Wheel camber is one of those things that most people do not put a lot of thought into, that is, unless you participate in motorsports. If so, you are probably already aware that changing it by a few degrees can be the difference between finishing first, second, or hitting a wall.
Simply put, making camber adjustments is not for beginners, and if you do not know what you are doing, altering it can make your vehicle handle worse than before.
What we are talking about is how positive, negative, and neutral camber affect your vehicle’s handling, driveability, and when adjusting them can be beneficial. Like many things in life, there are trade-offs, and going one way or the other can help in one situation while being detrimental in another.
For example, increasing positive camber may help you drive in a straight line, but it comes at the expense of your tire’s ability to maintain traction around a turn. Likewise, some factors need to be considered, such as increased wear on your tires and suspension components.
Suffice to say, you can see where this is going.
With that said, finding the ideal camber setting involves a lot of research and trial and error. Not to mention, it is vehicle and application-specific, and what works on the track is generally not going to be ideal for the street.
Here we will cover what negative, positive, and neutral camber mean and when it is advantageous to adjust it.
What Is Wheel Camber?
In simple terms, camber is the inward or outward tilt of your wheels, and it is measured in degrees. While it may not seem like much, adding a few degrees of negative or positive camber can affect your vehicle’s handling and driving characteristics.
However, it should be checked periodically for regular street driving to make sure it is within the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications. For most people, this is done when you have your wheels aligned, and the technician will make adjustments if needed.
However, if you compete in motorsports or drive off-road frequently, a few degrees of negative or positive camber can make a difference.
As mentioned above, there are three types of camber settings, negative, positive, and neutral. We will begin with negative camber, and this is where the wheels are angled outwards, which means a greater percentage of the vehicle’s weight is centered on the inner half of the tire’s tread.
The main reason to run a negative camber is to improve handling when going around a curve as it allows more of the tire’s surface to be in contact with the road. At the same time, it also means that the inner half of the tire will wear out faster.
On the opposite end, there is positive camber, and this is where the wheels are angled inwards. In other words, there is more weight on the outer half of the tire. Positive camber is ideal for heavier vehicles like RVs and tractors as it reduces the amount of steering effort.
Similarly, many front-wheel-drive cars have a degree or two of positive camber since there is more weight over the drive wheels. In addition, dump trucks are often set up the same way as it is needed to balance out the negative camber when they are carrying heavy loads.
As for neutral camber, it is just that, and the wheel is perfectly centered. Going this route maximizes tire life as the weight is evenly spread across the surface.
With that said, it should be noted that aside from drifting and stance applications, camber settings usually do not exceed more than a few degrees in either direction.
Likewise, the amount varies depending on the track conditions and type of vehicle.
Wheel Camber Pros And Cons
- Reduces steering effort and provides extra stability when driving straight (positive camber)
- Helps offset negative camber when carrying heavy loads (positive camber)
- Improves handling and traction when cornering (negative camber)
- Better tread life (neutral camber)
- Wears tires out faster (positive and negative camber)
- Worse handling when going around curves (positive camber) or when driving over rough surfaces (negative camber)
- Causes additional wear on components like the wheel bearings, tires, and CV joints (negative and positive camber)
- Increased risk of a tire puncture (negative and positive camber)
How Does Wheel Camber Affect Handling?
So, how does it affect my car’s handling?
As noted above, positive camber means a greater percentage of weight over the outer half of the tire’s tread. Aside from reducing steering effort and counteracting the negative camber on vehicles that carry heavy loads, it helps minimize the tendency of the tire to pull to one side when driving over bumps and potholes.
While negative camber improves handling around a curve, positive has the opposite effect. In simple terms, the weight shifts to the outer wheels when you are turning, so having a positive camber means the tires have a smaller contact patch with the road.
In other words, they will break traction sooner instead of having a negative camber in the same situation.
Obviously, it is not so straightforward, and there are situations like oval track racing where you would run a combination of positive and negative camber since you are only turning left.
For example, a positive camber on the inside front wheel helps keep the tire planted on the road when going around a turn.
Negative camber means the wheels are pointed towards the outside of the vehicle. Unlike positive camber, this increases the tendency of the car to pull to one side when driving over rough surfaces, although it should be noted that a degree or two will hardly be noticeable in most situations.
Negative camber helps improve handling when going around a curve since the vehicle squats in the direction you are steering. As such, adding a few degrees of negative camber ensures that a greater percentage of the tire tread is planted on the road’s surface.
However, it should be noted that it is more than simply adding a few degrees of negative camber and driving off. There are a number of factors that need to be taken into account, and finding the right amount is not an easy task.
Likewise, what is best in one situation is probably less than ideal in another.
Wheel Camber Adjustment
While camber adjustments are often as simple as loosening (or tightening) a few bolts, there is more to it. First, you need to precisely measure the incremental changes since too much (or too little) can do the opposite of what you are trying to do.
As such, you need a machine that can measure the settings before and after each adjustment. For many of us, this device is known as a four-wheel alignment rack, and they usually cost well over $10,000, so chances are you probably won’t have one in your home garage.
As the process for making camber adjustments varies widely by vehicle and suspension type, we’ll skip over the technical details. But basically, an alignment rack uses bubble levels and other sensors that allow the technician to measure and dial in the camber settings.
Since getting an alignment before and after each race can get expensive and many vehicles have limited adjustment ranges from the factory, many owners install adjustable camber or caster plates.
Likewise, they usually come with many coilovers as well, and they allow you to easily adjust the camber (sometimes caster and toe as well) right before and during a race. In addition, they usually have markings that enable you to accurately dial in the camber without the need for an alignment rack.
The main advantage of camber plates is the ability to fine-tune the suspension settings on all four corners of the vehicle. Considering that every car and track is different, there is no one size fits all, and finding the right amount involves a lot of trial and error and research.
Suffice to say, this is not something for beginners. Camber plates are a good upgrade for street-driven vehicles as they give you more control over your suspension settings.
Not to mention, after the race is done, you can quickly change it to something more appropriate for the street.
Is Cambering Your Wheels Right For You?
In simple terms, all vehicles have camber, although the ideal setting depends on how (and where) you drive. For most of us, there is little need to venture outside of what is recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer.
Simply put, they are optimized to provide a combination of handling, driveability, and tire wear. In addition, most factory setups usually allow for adjustments in either direction, and this is generally enough for occasional off-road or track use.
Aside from that, there are benefits to adjusting your camber in certain situations. However, you should keep in mind that what works on the track is probably not going to be optimal on the street.
Likewise, going a few degrees in either direction will cause even tire wear, and depending on the degree of camber, you may find yourself replacing them every 10,000. Not to mention, frequent alignments and both can get expensive.
With that said, a set of adjustable camber plates is a good investment if you plan on driving your vehicle on the track occasionally. Going this route allows you to play with different settings and find out what works best, although it will take some time and a lot of practice.