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Low-cost tricks for a DIY alignment

Correction: the wear on my tires was on the outside, not the inside. Rotated them side-to-side afterward and the wear seems to be evening out.

Or, I’ve used square floor tiles finished sides sandwiched together with a bit of grease between them for lubricant. Does a pretty good job as turn plates.

Why not get one of those laser room measuring devices, hold it up against one rim, and ping the other rim in a spot an equal height off of the floor? Repeat for the back part of the rim. I saw one for $40 with an accuracy to 1/16".

I must admit I didn’t read this too thoroughly… and maybe some/all of you know this, but for a FWD vehicle one wants about a 1/8" total toe-OUT!

I had a cute little '90 Honda Civic 4-door and have used the “string method” with great success for decades. Adjusting the the toe-in on the Civic didn’t seem to cause much of a problem initially until it rained. The car was uncontrollable!

Due to the slight slop on an IFS and torque applied on the half-shafts by the tires, the wheels tend to want to arch in towards each other when accelerating. When they are toe-ed in already, it toes-in more and the fight causes a great deal of traction loss, especially in the wet.

I don’t know if this is a universal phenomenon, but it sure was applicable to my car.

An interesting article and comments confirming that many of us have attempted the challenge of doing a DIY wheel alignment and have developed our own creative ways of doing this. It appears that a lot of you do the same thing as me, try to get it close by measurement and then fine tune by road tests. My shop manuals for my three Ford vehicles all describe measuring toe in at the wheel rim edge, not the tire sidewall or the tire tread. Measuring at the wheel vs the tire will give different toe in measurements for the same angle of toe in. To get an accurate measured toe in to compare to the specifications, the toe in should be done according to the reference point (wheel or tire) intended in the vehicle specification, or adjust the specification for the different radius. Here is how I measure toe in at the wheel rim, avoid many of the issues described in this article, and usually get very close to a final road test tweak. I use a board longer than the width of the wheels, a square with a pointer clamped to it (see picture below), a pencil, and a short ruler. Set up as in the picture with the board in front of the wheels and mark the board at the base of the square. Move the square to the other side of the car and again mark the board at the base of the square. Now place the board behind the wheels. With the square again set up as in the picture, move the board so that the mark aligns with the base of the square. Then, move the square to the other side of the car, set up the square and mark the board as before. Measure the difference between the two marks and this is the measured toe in. I will then tweak the alignment after a road test, and measure the toe in again just to confirm it is within specification range. For caster, there is a small level available on ebay for about $10 designed for measuring caster. It attaches to the brake rotor with a magnet. With the wheels removed and the front suspension on jack stands, attach the level to the brake rotor and follow the step by step instructions to measure the castor.

I worked in a alignment shop for 3 1/2 years and for toe we raised each front wheel and scribed a line around the tire, let it down and settled the car. Set the markers on the stick with the scribed line on the front of the tires, then moved the stick to the rear of the tires and measured the difference as toe in or out. Very simple and can be done at home if you move the car back and forth to settle it in.

We do it with a laser level strapped to the rear wheel centerline, pointed forward. Then measure from the front rim to the laser beam and adjust as needed. Out of about 6 vehicles, only one was off when taken to the alignment shop. Works like a charm! Also, a little dish soap under the front tires helps with tire torque.

I use 4 jack stands, 2 pieces of conduit marked at equal lengths and create a parallelogram. I string fishing line between the front and rear. I measure with a steel rule from wheel to string on front and rear. I then measure from the front of each wheel to the string and rear of each wheel to the string. That gives me toe in or out for each wheel. I have 200000 miles on tires using this method. I get better results than my friends who pay $100 and 6 months later scrub a set of tires and the alignment shop says you must have knocked it out. Funny it doesn’t happen to me driving on the same roads.

how about making sure the wheel bearings are properly adjusted before anything else

Gee I thought I was the only nut case doing this in the driveway! Heartening to see there are so many others doing it, and the creativity being brought to the task. My homebuilt guage is telescoping square tubes with a probe on one end and a convenient point to measure with a machinist’s scale on the other. Measure from the guage to the rims at their leading beads, again at trailing, do some easy math and voila, my toe value.

There are few cars today that offer extensive geometry adjustment. Mostly, only toe adjustment. A comment often said spoken by Colin Chapman about why he didn’t provide a lot of suspension geometry adjustment in his road cars is because he felt people would just mess is up badly. And a poor alignment job or going outside of factory recommended chassis settings can be problematic, even dangerous, without some idea of knowing what’s going on.

There are ways to make the suspension of the Europa (and likely any car) adjustable. For any kind of competitive use, a road car will need these adjustments. With both the Elan and the Europa, Lotus had full adjustments on the racing variants of both of these cars, the 26R and 47. I had an Elan that I fit all the 26R bits and approaches to, and I have a track-only Europa car uses some of the 47 chassis changes, but also otherwise has extensive geometry adjustment.

I hope this article inspires confidence for more people to do their own alignments. From the replies, it looks like a lot of people already are. The biggest challenge I find to performing an alignment on a road car is just getting to stuff. It’s MUCH easier to do an alignment on a Formula Ford where the car is small and light and everything is super accessible. But, with some time, care, knowledge, and patience anyone can do their own alignments.

If an 8’ straight edge is long enough, fluorescent lamp tubes work well.