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Alignment Issues

I have a 2004 Pontiac Vibe with about 120,000 miles. I buy my tires at Costco and last week took the tires in for their scheduled rotation. I hadn’t noticed, but the front 2 tires were worn down to the treads on the inside of the tires. I was told that there was a seriously bad alignment issue with my car and that my tire warranty was voided. This is frustrating to me since I just had new brakes and alignment done by my mechanic less than 6 months ago (same time I bought the tires). This will be the third time I will have to have a realignment done in the past 2.5 years. Is this a problem with my mechanic? Is this a problem with my driving? Is there an engineering design flaw in Vibes? Or is there something else that I need to have the mechanic check that could be causing this issue?

You need to get it aligned somewhere else. Either your mechanic does not know how to do an alignment, his alignment rack itself needs to be aligned (calibrated) or you are a really rough driver, hitting a lot of curbs or potholes etc.

It is not a design flaw, but it is also possible that something is worn out that has not been detected and all the alignments are invalid. For example, this vehicle uses the new design lower control arm with the vertical bushing at the rear that acts as a trailing arm. If that bushing was worn out, the wheels would walk back and forth in the wheel wells and alignment would be impossible.

If some boy racer previously owned the car and put in a camber kit to cause the tops of the tires to lean in, that would cause the wear pattern you have, but that should have been pointed out to you. The car might have been in a wreck and can’t be aligned properly, but again, that should have been pointed out to you.

Also, do you keep your tires properly inflated? Low tire pressures cause excessive wear. Potholes can throw out alignments. Aggressive cornering will wear front tires faster. First I would find a good alignment shop and have them do a 4 wheel alignment and make sure it’s in spec.

How many miles did you put on the tires in those 6 months, more than 6000 miles? How do you drive? Mostly highway (I’d guess most likely)? Mostly twisty back roads (I’d guess unlikely)?

The car is supposed to have a small amount of negative camber at the front. Camber is the tilt of the tire as sen from the front of the car. Negative is “leans in at the top” and positive is “leans out at the top” whether left of right side.

Negative 0.6 degrees for this car is nominal but it can be as high as -1.2 degrees and still be in spec. If you drive mostly highway it will wear down the inner rib much faster than the outer if the car has too much negative camber. To prevent this wear the car needs to be set to no more than 0.40 degrees negative camber and better to set it close to -0.10 on both sides. Side to side needs to be very close. The rear should be at about -1.0 degrees (the minimum spec) as well for mostly highway driving.

If you like hitting the twisties occasionally, set it to the middle of the range at -0.60 front and -1.5 rear camber. Ask your alignment guy about this. Tell him what I suggested. If he gives you a blank look, go find better tech. Rotate your tires at every oil change in either case.

I bought a 2005 Pontiac Vibe in 2007 with only 17K on the clock and it had alignment problems. It wore the front tires out rather quickly and we parted ways with the little car after about a year. I had it in several alignment shops and never did get a clear answer as to why they couldn’t get the alignment straightened out. Design flaw…maybe as I have seen many Vibes and Toyota Matrix with oddly worn front tires.

Wear on the inside edges of the tires means that:
There is too much negative camber or
There is too much toe-out or
Something is worn in the suspension and/or steering an performing an alignment is an exercise in futility.

If you have printouts on the alignment you need to look at the camber and toe readings to see how much negative is involved.

Is this a problem with my mechanic?
Very possible–especially if very few miles elapsed between the last alignment and the “discovery” of the excessive wear patterns.

Is this a problem with my driving?
We can’t observe your driving patterns and habits, but this is also a possibility.

Is there an engineering design flaw in Vibes?
Based on what missileman reported, there could well be a design problem with these cars.

In the era of Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems, it seems that fewer and fewer people are regularly checking their tire pressure manually these days, and that is a MAJOR mistake.

TPMS was never intended as a substitute for a driver doing regular pressure checks of his tires and correcting the inflation when a problem is found. TPMS is there to warn you of sudden catastrophic pressure loss in your tires, and you still need to get “up close and personal” with your tires ever few weeks.

When you get “up close and personal” with your tires in the course of checking (and correcting) inflation, you also get a chance to see how evenly the tire tread is wearing on each tire. Surely finding uneven wear patterns sooner is better than finding it so late that you wind up voiding the warranty on the tires.

Allow me to confirm, that the Pontiac Vibe, and its sister the Toyota Matrix, have a design flaw in that the alignment specification calls for a degree and a half camber in the rear. My experience is that any camber over 1 degree can lead to tire wear issues.

Unfortunately, many cars nowadays specify over a degree of camber - and while it does provide better handling, it does that at the expense of tire wear.

It would be advisable to have an alignment shop dial out as much camber as possible.

Oh, and if the alignment shop says they can’t adjust the camber because the factory didn’t provide adjustment, find another shop.

Thanks @CapriRacer because I always knew something was wrong but no alignment shop would state the exact problem. It was a great little car…except for the fact that it ate tires. I’m glad that I got rid of it when I did.