So I take it that you have seen cars with slanted or angled out tires. Looks pretty ridiculous huh? Why do people even angle out their tires like that?
If this is in your mind now, then you are at the right place. I will discuss the what’s, whys and how’s of these tires. I also had the same questions when I saw these kinds of tires!
Quick answer, some cars have the bottom of their wheels slanted outward to improve handling performance – also known as negative camber. Cars with negative camber maximize contact between its tires and the road surface when cornering – further increasing grip for the driver to corner faster.
Now let’s break down camber into smaller topics so we all can understand.
What’s Car Camber?
Car camber is the angle of your car tires relative to its vertical axis – basically the inward and outward angle of your tires.
Positive camber means the bottom of your tires are angled inward. Whereas negative camber is when the bottom of your tires are angled outward (the commonly weird looking ones on the road)
Look at this image below to distinguish them.
Positive Camber Vs Negative Camber
But why do people want positive or negative camber? They both have their pros and cons and are suitable for different scenarios. Let’s discuss negative camber first.
Negative camber is when the bottom of your tires are angled outward.
We do this to maximize the contact point between the tires and the road when cornering. Thus, improving cornering abilities and allowing you to corner at much higher speed. Let me explain more.
You see, to have the best performance on the road, your tires must have maximum contact with the road – this applies to acceleration, braking and cornering. The contact point between tires and road is called contact patch.
Higher contact patch means that tires have more grip and traction on the road – providing you more control when driving at higher speed.
When a car has a neutral camber and is driving straight, it has a maximum amount of contact patch (majority of the tires are in contact with the road). This is great.
However, when a car takes a corner, your tires turn and the weight of the car shifts heavily to one direction. This means the overall contact patch for your car is reduced. And if you want to corner fast, you don’t want this.
Enter negative camber. With negative camber, your car tires are slanted when going straight but it becomes well aligned (perpendicular) with the road surface when you take a corner.
This means a negative cambered car performs best when taking a corner because the contact patch is maximized when cornering.
Refer to the image below to understand what I mean when I say negatively cambered tires become perpendicular with the road surface when cornering. Thus, maximizing contact patch, grip and traction.
Of course, that’s not all. There are many more pros and cons on negative camber. Let’s list all of them here.
Pros of negative camber:
- Improved handling. Tires that slanted out due to negative camber will become perpendicular (aligned) to the road surface when a car is cornering. This means the tires have maximum contact to the road surface – increasing grip, traction and cornering performance. Allowing you to go at higher speed on a corner.
- Potentially lesser tire wear. Tires with negative camber have more contact on the road when cornering. This means the load is more spread out – reducing tire wear on the long run. Though, this only happens if you have a slight negative camber and usually do a lot of cornering. Excessive negative camber can actually cause even more tire wear!
- Lesser braking. With increased traction and grip during cornering, you will have much more control when cornering. Which means you won’t need to brake as much when doing it.
- Looks cool. Some people think it’s cool and unique! This really depends on you. But hey, you don’t often see negatively cambered cars on the road do you? It’s a head-turner for sure.
Cons of negative camber:
- Reduced braking and acceleration performance. Negative camber really shines when cornering. But when going straight, a negatively cambered car will have less contact on the road – causing braking and acceleration to worsen.
- Potentially more tire wear. This really depends on how you drive. But if you are always driving straight, then you will have more tire wear. Negative camber will reduce contact patch when going straight. Thus, focusing all the pressure and friction on a smaller area on your tire. If you apply negative camber on your daily driver, this point is for you.
- Wheels can break loose. With negative camber, your wheels are placed at an awkward position. Slam it hard enough and you risk having your wheels breaking loose.
- Less stable. With negative camber, your car will be less stable when driving straight. This means you will likely feel awkward when going over road debris and bumps with negative camber.
- Increased risk of tire puncture. Smaller contact patch when driving straight means that the load of the car is supported by a smaller section of the tire. Any small object on the road that’s sharp enough can now cause a puncture on your tire because a smaller section means more pressure is applied when you run over something.
