DIY: Alignment, thats right align your car at home with simple tools.
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This is a discussion on DIY: Alignment, thats right align your car at home with simple tools. within the Suspension and Handling forums, part of the Tutorials & DIY category; So I have never had good luck with commercial alignment shops. To say my experiences have been horrible would be ...

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    Resident meany-rator 06wrx4me's Avatar
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    DIY: Alignment, thats right align your car at home with simple tools.

    So I have never had good luck with commercial alignment shops. To say my experiences have been horrible would be an understatement. So when it came time to replace the suspension on my WRX, I contemplated selling it rather than have to go to an alignment shop again (yeah that bad). Instead I decided to try it myself, how hard could it be right?

    But Why?

    It's not voodoo or magic, although those fancy $30k machines at the big box alignment store make you think so. Aligning is just a small series of measurements and adjustments done methodically. The best part of doing it yourself, is that if you don't quite get it right the first time you can tweak it to your liking.

    Another reason to DIY is because most big box places wont do a custom alignment outside factory specs. Some techs don't know how to cause that fancy machine they use is meant for speed, ease of use and repeatability, because time is money.

    Additionally, if you take your car in for alignment often times the techs just hit "within factory spec" which can be a huge range. For example my last big box alignment had the drivers side front wheel at -.1deg camber and the pass side front wheel at -.5 deg camber. Most Techs are paid flat rate, so they are more interested in maximizing throughput than maximizing quality.

    But How?

    First you need to know what you are working with. There are tons of resources online to help explain what you are going to be adjusting. But basically it breaks down to 4 things; Camber, caster, toe, thrust angle.

    Shamelessly stolen from here camber, caster, toe, thrust angle defined very well:

    Camber
    The camber angle identifies how far the tire slants away from vertical when viewed directly from the front or back of the vehicle. Camber is expressed in degrees, and is said to be negative when the top of the tire tilts inward toward the center of the vehicle and positive when the top leans away from the center of the vehicle.


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    Since street suspensions cannot completely compensate for the outer tire tipping towards the outside when the vehicle leans in a corner, there isn't a magical camber setting that will allow the tires to remain vertical when traveling straight down the road (for more even wear), and remain perpendicular to the road during hard cornering (for more generous grip).
    Different driving styles can also influence the desired camber angle as well. An enthusiastic driver who corners faster than a reserved driver will receive more cornering grip and longer tire life from a tire aligned with more negative camber. However with the aggressive negative camber, a
    reserved driver's lower cornering speeds would cause the inside edges of the tires to wear faster than the outside edges.

    Caster
    The caster angle identifies the forward or backward slope of a line drawn through the upper and lower steering pivot points when viewed directly from the side of the vehicle. Caster is expressed in degrees and is measured by comparing a line running through the steering system's upper and lower pivot points (typically the upper and lower ball joints of an A-arm or wishbone suspension design, or the lower ball joint and the strut tower mount of a McPherson strut design) to a line drawn perpendicular to the ground. Caster is said to be positive if the line slopes towards the rear of the vehicle at the top, and negative if the line slopes towards the front.


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    A very visual example of positive caster is a motorcycle's front steering forks. The forks point forward at the bottom and slope backward at the top. This rearward slope causes the front tire to remain stable when riding straight ahead and tilt towards the inside of the corner when turned.
    Caster angle settings allow the vehicle manufacturer to balance steering effort, high speed stability and front end cornering effectiveness.
    Increasing the amount of positive caster will increase steering effort and straight line tracking, as well as improve high speed stability and cornering effectiveness. Positive caster also increases tire lean when cornering (almost like having more negative camber) as the steering angle is increased.

