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Roadside Jerry
Roadside Jerry, Auto Mechanic
Category: Car
Satisfied Customers: 2948
Experience:  Auto Mehanic 39 years,30 with the NYPD Fleet Service Division
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anyone know how to do an alignment old school, with a string

Customer Question

anyone know how to do an alignment old school, with a string and level?
Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Car
Expert:  Roadside Jerry replied 8 years ago.

Hi,here is some information on how it can be done.

This describes the process of doing a 4-wheel alignment on your car. This procedure will allow you to set camber, tracking, and toe. Using this procedure you will set toe on all 4 wheels individually and with respect to the chassis centerline. This means your thrust angle (tracking) will also be correct when you are finished. The procedure assumes that subframes and unibody are square and true. If your chassis is damaged "out of true" the procedure will still work, but your thrust angle may be incorrect. . You may also use this DIY to set thrust angle and toe even if you do not intend to change camber. The order of the procedure is important, so follow the steps. Please note that an alignment is required any time that you change any parameter or component in the suspension, with the exception of sway bars. If you don't align afterwards you will have driveability issues, uneven and/or excessive tire wear, and possible reduced fuel economy.

. This method has been used for many decades, and is still used by most racing teams.


Tools & Supplies

* camber gauge (optional)
* level
* 7' straight edge (can be straight lumber)
* (4) jack stands
* (2) 10' lengths of 3/4" or 1" metal electrical conduit
* (4) 12"x12"x2" concrete block (optional, but highly suggested)
* (16-20) 12"x12"x1/8" commercial floor tiles
* a couple of 12"x12" pieces of plywood (optional)
* string (fly fishing line works great)
* (4) jackstands
* hydraulic jack
** steering wheel locking device (highly suggested)
* 6" or 12" scale with 32nd or 64th gradations

Estimated time
* 3-4 hours for your first time, includes initial setup
* 45 minutes to an hour with experience

Initial setup

Make slide plates for each wheel by putting grease between two 12"x12" floor tiles.

Measure 2 feet in from the edge of the metal conduit and drill a small hole through the conduit. Make sure to drill through both walls. Later you will feed the string through these holes and tie it off.

Step 1: Level Your Work Area

Park your car on a flat, level surface. Jack car up and support with jack stands. Car must be high enough to place concrete blocks, slip plates, and a few leveling shims (if required). We are using the 2" thick concrete blocks to raise the car off the ground just enough so that you can easily get to the adjustment turnbuckles later.

Now slide the concrete blocks under the tires. Measure for level from left to right, front to back, and shim accordingly.

Left to right:

user posted image

Front to back: (notice my level isn't long enough; it is sitting on top a 7' length of straight timber)
user posted image

When everything is leveled, place a slide plates that you previously made beneath each wheel (on top of the concrete blocks and leveling shims). Starting with either the front or rear of the car, remove the jack stand and slowly lower the car onto the slide plates.

CAUTION! It is possible for the car to slide plates to allow the car to slip off of the concrete blocks. Take your time and pay attention to what you are doing. I cant be held liable for carelessness.

At this point all four tires of the car should be resting on the slide plates.

Step 2: Center and Immobilize Steering Wheel

Center the steering wheel where you want it. Notice the slide plates will move as you turn the steering wheel. The slide plates that you made also allow the suspension to "settle" into its natural state. Once centered, it is suggested that you immobilize the steering wheel. I use a steering wheel holder that I got on Ebay for about $20.

After you have locked the steering wheel give a light tug outward on the front of each wheel. If you have any play in the tie-rods this will take it up and place the wheel in the position is would be in when loaded by driving.

Steering wheel holder & pedal depressor kit:
user posted image

Steering wheel locked:
user posted image

Step 3: Check Camber

T. The suspension components that you have will determine the method of camber adjustment. There are many variations of suspension components; stock, aftermarket struts and springs, camber kits, and coilovers.
There are many ways to get the camber angle, but I suggest utilizing a camber gauge. I use a $40 model available at Racer Parts Wholsale.

Because we carefully leveled the car previously, a less expensive bubble level type of camber gauge may be used. There are digital camber gauges on the market that will allow you to check camber while the car is not level. These camber gauges start at about $200. You can also find camber using a plumb-bob, scale, and trig tables.

Positive camber is when the top of the tire leans outward from the car. Negative camber is when the top of the tire leans inward.