Positive camber is when the bottom of your tires are angled inward.
This is usually seen in larger vehicles like tractors or off-roading trucks because positive camber helps in making steering much lighter – especially if the vehicle is old and does not have power steering.
Also, a positive camber makes your car much more stable when driving straight because the tires will be pulling themselves inside as you drive – especially true if you are driving straight on an uneven surface.
Do you see how positive and negative cambers are the exact opposite? You won’t see positive camber on daily street cars because the steering and stability from a neutral camber is already good enough for 100% of street drivers.
Pros of positive camber:
- Lighter steering. This benefit is only seen on bigger and heavier vehicles like tractors, trucks and busses. Daily street cars with power steering don’t need a positive camber for steering.
- More stable on an uneven surface. Positive camber makes car tires to pull themselves inward. When driving straight on an uneven surface, this helps in making sure your car is stable.
Cons of positive camber:
The cons of positive camber are very similar to negative camber. The only main difference is that positive camber reduces handling performance whereas negative camber increases them.
- Poor handling. When a car is cornering, body roll occurs – weight of the car shifts to the outside tires ( Eg. When cornering left, weight of a car shifts to the right side). Positive camber makes the outside tires to have less contact with the road. This reduces grip and traction for the outside tires who need to bear the maximum weight during cornering.
- More tire wear. Instead of using the entire surface of the tires, positive camber only makes use of the outer portion. This increases pressure and friction on those portions – causing quicker and uneven tire wear.
- Wheels can break loose. Wheels are placed in an awkward position when you have positive camber. Increasing the chance of broken wheels or suspension if you slam it hard enough.
- Increased risk of tire puncture. With positive camber, the weight of your car is focused only on the outer portion of your tire. This increases the chance of puncture when going over any sharp objects.
Is Too Much Camber Illegal?
Negative or positive camber in moderation is not illegal. However, if done to the extreme then it won’t be surprising if you get pulled over by traffic cops for questioning.
The weird looking cars you see on the road that have slanted wheels have tweaked their camber to the extreme. As long as you don’t have your tires looking like that, you will be fine.
How Do You Adjust Camber In Your Car?
You need to install a camber bolt on each tire (control arm) to make your car camber adjustable. After that’s installed, you need to tweak the bolt to get the camber you want.
You could use measuring tools like camber gauge for accurate measurement. Even better if you could install the camber bolt yourselves to save cost and then bring it to a shop for a realignment of the tires and camber.
One camber bolt costs about $15 on Amazon. So if you need 4 camber bolts – quick maths, that will be $60 for the camber bolts (I actually used a calculator).
And then another $20 for a camber gauge. Installing the bolts is free if you do it yourself (duh). Otherwise, they probably cost a whooping $150 if you have them installed in a shop.
Here’s a YouTube video showing you how to install camber bolts and then use it to adjust your camber.
How Much Camber Is Good?
If you are thinking of a positive camber on your daily driver, then don’t do it. There’s no reason why you should use a positive camber on your daily driving street car.
You won’t get additional stability and will reduce cornering ability. Instead, keep it at 0° neutral camber.
If you want a negative camber for better handling performance then I suggest to go for it but don’t go to the extreme. Typically, you want to have more negative camber on the front wheel than the rear.
Good negative camber should be -2° on the front and -1° on the rear. Anything more than this and you are going to the extreme and risk tire damage.
When Do You Really Need Camber?
You will not need a positive camber if you are driving on the street using your daily car – it’s only for bigger trucks and tractors or specific racing usage.
You may want a negative camber if you regularly go tracking. If you want improved handling on your daily driver, then I suggest you look into other performance mods instead. Look only for negative camber if you have installed other performance mods and you don’t mind the potential tire wear.
Things like lowering springs or coilovers are both great suspension mods that can greatly improve your car cornering performance. I have an article discussing coilovers and lowering springs here. Are Coilovers Good For Daily Driving?