There should normally be a small amount of negative camber present, but it's very little. The spec sheet for the alignment reads -1.8 degrees. That means that your tires are sloped towards the chassis 1.8 degrees past the straight line perpendicular to the pavement. Your tires are no longer making full contact with the ground; they're riding on edge. Driving and braking can feel "floaty" since the tires' contact patches are not flat on the pavement, and tread wears out faster on the inside edges. These issues get exponentially worse the lower you go.
So how do you combat the tire-destroying effects of negative camber on your lowered ride? Camber kits to the rescue! Bolt-on 4-wheel kits allow you to reset the camber angles to their optimum settings. Each kit states the specific range of adjustment possible. How much adjustment you'll need to get back to spec will depend on your specific application, and how much negative camber your desired height will produce. Generally speaking, lowering 1.5 to 2 inches will typically produce between 1.3 and 1.8 degrees of negative camber. The number jumps to -2.5 degrees when lowering hits 3 inches! For some applications, pillow ball mounts replace the factory strut/shock tops with a billet camber correction plate. This is most useful when more precise suspension tuning is needed. Some complete suspension kits either come with the pillow ball mounts or offer them as an upgrade. The bottom line is that you have the ability to correct excessive camber issues without going through a few sets of tires first!
Camber kit installation difficulty varies depending on the complexity of the kit. Simple shim-and-washer designs are a piece of cake for most. Other kits require complete replacement of factory control arms or removal of pressed-in ball joints. It really varies. I would highly recommend professional installation if you have any concerns about doing the job right. Nothing like having your suspension come apart while you're cruising down the freeway!
IN SHORT: If you're looking to lower your ride, pick up a camber kit. Excessive negative camber is not only costly, it's unsafe. Most 4-wheel camber kits cost less than replacing 2 tires! On a side note, if you're looking to hook up your suspension, have a plan of action together from the start. Suspension componants are incorporated together and usually require removing one to get to the other. If you want to have a set of lowering springs installed think about picking up the struts, or at the very least a camber kit, at the same time. Sure, it's an additional expense up front, but consider the installation and alignment costs of doing each mod separately! You'll save some cash and get the full pop from your new performance suspension! *And remember, as general rule, most auto manufacturers recommend having your alignment checked out by a professional every 10,000 miles, or once a year. Until next time. peace out!