Example of negative camber:
user posted image

You want to be careful with the amount of camber that you introduce. Negative camber, especially on the front wheels will help with grip while cornering, because the tire on the outside of the turn will have a larger contact patch while cornering. However, camber (negative or positive) will decrease straight line stability and impair braking because as the tire leans in or out the contact patch is reduced.. A little bit of negative camber on the rear wheels will also help with grip while cornering. . If you do not intend to race your car, then the manufacturer's recommended camber settings should be used.

holding the camber gauge against the wheel:
user posted image

Step 4: String it up!

Set 1 jack stand at each corner of the car as shown below. Rest conduit across jack stands left to right. Thread string through holes previously drilled in conduit, and tie off at both ends. For sting, I use a neon yellow Dacron fly fishing line (20 lb. Test). It is highly visible, is very good for this application, and costs about $3 for 100 yards. You may need to use some kind of needle to thread the string through the conduit. Take up the slack in the sting so that it doesn't sag, but don't pull it too tight.

I'm all strung out:
user posted image

Raise jack stands so that the string runs through the center of the hub on all four wheels as shown here:
user posted image

Square it up! Now use your scale to measure the distance from the hub to the string. You need to move the jack stands and conduit until the distance from the hub to the string is equidistant. The measurements for the front wheels will be different than that of the rear, but still need to be equidistant. In other words, the distance between the hub of the driver's side front wheel and the string must be equivalent to the distance between the hub of the passenger's side front wheel and the string. This measured distance may not be the same for the rear wheels, but the distance from the hub of the driver's side rear wheel to the string must equal the distance between the hub of the passenger's side rear wheel and the string. This will take a little while to get set up. You need to measure all four wheels each time you move the string. Note the conduit helps here because when you move one side the opposites side moves the equivalent distance. Measure, repeat, measure, repeat, and so on until it's all square. Once the string is squared, don't move it! If you move the string,bump into the jack stands, conduit, etc... you will have to set it up all over again. This is particularly important later when you are crawling under the car to make adjustments.

Measure from the hub:
user posted image

Step 5: Measure and Set Toe, and Tracking

Toe is arguably the most important suspension setting. Very small amounts of to can drastically affect the driveability of the car and tire life. Toe-out is when the front of the tires are pointing away from each other as viewed from above the car, and toe-in is when the front or the tires are pointed toward each other. A small amount of toe-out can improve the way a car enters the turn, but will decrease straight line stability. Whereas toe-in will make it harder for the car to turn and generally increase straight line stability.

Now that the string is squared up around the car, and you have previously locked the steerign wheel in place you are ready to measure for toe. Measure from the edge of the rim at the font of wheel to the string and record the measurement. Then measure from the edge of the rim to at the back of the wheel to the string and record the measurement. If the wheel is closer to the sting at the front than it is at the back then you have toe-out. If the back of the wheel is closer to the sting then you have toe-in. To find the amount of toe, simply subtract the smaller of the recorded measurements from the larger. Note: you may measure from the back of the rim first if you wish. It doesn't matter what order you proceed in, but try to be consistent to avoid errors.

Back of rim to string:
user posted image

Now that you have determined toe, you may need or want to make adjustments. . Generally, I adjust the tie rod at ½ turn, then measure toe. Continue to adjust and measure until you get the toe setting that you want. Then tighten the lock nut. Note: You will want to set the toe on the drivers side the same as the toe on the passenger's side. This will ensure proper tracking (more about this later). Also, remember that you set toe on each side for ½ of total toe. For example if you want 1/8" of toe-out on the front wheels, you would set each wheel at 1/16" toe-out.

Front tie rod:
user posted image

The process for measuring and setting toe for the rear wheels is the same as the front with the exception of the adjustment point. . When toe is set where you want it, tighten the lock nuts.

Rear Toe Adjuster:
user posted image

Finally, an additional benefit to the string method of alignment is that once you have set toe according to the previous instructions, the four wheel tracking will be correctly set. Because the string is "square" around the car, and because you are setting equivalent amounts of toe on the driver's and passenger's sides all toe settings are centered around the centerline of the chassis. Therefore when you drive down a straight, flat road and hold the steering wheel centered, the car will track straight.

Thank you for reading. I hope that you find this useful. Take your time, and think it through, and you will be happy with the results.