    Toe
    The toe angle identifies the exact direction the tires are pointed compared to the centerline of the vehicle when viewed from directly above. Toe is expressed in either degrees or fractions-of-an-inch, and an axle is said to have positive toe-in when imaginary lines running through the centerlines of the tires intersect in front of the vehicle and have negative toe-out when they diverge. The toe setting is typically used to help compensate for the suspension bushings compliance to enhance tire wear. Toe can also be used to adjust vehicle handling.
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    A rear-wheel drive vehicle "pushes" the front axle's tires as they roll along the road. Tire rolling resistance causes a little drag resulting in rearward movement of the suspension arms against their bushings. Because of this, most rear-wheel drive vehicles use some positive toe-in to compensate for the movement, enabling the tires to run parallel to each other at speed.
    Conversely, a front-wheel drive vehicle "pulls" the vehicle through the front axle, resulting in forward movement of the suspension arms against their bushings. Therefore most front-wheel drive vehicles use some negative toe-out to compensate for the movement, again enabling the tires to run parallel to each other at speed.
    Toe can also be used to alter a vehicle's handling traits. Increased toe-in will typically result in reduced oversteer, help steady the car and enhance high-speed stability. Increased toe-out will typically result in reduced understeer, helping free up the car, especially during initial turn-in while entering a corner.
    Before adjusting toe outside the vehicle manufacturer's recommended settings to manipulate handling, be aware that toe settings will influence wet weather handling and tire wear as well.
    Excessive toe settings often bring with them drivability problems, especially during heavy rain. This is because the daily pounding of tractor trailers on many highways leave ruts that fill with water. Since excessive toe means that each tire is pointed in a direction other than straight ahead, when the vehicle encounters a puddle that causes only one tire to lose some of its grip, the other tire's toe setting will push (excessive toe-in) or pull (excessive toe-out) the vehicle to the side. This may make the vehicle feel unsettled and very "nervous."
    Additionally the vehicle's toe is one of the most critical alignment settings relative to tire wear. A toe setting that is just a little off its appropriate setting can make a huge difference in their wear. Consider that if the toe setting is just 1/16-inch off of its appropriate setting, each tire on that axle will scrub almost seven feet sideways every mile! Extend it out and you'll discover that rather than running parallel to each other, the front tires will scrub over 1/4-mile sideways during every 100 miles of driving! Incorrect toe will rob you of tire life.
    Thrust Angle
    The thrust angle is an imaginary line drawn perpendicular to the rear axle's centerline. It compares the direction that the rear axle is aimed with the centerline of the vehicle. It also confirms if the rear axle is parallel to its front axle and that the wheelbase on both sides of the vehicle is the same.

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    If the thrust angle is not correct on a vehicle with a solid rear axle, it often requires a trip to the frame straightening shop to correctly reposition the rear axle.
    A vehicle with independent rear axles may have incorrect toe-in or toe-out on both sides of the axle, or may have toe-in on one side and toe-out on the other. The suspension on each side of the vehicle must be adjusted individually until it has reached the appropriate toe setting for its side of the vehicle.
    An incorrect thrust angle is often caused by an out-of-position axle or incorrect toe settings. So in addition to the handling quirks that are the result of
    incorrect toe settings, thrust angles can also cause the vehicle to handle differently when turning one direction vs. the other.
    Last edited by 06wrx4me; 03-11-2013 at 12:37 PM.
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    Resident meany-rator 06wrx4me's Avatar
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    How does one setting affect another? Are they linked somehow?

    Glad you asked. Camber affects toe. Toe does not affect camber. Because of the geometry of the suspension, when more negative camber is added, toe out is added.

    So what are the ideal settings for my WRX?

    Well that depends entirely on how you drive and what kind of suspension you are running. The general consensus among this and other forii, for a good non tire degrading spirited driving setup, from the likes of people like Big Sky, Mycologist, Wrx Wagone, Sasquatch is:

    Front Camber = -1.7 deg
    Rear Camber = -1.2 deg
    Front toe = 0
    Rear toe = 0
    no thrust angle

    Caster is not adjustable on a stock WRX. The consensus is that adding +1 more deg helps stability without having adverse effects. You can buy caster/camber plates and adjust it if you'd like, or buying an Anti Lift Kit will add more positive caster as well. Some people do both.

    So how do I measure these things?

    There are all manner of tools that can be bought or built to measure caster, camber, thrust angle and toe. You can spend as little as $50 or as much as a few thousand.

