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Can An Improper Alignment Decrease Power? - Fact or Fiction

Debunking Tuning Myths

Luke Munnell
Oct 10, 2011

We’re all guilty of it: With the numerous maintenance and legality issues that accompany owning a less-than-new car these days—especially one that’s constantly going under the wrench for upgrades—maintaining a proper alignment often falls to the wayside. We all know how poor alignment can hasten tire wear and impede safety, but some would argue that it can even be robbing your car of power.

Impp 1110 02 o+fact or fiction+dyno integra Photo 2/8   |   Can An Improper Alignment Decrease Power? - Fact or Fiction

The Claim: An improper alignment can decrease power.

The argument is a rational one. Power can most efficiently be directed toward forward motion when a car’s wheels are both facing perfectly forward—with any degree total of toe-in or toe-out would come a corresponding amount of power lost to in- or outward motion, resulting in overall power/torque loss. But just how significant would these losses be? And would changes in camber present any change in power/torque?

Baseline
140.2 whp
127.5 lb-ft of torque

Impp 1110 06 o+fact or fiction+baseline Photo 3/8   |   Can An Improper Alignment Decrease Power? - Fact or Fiction

With our DC2 Integra’s frontend alignment set to near-perfect spec as verified by a laser-guided alignment rack (0.2 degrees toe-in, left and right; 1.5 degrees negative camber), and it secured to the DynoJet rollers at Honda/Acura specialists (and Mazda, and Lotus, and Harley-Davidson, and more) MD Automotive in Westminster, CA, we determined a three-run baseline power average. Implementing the procedures of DIY alignment adjustment laid out on the Import Tuner website (bit.ly/kIJHlb), toe-in and camber were changed, and the car was retested for power.

Impp 1110 04 o+fact or fiction+dyno integra front Photo 4/8   |   Can An Improper Alignment Decrease Power? - Fact or Fiction

Test 1: Toe-in +4 Degrees
-5.7 whp
-5.3 lb-ft of torque

Testing recommenced after the DC2’s toe-in had been increased by 4 degrees in total (+2 degrees left and right)—a pretty drastic amount, but was done to better show changes in power.

Impp 1110 03 o+fact or fiction+dyno integra rear Photo 5/8   |   Can An Improper Alignment Decrease Power? - Fact or Fiction

With the DC2’s frontend still misaligned from the previous test, we dialed in an additional 3 degrees of negative camber, with our KSport adjustable upper camber plates, and retested. This time (as we suspected) power/torque losses were negligible; enough to be considered standard chassis dyno variance.

Test 2: Negative Camber +3 Degrees
-0.3 whp
-0.1 lb-ft of torque

Impp 1110 05 o+KSport adjustable upper+camber arms Photo 6/8   |   Can An Improper Alignment Decrease Power? - Fact or Fiction

The Verdict
For changes in toe, the logic hypothesized before held true, almost to a predictable amount: If at zero degrees all available power could be put toward forward motion, and at 90 degrees (both wheels pointing completely toward or away from each other . . . not possible, but bear with us) no power could be put toward forward motion, we could assume about a 1.1 percent power/torque loss per degree of total change in toe. Camber was different. Sure, it might also hasten tire wear and marginally decrease safety, but it won’t hurt power. Bottom line: While $75 might seem like a lot to spend on a frontend alignment, it’s a small price to pay considering the consequences of forgoing this step of vehicle maintenance.

By Luke Munnell
298 Articles

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