The first time I heard the expression “she corners great” my ears perked up, and I had to spin the words around in my head to get a clear picture of what they meant. The idea that one car was different going around a curve from the way another does had not occurred to me and was a novel idea. Years later, after acquiring a lot more driving experience, the idea that cars handle differently on a curve is easy to understand. The variables that affect the ability of a car to handle the road can be identified and modified. The weight of your vehicle and its distribution, the wheelbase, the steering assembly, speed of the car, and the control of the speed are all variables that impact the ability of the operator to control the vehicle.
The Distribution of Weight
Every vehicle is different, but the laws of physics are the same everywhere. If you put an apple on top of an ink pen and try to stand the pen up on its end, the task will generally be met with failure. How much your car weighs matters and even more important is how that weight is distributed across the axles. When your car navigates a turn the weight of the car shifts and causes the car to lean to the outside of wheels in the curve. For this reason, race tracks are sloped in what is called a “bank.” Banking a curve counteracts the inertia of the car and allows the car to maintain a balanced distribution of weight assisting the drivers in maintaining control of their vehicles.
If you want to give your car an advantage in handling curves, you can lower your car. By keeping your car closer to the ground the weight of the car still shifts, but it the risk of tipping over is greatly reduced. A low center of gravity helps to prevent the inner wheels in the curve from coming off of the ground. The responsiveness of the car is improved with a lowered car for a couple reasons. There is less wind shear on the vehicle when the total height is reduced which also helps improve fuel mileage. With a lower center of gravity, the increased force on the wheels gives the tires better grip on the road for an improved ratio of turns on the steering wheel to the radius of the tire.
To further improve the distribution of weight in your car, you may want to examine the contents. If you have a load of heavy materials or all of the passengers are sitting on one side of the car the responsiveness of the car will be affected. Always consider the cargo when you are preparing for a trip that will involve high speeds and curvy roads.
Grip The Road
If you intend to perform any task, you should make sure you have the tools you need. When it comes to handling the road with aggressive driving, your tires are worthy of your attention. The ability of your tire to grip the road is the primary factor for responsiveness. You can have the tightest steering wheel with the smallest turn radius of any car, but if your tires do not grab the road there is no benefit. Bald tires on pavement are like ski’s on water.
What the right tire looks like for your driving behavior will vary. If you live in an area with many gravel roads, you will need different tires than a highway mileage vehicle. As tires heat up, they get softer and do a better job of grabbing the road. Too soft and they will perform like bald tires. The key is to have the right tire for the environment and the type of road they are driving on.
Cars are designed to meet general operating conditions in all terrains and all environments. You may need to fine tune the specifications of your car to meet the demands you will put on it that are unique to your lifestyle and locations roads. To improve responsiveness of your vehicle you can invest money in aftermarket parts for peak performance.
The steering gear box is designed to translate the turns of the steering wheel into incremental turns in the tires of your steering axle. If you have a long wheelbase, which is the distance of the center of the front wheel of your car to the center of the wheel of your back axle, you are going to need a tighter turning radius. What that means in simple language is that longer cars need the steering tires to turn farther left and right to make the same turn that a short wheel based car will. It is difficult to change the wheelbase of a car, while over-the-road tractor trailers are designed with the ability of the operator to change the wheel base for parking lot turns. They can literally move their axles for the benefit of steering needs. In a vehicle with fixed axles the way to improve the steering radius is to install a more aggressive steering box that gives you less turns on the steering wheel to get to the same full turn of the wheel.
Steering assemblies of cars are not complicated, but they can be very difficult to work on due to their location on the car. If you have noticed that your vehicle does not handle as well as it used to you may want to have the steering components inspected. If the ball joints, drag links, u-joints, gears, or any other parts have worn down you could be losing significant control over your steering. If you want to check for yourself, one step you can take is to sit in your car and simply turn the steering wheel. Get a feel for how much free play is in the steering wheel before the tires start to move left or right. Too much free play can be an indicator of slop in the steering components. Sloppy steering can eventually become a safety hazard. It takes a long time for problems in the steering components to show up. Because the problems are not as common as brakes, there are fewer people who have the technical knowledge to troubleshoot or repair a steering assembly it is wise to take any steering issues to a trained professional. Ray Weatherspoon Automotive is a shop that can handle all of these needs and performs quality work. Don’t let pulling into the wrong garage be one of your steering problems!
The writer of this article, Ray Donato, is an automotive enthusiast who knows all the techniques to get his vehicle operating perfectly. Naturally he can’t handle everything himself, but he knows how he can trust to handle his repairs. If you wish to learn more about Ray you can visit on Google+.