    For Camber and caster you can use:

    Everything from one of these for $25:
    S&G Tool Air Strut Alignment Levels SG61800 - SummitRacing.com



    To one of these for $300:
    Longacre Digital Caster Camber Gauges 78298 - SummitRacing.com

    Camber is a straightforward easy measurement, while caster requires turning the wheel through an even sweep of two angles and mutliplying the camber difference as outlined here:
    Caster (deg) = (180 / 3.1415) * [(camber1 - camber2) / (turnangle1 - turnangle2)]

    The turn angles must be equal and opposite.

    ** To turn the wheels under load for doing caster, you will either need turn plates or a pair of floor tiles and some salt, or two pieces of thin sheet metal and grease. I built turn plates in my DIY stand thread using $12 thrust bearings. The name of the game is reducing friction between the wheel and whatever it is resting on. I have seen 4x4 guys use like 10 garbage bags stacked on one another. Whatever works.

    For Toe:

    You can measure toe with toe plates or toe bars and two identical tape measures, or by using the string method.

    For thrust angle:

    You pretty much have to use the string method and a metal scale ruler like this one. Its cumbersome and a little time consuming but will get you dead on results.

    This is a fantastic website on showing you how to do it on the cheap outlining the tools above.
    Wheel Alignment Guide - How To Align Your Car At Home - Hot Rod Magazine

    What did I use?

    I ended up buying a Quick Tricks Pro kit that came with Camber gauge and Toe bars.

    Quicktrick Alignment | DIY Alignment, quick wheel alignment, toe align

    FWIW They are a small USA based business and all the metal parts are made in house. I had a small piece damaged in shipping, and they overnighted it to me free of charge. They are a stand up company who cares about customer service. Total cost was around $200 shipped to my door.

    So lets get on with it!

    * First off, its gonna be way easier to do if you can get your car up in the air somehow. A lift, wheel stands, ramps, a pit, will all work. Reason being, you need to make adjustments from underneath the car with load on the suspension. If you lift the car and put it on jack stands, you aren't reading real world readings. Then every time you put the suspension back down again you have to go through all the work of resettling it.

    I built wheel stands and they worked great. DIY: Wooden Wheel Stands They cost me around $100, or you can buy some for anywhere from $500 for the Race Ramps wheel stands, to $1000 to metal wheel stands.

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    * Once on the stands you are going to need to settle your suspension. This is no magic, bounce the fenders, get inside and jump up and down, whatever it takes.

    * Next step is to make sure your tire pressures are set properly, this is important.

    * After that, hook up your camber gauge. Now what I like about the QT PRO, is that the digital gauge has a "zero out" feature which allows for a slightly uneven surface, cause lets face it, no concrete is ever "level". I also used a custom bungee cord to hold it in place. Don't hate I have seen the super expensive laser ones held on with the same thing.

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    **A note here on Camber gauges. I bought the QT PRO that accommodates wheels from 15"-20" in Dia. The standard one goes from 13"-18". If your car is slammed to the ground, the 15-20 may hit your fender, so keep that in mind no matter which you buy.

    *Measure and record the camber settings at all 4 wheels. Then adjust as necessary. It is best to have a friend read out the readings to you on the gauge while you are turning the camber bolts. Before you snug the bolts down, shake the wheel back and forth to make sure your setting is correct.

    * Now the factory top bolt in the front struts is a camber bolt. It is important that the bottom bolt also be loose when adjusting the top camber bolt otherwise it wont work. They use a 19mm wrench, its best to have 2 19mm wrenches.

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    * Now adjusting Camber on the rear of the WRX requires a Camber bolt that the factory didn't provide. I bought the Eibach 5.81260K from here: Eibach Camber Bolts Multiple Make/Models (inc. 2002-2013 Subaru WRX / STI) at RallySportDirect.com.

