Do-It-Yourself Alignment Guide

By George Beasley

(From a posting to the AMC-List electronic mailing list, July 7, 1998)

    For materials you’ll need a long string and a sheet of Masonite. Cut the Masonite into squares. Use two squares under each front wheel, polished side to polished side. This allows the wheels to move around and not bind up when you make adjustments.

    Set camber, caster and toe-in in that order, because each affects the others in that order. With a power steering car, crank in as much positive caster as possible with the strut rods. Then, according to how sportingly you drive, you can set the camber.

    Anchor the string at the back end of the car somewhere. The string needs to be at a height equal to the center of the axles and parallel to the side of the car. Make sure that it is parallel. Measure from the sidewalls of the rear tire to the string; it should be the same. Now you are ready to see what you’ve got.

    You can check the camber now. Use a stick or a board 90 degrees to the ground (straight up) at the string. Measure from the top of the wheel to the stick and then from the bottom of the wheel to the stick. If there is a difference, it is camber. If the top of the wheel is closer to the stick, it’s positive camber. If the bottom is closer to the stick, it’s negative camber. By measuring the distances, you can mathematically calculate the degrees of camber. You adjust camber with the eccentric bolts on the inner end of the lower control arms.

    At the front of the car, measure from the rear of the front tire sidewall to the string. Write that measurement down. Now, measure from the front sidewall to the string and write that measurement down. Compare the two measurements. (And you are going to have to do this to both sides of the car, so don’t get carried away on one side.) If the front measurement is greater than the rear measurement, you have toe-in. Some toe-in is good. There should be about
1/16 difference between the measurements. If there is a huge difference, that is probably your problem. You have to adjust the tie rods to make it change.

    The tie rods, if it has been a long time since it had an alignment, will probably need to have their threaded parts well lubricated with WD-40 or some penetrating lubricant. Then the clamping bolts that hold the adjusting sleeves have to be loosened. Get things loosened to where you can rotate the sleeves with a pair of pliers or even your hands. Make your adjustments. Also check to see if something is bent under there. Alignments usually don’t change all by themselves. Anyway, do half of your adjusting on one side then go through the same procedures on the other side of the car and make what adjustments are necessary to get about
1/8 toe-in total for both sides.

    Once you string your car, you may never go to an alignment shop again.

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