If you’re into car modding, you’ve probably heard of negative camber or camber in general. Depending on whom you talk to, some (or a lot of) negative camber is the-be all, end-all solution to every possible grip issue out there.
As always, the truth is a bit more complicated than that. While negative camber does play a part in improving vehicle stability, it’s easy to go overboard and cause more harm than good. In this section of the eEuroparts.com Car Owners’ Manual, we’ll take a closer look at camber, what it is, and how it affects the performance of your car.
What Exactly Is Camber?
Car suspension, even a double wishbone setup, is a fairly simple system of individual components that work together to keep your vehicle stable on the road and to soak up any road imperfections you’re driving over. That being said, there’s more to suspension than absorbing vertical kinetic energy caused by bumps or potholes. The suspension also dictates how your car tracks.
Every wheel has a camber, caster and toe value. Camber represents the angle of the wheel in relation to the vertical axis of the car, while toe represents the horizontal angle of the wheel relative to your trajectory. Caster dictates where the wheel’s steering axis is, in relation to the vertical axis. We’ll talk about toe amd caster another time. For now, let’s focus on the camber.
How Does Camber Affect Your Car?
Camber can be positive, neutral, or negative. When the camber is negative, that means the top of the wheel is tucked in, while the bottom of the wheel is shifted slightly out. Positive camber means that the bottom of the wheel, where it meets the road, is tucked in while the top of the wheel is sticking out. With neutral camber, the bottom of the wheel is perfectly aligned with the top of the wheel.
Each of these settings has its pros and cons. Generally speaking, going negative improves stability at the expense of tire wear and comfort, while slight positive or neutral camber does the opposite.
Most cars out there run a small amount of positive camber when they roll off the factory floor. There are two reasons for this. For one, slight positive camber makes steering at low speeds much easier, which reduces the stress on the steering rack. More importantly, slight positive camber ensures even tire wear, allowing your tires to last longer overall.
Benefits of Negative Camber
While most people associate negative camber with the whole stance subculture, changing the vertical inclination of your wheels goes beyond superficial aesthetics. In fact, introducing negative wheel inclination, or camber, will improve your car’s ability to handle cornering. Here’s how.
When you enter a corner, the weight of the car shifts to the outer wheel, thus loading the suspension. As the suspension loads up, the angle of the wheel changes, often moving into positive camber territory. Too much positive camber during cornering can reduce the size of the contact patch.
Introducing negative camber means better stability while cornering. Instead of moving into positive camber territory under load, you can now optimize the size of the contact patch and stay in that neutral to slightly negative camber territory.
How Much Is Too Much?
Negative camber, just like most things in life, is something you can have too much of. In fact, too much negative camber can greatly decrease your car’s performance, despite the obvious “stance” appearance. The reason why this happens is simple — you’re reducing the size of the contact patch.
Here’s a short summary of what happens when you introduce too much negative camber:
- Reduced Grip – By reducing the size of the contact patch, you’re also reducing the amount of grip you have while cornering. After a certain camber threshold, the drop in grip can be quite severe to a point where the car isn’t safe for spirited driving, or most driving at all for that matter.
- Tire Wear – Lots of negative camber also shifts the contact patch from the middle of the tire tread, where it normally sits, to the inside portion of the tire. Depending on how much negative camber there is, the contact patch can shift all the way to the inside shoulder of the tire, causing all kinds of grip issues. Any of these scenarios will cause faster tire wear.
- Suspension Issues – While some negative camber won’t affect your suspension, too much can mess with your suspension geometry. Remember, in order to get more camber, you’ll need to use camber kits which will change your suspension geometry if you go too far.
What’s the Optimal Amount of Negative Camber?
This has got to be the most common question regarding camber, but it’s also the most difficult one to answer. The optimal amount of camber depends on a whole range of things, including the amount of downforce your car produces, the type of tires you run, and most importantly, the type of track you’re driving on.
That’s right, most professional teams adjust the camber on their cars depending on the configuration of the track.
For the most part, you’ll be somewhere between -1 degrees and -2 degrees on the extreme end. That is, of course, if performance is what you’re after. Aesthetic camber is a whole different ball game.
How Can You Tell When You’ve Applied Enough Negative Camber?
The absolute best way to tell if you’ve found the optimal amount of camber is to monitor the temperature of your tires. Temperature is a good indicator of where the contact patch is, and how much of your tire is being engaged as you corner. Too much heat in one place in one portion of the tire is bad. What you’re looking for is even heat distribution across the entire width of the tire.
That being said, not everyone can pull such sophisticated measurements. The old-school tried and true way of figuring out camber is to monitor how your tires wear out over time. This is also the slowest, and probably the most expensive way to dial in camber, for obvious reasons.
Setting Camber Through Coilovers?
There are two main ways to set camber— camber kits and coilovers. Camber kits include special control arms that allow you to manually set the amount of camber you want. Needless to say, these kits are on the expensive side, but they’re often the easiest to use.
The other way to get negative camber is to install a set of coilovers on your car, and then lower the car. The unwritten rule of coilover induced camber is that you get around 1 angle of negative camber for every inch you lower the car. However, it’s imperative that you inspect your alignment whenever you make any changes of this type to your suspension.
Negative Camber — Yay or Nay?
Overall, negative camber can be helpful as long as you’re realistic with your expectations. Of course, if you’re going for a certain look, that’s cool as well, but you have to accept the consequences that come with such a decision. For the performance-oriented crowd, you can find a variety of coilovers in our catalog, which will help you attain that negative camber easily. We offer coilovers and suspension products made by some of the leading brands in the business. Use our car selection tool, and you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.