Chassis Heeltoe Explains

Do I need a camber kit?

This topic is one of the most frequently asked on one of our major customer sites. So, rather than continue to post wordy replies over and over again, we are making it a tech article!

Do I need a camber kit? The short answer is: If you are worried about your tires, then no. If you are more anal about your car and want all the numbers correct, then yes. For the long answer, keep reading.

Cliff Notes:
So, if you lower the car, the camber will go out and the only way to fix it is with a camber kit. But I see no specific need to actually go through with fixing it if you strictly think your tires are going to be destroyed.
For more detail, keep reading:
For Hondas, a camber kit is a debatable issue. 
When you lower the car, the camber will go out and you need a camber kit to fix it. However, I find it is not necessary to correct the camber in most cases. Most people think they need a camber kit because of a tire-wear concern. The reality is, TOE ANGLE kills tires WAY faster than camber ever will.

Sound like a bold statement? Conventional wisdom is that when you lower the car you need a camber kit if you don’t wanna wear out the tires fast. Well, there is another adjustment/spec here than nobody has mentioned. Caster is another key.

When you lower a double-wishbone car like the 88-00 Civics, 90-01 Integras, Accords, TSX, etc, the camber angle always increases in a negative direction: The wheels tilt inwards. It is what makes the car handle better in turns than strut cars. It is a natural effect of cycling a double-wishbone suspension.

Lowering many cars also increases the toe angle, which is to say it points the tires outward. They kinda fight for direction where the car wants to go.

But also, realize that all cars have some positive caster. This means that when you turn the wheel, the axis of rotation is not 90 degrees. You may notice it more exaggerated on BMWs and Benzes. The best way to view the angle is to turn the wheel all the way to one side, and get out and look at your car. Notice the wheel is turned, but also kind flopped over? Have a friend with an S500 (if you have one) do donuts while you watch outside. The wheels really flop over on those cars!

Think of it like pushing a wheelbarrow. The angle from the axle to the handle is like caster. Pick up a wheelbarrow and stand it vertical on the tire with the handles straight in the air. Now imagine pushing it and trying to turn it. Haha…it just fell on you! Now imagine pushing and turning it normally. Much easier. Much more stable. And when you turn it, the tire is not actually turning. It flops over on its side and leans! That is how your car turns too! That is how motorcycles turn and well.

Caster is great for high-speed stability. That is why all cars have some dialed in. Without it, the car would be super twitchy and hard to control at speed. It’s why autobahn burners have more caster than your typical Japanese car.

The problem is, when you lower the car and toe angle is thrown out, the wheels are actually riding on the inside edges of the tire as they grind away pulling the car in different directions! This is in addition to the increased camber effect! With an improper alignment, the car will WASTE tires in a matter of months (or weeks if you drive like me).

The trick to lowering the car and having the tires last is to get a good 4-wheel alignment to fix the toe angle.¬†I AM COMPLETELY SERIOUS when I say that, as an authorized Tein distributor, 9 times out of ten ¬†we do not sell a camber kit. I have had over a dozen hondas, all lowered and most lowered past 2″. I have never had a camber kit on ANY of my cars. The ONLY car that I had a problem with tires with was my 94 accord which I had never aligned. Go figure.

Camber will tend to wear tires out somewhat quicker than stock, but generally speaking, with a good toe alignment, the increased wear will not be cumbersome or even really significant. The added camber actually makes the car handle a little better. Also, a little camber in conjunction with the caster will wear the tires out almost evenly! So why get rid of it?

Here are some images to illustrate what I mean.

In this image, you can see where the inside and outside of the tire are. The red dots are there to help you identify the wear-indicators inside the tire grooves. When the tires wear down to these wear-bars, you know it is time to replace the tires. These tires are almost there:

Now, you can see how the tire is worn more toward the inside…that’s camber wear. This customer was driving on this tire, with the car lowered moderately with a good alignment. He has not maximized tire wear, but clearly he has not greatly suffered either. No camber kit was installed.

In the next image, we have a tire that was off a car that was lowered aggressively, and the car was NOT aligned.

Look how aggressively the tire has worn on the inside edge. The cords are even showing. This wear is caused by the TOE angle. The direction of wear here is dramatically different than a camber-worn tire. This type of wear will kill a brand new set of tires in a matter of months. Mistakenly, people will lower their cars, not align them, get this wear, and blame it on the camber. The timeline continues when the customer buys a camber kit, installs it, and the wear goes away. Must have been the camber kit, right? It was the toe, people. Also note, this is a front tire.

With a drop under 1.75″, you should not need to even worry about it, because a drop of that much will not even throw the car out of factory camber specs! But that toe will be in the red every time!

Other things of note!

Camber and Caster are not adjustable on our Honda cars! I think we already know that, but I was just noting it. Toe is fully adjustable front and rear.

Front tires always wear faster than rear ones. The wheels back there are just freewheeling. There is little weight on them and the is no load/torque on them. Traction is not an issue and wear is nearly non-existent. If you are going to get a camber kit for your Honda, you only really need it in the front.

Some people wonder why Hondas do not have camber-adjustable pillow mounts available.¬†The reason is simple. It’s that Double-Wishbone suspension thing again. Cars that have camber adjustable pillow mounts available are all MacPherson strut suspension cars. In a MacPherson car, where struts are used, the damper locates the steering knuckle; it itself is a suspension member. In a Double-Wishbone car, upper and lower arms locate the knuckle, and the shock and spring are attached to one of the arms to provide dampening. So you see, with arms locating the knuckle, moving the shock around really does not change any alignment angles. So having camber adjustable upper pillow mounts on these applications is utterly pointless.

Alignment shops are like body shops. Most of them suck, but they are a necessary evil in our world. The trick is to find a good one you like. I hear a lot of good things about West-End. There are a couple in South Orange County here I recommend. I know a lot about alignments because I did them at work for a while. I wish I had an alignment machine JUST so I could do my own now!

Negative camber is visually apparent from outside the car.¬†This is a big deal for some people. Likewise, I am not trying to tell people that lowering the car will not result in negative camber which is out of spec. All I am saying is that is does not have a big impact. Really, to fix the looks and alignment numbers, you’d need a camber kit. Some people just have different priorities.

That’s it for this posting. Thanks for reading! Feel free to reply!