    The camber bolt in the rear also installs in the top bolt hole. The washer installs on the bolt head side. The large tab points toward the wheel and is oriented in the horizontal position. It may take some manipulation to get it there. The reason you need a camber bolt in the rear is to actually dial out Camber. The factory setting on the rear of the wrx is around -1.1 deg of camber. When you lower the car the camber gets even more agressive in the rear. The tab of the washer pointing toward the wheel allows you to pull camber out. The tab pointing in toward the diff will give you even more negative camber...herra frush anyone?

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    Heres a pic with my grimy glove simulating adjustment. The rear Eibach bolt is proof someone has a sense of humor....You need a 15mm for the bolt head and an 18mm for the nut. What a PITA.

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    * After you have your camber where you want it, I suggest tightening the bottom bolts first to snug, then tighten the top camber bolts. After they are all snug, recheck your camber measurements. If nothing moved, torque them to spec.

    CASTER: You can measure the caster if you want. It is a good double check to make sure nothing in your suspension is bent. Use the method detailed above, but again it is non adjustable on a stock WRX.

    Toe and thrust angle: These two go hand in hand. The best way is to string the car, which I did after I adjusted the front toe and found out that my thrust angle was 0. I also measured my rear toe and found out that it was 0. Which makes sense since I kept the rear camber within factory specs, and barely changed the ride height.

    The QT pro comes with toe bars and tapes for quick adjustment, heres some pics:

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    * You'll notice from the pics that I have all manner of levels on these things. While its not spelled out in the instructions, I wanted to make sure that the measurements were accurate, so I made sure the vertical bars were in the center of the wheel and plumb vertically. I also made sure that the horizontal bars were perfectly horizontal.

    * Now adjusting toe in front is pretty standard. You have a tie rod on either side in front of the wheel. My front toe was waaay toe out since I added a lot more camber....makes sense.

    * Before I did any adjusting, I made sure my steering wheel was straight, then used one of these $5 ratcheting bar clamps from Harbor freight, to lock the wheel in place. 36" Ratchet Bar Clamp/Spreader You'll need the 36" one. Its way cheaper than buying a steering wheel lock tool and its not a unitasker.

    * This is another case where having a friend call out measurements is very helpful. After the wheel was locked in place, and initial toe was measured and recorded, I loosened those damn corroded in place lock nuts for the tie rods. PB Blaster is your friend here. They take a 19mm (x2) wrench. I damn near stripped one trying to break it loose.

    * After you have the lock nut loose, back it off at least 1", you don't want it in the way. Then I slowly and methodically turned the tie rods (the hex on the rod you turn takes a smaller wrench 13mm) the same amount side to side to pull the toe back in line. Example: Drivers side 1/2 turn then pass side 1/2 turn. I decreased increments as we got close to perfect.

    * After your toe is adjusted, tighten the lock nuts.

    To adjust rear toe:

    * I did not have to, but there is an eccentric bolt on the inboard side of the rear trailing arm (both sides). That is where your rear toe adjustment is located. I don't have a pic, I apologize.
    Last edited by 06wrx4me; 04-07-2013 at 01:38 PM.
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    Tada! You've made it!

    So take the clamp off the steering wheel, get the car on the ground, and go for a drive.

    Mine drove great, steering wheel centered, no pull, no wander; overall it went far better than I ever hoped.

    Some notes:

    If you have just installed a brand new suspension as I did:

    Tokico D specs, RCE black Springs, Whiteline Com C top hats, Group N rear Top Hats, new spring rubbers etc. Do yourself a favor: Rough Align it first, dial your toe to 0 and go put 20 miles on the car. Otherwise you will be chasing your tail as your suspension breaks in and settles. This is another reason why I am not a fan of Big box alignment. You have to pay again to take it back and adjust. Doing It yourself, now you have all the tools and know how to mess with it in 1000 miles when all your new pieces and parts have settled in.
    Last edited by 06wrx4me; 03-11-2013 at 02:00 AM.
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    Bravo. Excellent post.
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    great writeup!
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    Moderating on the run! Big Sky WRX's Avatar
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    good job and congrats! it's great to know that a job is done right and w/ alignments unfortunately it seldom is-alignment shops will aim for the "green" ie get it into factory spec which means side to side you can have a lot of cross camber and cross toe

    man that lift has got to be a time saver!
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    Registered User Heide264's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 06wrx4me View Post
    Heres a pic with my grimy glove simulating adjustment. The rear Eibach bolt is proof someone has a sense of humor....You need a 15mm for the bolt head and an 18mm for the nut. What a PITA.
    I spent a good 45 minutes trying every single SAE sized wrench until I realized it actually was an 18mm. Who does that?

