Low-cost tricks for a DIY alignment

After months of chipping away at it a little each night, I had the front end in my 1974 Lotus Europa Twin-Cam Special buttoned up. The next step was front wheel alignment.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2020/02/10/low-cost-tricks-for-a-diy-alignment

If your Europa is anything like a Triumph Spitfire (seemingly identical front suspension setup), then you need to use shims in the subframe mounts to get the correct camber adjustment.

Remember, the edge of the wheel shows less than the wheel. Less radius. Could be a difference of 1/16" to 1/8" with same setting.

I used the tape measure & eye-ball to set the toe on my ITA VW Scirocco for years. Finally took it to a friends alignment shop to do it right, turns out i was 1/32" off!


FYI, the ‘play’ in the hook on the end of a tape measure is supposed to be there. It accounts for the thickness of the hook when alternating between inside and outside measuring. If you are applying tension to both tapes, they should be accurate and you do not need to concern yourself about the wiggliness of the hook end.

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Many years ago I replaced the tie rod end on some American car, don’t recall which. I removed the front tire ( after securely jacking up the car, and simply clamped a long bar to the front brake rotor. I then marked the driveway to show the end of the bar. After reinstalling the tie rod end, I adjusted it until the bar lined up with the mark on the driveway. A 6 ft long bar should guarantee a fair bit of accuracy… There was no problem with alignment.

Glad I held onto my Manco these last 40 years. I did make one upgrade - Even the aluminum channel can sag a bit so I put a piece of aluminum strip stock about 3 feet long nestled in the channel like a splint and used the original screws to fasten. Manco is very straight now.

It seems like we have the technology to take this home DIY alignment to the next level. We can buy a laser level for in-home projects (construction, remodeling or simply hanging pictures) for less than $50. You would think a laser-based home alignment tool could me made inexpensively as well. Maybe it’s just that there’s not enough market to justify the engineering. Kickstarter, anyone? :slight_smile:

Hopefully you meant 1/32" :joy:

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Being self employed everything comes down to what my time is worth - even my ‘‘free’’ time. I’d much rather spend a few bucks and get something like this out of the way and put my focus on the more expensive and time consuming tasks where the rate of return is greatest and the finish line gets crossed sooner. And isn’t that the goal?

I’ve used the toe-in bar method as described with good results. I made one out of an aluminum square section bar. Rather than chalk around the tire to make the scribe line, I put a layer of masking tape around each jacked up front tire near the centerline, then used a ballpoint pen held in a simple clamp to scribe a single line around each front tire. Provided a repeatable toe-in measurement and good driving results.

I can tell you why that style of toe gauge shown in the lead photo has gone obsolete: it’s very operator-sensitive! I had one years ago, used it to set the toe on my car with a brand-new set of tires, then went as a long-hauler on the Power Tour. Came home after 2800 miles, and the front tires were worn out! I had it checked on an alignment machine; it had a HALF- INCH of toe! I use two lengths of conduit and strings now (makes a parallelogram, which helps accuracy). In fact, I added a couple of fishing reels to the conduit. I helps keep the strings taut, and makes it easy to retract the strings when I’m done, without tangling.

noted & corrected… :wink:

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A string, a weight with a pointy tip, and a ruler(square works better). I did a full Subframe and suspension set up on a 68 Camaro. I had camber/caster gauges and alignment heads for the wheels. After that adjustment, toe was easier( I also have sliding plates), which are essential for toe adjustment readings. Laser heads are pinpoint perfect, but are designed for reading across the front. So low ground clearance negates that ability to get a reading. Camber can be done with the string and weight properly placed. Caster is not measurable without a gauge. Toe string, weight and ruler.

I drive a '65 Mustang with a complete Total Control Products coil over front suspension. It generally takes a good specialty shop to do an alignment on it. So my alignment process is this. First, with weight on the car, measure very exactly the distance between the ends of the upper and lower ball joint bolts. This accurately determines ride height. Put the car on jack stands, remove the front tires, put lug nuts back on and snug up brake disks, unhook the front antiroll bar, and lift one side of the front suspension to the ride height as measured between ball joint bolts. For caster, I made a short measuring stick to press against and between the upper and lower ball joint bolts , taking into account the different diameters of each bolt. I set my caster measuring stick against the bolts and parallel with the brake discs and use a digital angle gage to measure the caster angle. For camber, I measure the angle of the brake disc at ride height. For toe, I made two aluminum L shaped plates that are the same length as my tire diameter and clamp them to the brake discs. With both sides at ride height, I use two tape measures stretched equally tight, just like this article to set toe. The TCP setup is very adjustable, but every time you change one measure, like caster, the camber will also change. So its just a matter of adjusting things until all the angles are right where you want them. The first time I did this, I took the car to a good resto alignment shop. The specs came out just as I had set them.

True, but over time the hole in the tape gets stretched (oblong), which is why you want to use 2 new tape measures…preferably identical too.

If you need a substitute for a turntable , four slick cover magazines stacked will provide a very friction free turntable.

Having done alignments on road race, circle track and of course street cars I enjoyed the article. My first was with a broomstick and a long nail. I have a lot of experience with Hunter alignment equipment. It should be pointed out that your specs for toe apply to rear wheel drive cars. Toe should be negative (toed out) on front wheel drive. Also the opening paragraph suggests that improper toe will cause a car to drift or pull. Nope. Pull or drift as you call it is usually a bad tire, caster or camber. Should be pointed out that just “setting the toe and collecting the dough” constitutes an alignment but consumers should know what they are really getting when shopping for an alignment. As the article mentions a complete front end alignment starts at the rear wheels. A complete alignment measures all 4 wheels.

I have been using string and rulers for front and rear toe alignments for about 30 years. It is time consuming, but I think it actually takes less time than driving to an alignment shop and waiting.

Here’s a couple of pics of a homemade setup I used to set the toe-in on my coupe. When I first built the car, I thought I had it close but, 10,000 miles later, I had heavy wear on the inside of the tires and almost none on the outside. So I made this “jig” to check it again. Found that the toe-in was 1/2", which is way too much. The jig consists of two wooden “cradles” that support pvc pipes 24" apart - the diameter of the tires. I then used a string that wrapped around the tire from the back side, and moved it inward until it contacted the front bulge of the tire, being careful about the raised letters on the sidewalls. Repeated it on the other side and measured the distance between the marks. Got it down to 1/8". Seems hokie but it actually worked out quite well. Seems to ride better.