The angles of the wheels to the pavement and to the direction of travel are two important factors in suspension behavior and consequently the way the car will handle. Because these factors have been understood for many years, they are described with the technical terms of “camber” and “toe.”
“Camber” is the angle of the wheel when compared with a vertical line, when the car is resting on its springs. If the top of the wheel leans in towards the car when the car is sitting still, we say that the wheel has “negative camber.” On the other hand, if the top of the tire leans out when the car is sitting still, that would be “positive camber.”
The camber angle is important because it will determine how much of the surface of the tire tread is in contact with the pavement when the car is going around corners. Remember we noted that the car will sway when it is turning, which will cause the inside wheel to go up and the outside wheel to go down.
Since we want as much of the tire to be in contact with the pavement as possible during the turn, we want the wheels to have a little bit of negative camber. That way, even if the weight over a particular wheel is decreased and the angle of the wheel changes as the car tilts in the corner, the full width of the tread will still be in contact with the pavement throughout the turn.
The other angle is called “toe” and measures the extent to which the front edges of the tires point in, or point out, compared to the rear edges of the tires. If the fronts of the tires are closer together than the rear, the wheels are said to “toe in;” if the rear of the tires are further apart than the front, the tires are said to “toe out.”
The extent to which the tires toe in or toe out determines how easy it is to get the car to turn. With toe-out, the car would want to go straight rather than turn, with toe-in, the car will turn more easily.
It’s important to remember that if you change the springs and shocks to lower the car, this will also change the car’s toe and camber. For this reason, most tuners will recommend that you adjust the rear toe and camber at the same time that you lower the car and change its spring rates in order to keep the car’s handling neutral and to minimize tire wear. In addition, you may wish to make changes yourself to increase the ease with which your MINI turns-in on corners.
Two methods exist to change rear toe-in: you can use a rear camber/toe kit to replace some of the rear suspension fasteners, or you can replace the stock rear control arms with adjustable control arms. The rear camber/toe kit is less expensive than the adjustable control arms, but the adjustable control arms give you a little more control of rear camber and toe and are easier to adjust.