    Great write up man! I will definitely consider a setup like this down the road. Or a field trip down south =P
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    Quote Originally Posted by Big Sky WRX View Post
    good job and congrats! it's great to know that a job is done right and w/ alignments unfortunately it seldom is-alignment shops will aim for the "green" ie get it into factory spec which means side to side you can have a lot of cross camber and cross toe

    man that lift has got to be a time saver!
    Yeah I hate having other people touch my cars, Murphy's law follows me around.

    The lift is awesome! I had a hard time cutting loose the cash to buy it, but I am so glad I did. It makes car maintenance pleasurable.
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    Resident meany-rator 06wrx4me's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heide264 View Post
    I spent a good 45 minutes trying every single SAE sized wrench until I realized it actually was an 18mm. Who does that?
    Exactly! I laughed, especially since Subaru went to such lengths to make bolt and nut selection convenient for use.
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    Great write up. You actually made it seem easily do-able!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikie13 View Post
    Great write up. You actually made it seem easily do-able!
    It is actually not that bad. I honestly believe that if you have the ability to swap out suspension components, you can align your car.
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    Resident meany-rator 06wrx4me's Avatar
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    1000 mile update:

    I put it up on the stands today and rechecked everything.

    Camber:

    DF=-1.7
    PF= *-2.1
    DR=-1.3
    PR=-1.4

    toe was off slightly in the front, dead on in the back.

    So I adjusted the PF to -1.7 deg. As expected this added toe in. So the toe had to be adjusted. Based on my measurements only the PF tie rod needed to be adjusted.

    The rear has -.1 deg of cross camber. For my purposes its close enough so I left it.

    I didn't have the steering wheel 100% straight so now my steering wheel is off a smidge from center. I'll drive it for a while and see how bad it bothers me.

    I wonder if you can straighten the wheel by loosening a connection in the linkage from the wheel to the rack. Anyone know?
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    Registered User Terminal Kuz's Avatar
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    Where are you so i can use your setup? lol, this is awesome. Hopefully the auto center has the tools for all this.
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    Update:

    Been somewhere between 7,000-10,000 miles now on the new suspension. If nothing else I have validated the need for tools to do this at home. The RCE blacks keep settling, and every time they do (by virtue of design with McPherson strut) the camber and toe change slightly.

    I just tweaked the toe for the 4th time, hopefully the last for a while. I had 1/16" toe out indicated on the toe sticks last weekend (indicating a slight camber change to the negative), and over 3,000 miles it had contributed to inner tire wear (lucky these tires are shot anyways). Funnily enough, running that little bit of toe out has an almost unnoticeable affect on the cars handling. I could only tell because turn in was easier, but there was no wandering or nervous feeling on the street. Probably because of the extra Caster I added with the Com-C top hats.

    Now with the toe set dead at 0 (again) the wheel is a little heavier, and turn in requires more turning force (in a good way).

    Hopefully this suspension is done settling (I think it is), but just imagine had I taken it initially to an alignment shop. I would have had to take it back 3 more times to be perfect. So essentially the alignment kit has paid for itself already.

    I'll re-evealuate in 3,000 miles and tweak again if needed before I buy new tires.
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    Resident meany-rator 06wrx4me's Avatar
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    I have a feeling my ball joints and/or tie rods are on the way out. Since I have 99,9xx miles and have replaced everything else since new I ordered

    Whiteline Front Roll Center Adjustment Kit

    and an

    ALK-comfort


    Since these tires are almost shot, I might as well sort the alignment out full on them.
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