| How To: DIY/Budget Alignment||« » 11:09 AM 7/6/2016
Ryan pointed out to me this weekend that, despite the wealth of knowledge here, there's not a comprehensive DIY Alignment thread. Since I've pretty much been doing monthly alignments with Roller Pig, I offered to do a quick write-up on the process and post it here.
Step 1: Find some place flat and preferably shady. For me, I can use my garage. Our house is ~11 years old and the floor is remarkably flat with damn near zero grading. As a result, I don't have to use anything to manually level my alignment surface. If you don't have a level garage, you're gonna need to make the surface level. Your best bet is likely to use small pieces of plywood/lumber for big difference and then vinyl tile for the final, smaller height adjustments. If you have to go this route, my advice is to assemble everything together (including ramps to roll-on/roll-off) and mark the correct location of them on the floor. The idea here is that you'll only need to put the things together once and then periodically confirm that they're still level to each other.
NOTE: any time you lift the car off the ground or adjust the alignment, you'll need to roll the car forward, backward, and bounce it to get the suspension to settle. If you don't do this, it's likely that you'll be working off erroneous numbers since there's some deflection/bind in the bushings and rest of the suspension.
Step 2: Figure out if you've got the tools for the job. DIY Alignments can range from really cheap to holy-hell-that's-expensive. More money doesn't always mean better results though... attention to detail drives accuracy.
I use a simple (and cheap) set of LongAcre Toe Plates that I've had for ~10 years. http://www.longacreracing.com/...pair)
These things aren't complicated and they're not fancy. The idea is that the plates give you a flat place from which to measure with the two identical measuring tapes. The difference from front to rear tells you if the wheels are toed in (forward measurement smaller than rear measurement) or toed out (forward measurement larger than rear measurement). This measurement is called "Total Toe" and is pretty damn useful. What these don't tell you is whether one wheel is pointing "straight ahead" and if all the toe is at the other wheel. We'll talk about how to identify the specific amount of toe at each wheel in Step 4.
If you're a baller like #RyanConley, you'll probably want to buy Smart Strings. These are the Moton/MCS of the DIY Toe Alignment world and are overkill for almost all of us. If you're cheap but handy, they shouldn't be hard to make at home inexpensively.
For stock EF/EG/EK/DA/DC chassis cars and modified ones still using the stock upper control arms, all you really need is a decent set of toe plates and a couple other items you can find in the garage. If you've got adjustable upper arms, then you'll need something to measure camber.
Tom Hoppe's (A Pussy) solution is pretty damn good and what I used for the better part of the last decade. Basically you use a digital level and some sort of homemade level/square framework to lay the level against the wheel and measure the angle. I used a piece of shelving material from Lowes Racing Depot for my setup. Other folks get fancy and weld stuff together... here's the original link to making the camber gauge. The pics are dead but this is generally what it looks like.
Alternately, you can get something like this (I finally got one last Christmas). It's overkill unless you're doing regular adjustments to camber or you've got a strut car where camber has to get reset each time you take the struts off the car (Roller Pig has struts and has been through a bunch of adjustments). As we'll see later in the process, it's kinda handy as there are some advantages to the magnetic attachment method it features.
Last up is a Notebook. You didn't really plan to keep all the details in your head did you? Buy and keep a setup notebook... best practice here is to also do a "debrief" after each event with the car. It'll let you record the setup, the performance, as well as your driver notes so you can begin to develop an "If X, then Y" approach to setup changes.
Some of the other stuff we'll use during the process is 4 jack stands, some string, and possibly slip plates. The slip plates are easy to make... you can put a little detergent or fabric softener inside a lawn & leaf bag or put two vinyl tiles face to face with a dab of grease or some salt. I tend not to use slip plates unless I'm corner weighting my car though.
Step 3: At this point, you've got the car at whatever ride height you're going to run, it's been cross-weighted (if applicable), is on a level surface, and you've got at least toe plates and possibly something to measure camber. It's preferable to start with camber adjustment before touching toe. Why? Because changing camber causes some pretty large toe changes (especially at the front). I'd also suggest measuring Total Toe with the Camber Plates so you have a base line for where the car started (and thereby what toe changes are being made as you tweak camber).
In your notebook, record the initial Camber at each corner as well as the total toe measurement for the front and the rear. I'd suggest something like the pic below that will let you update measurements as you adjust the car.
After my first round of measurements, I can see that the LF needs a little camber (4* vs. 4.2* for the RF), the front needs a little more toe out, the rear is good on camber but the rear toe is pretty well fucked after having been almost completely apart.
Before I delve into fixing the rear toe on the car, I'll dial in the front camber and possibly make adjustments there. The easiest way to adjust camber and nail it quickly is to use an additional measurement of camber in the air vs. just measuring when its on the ground. What this gives us is the ability to hit a specific camber delta with the wheels off the car. Here's how it works: the initial measurement tells you how many "units" of camber need to be changed for each wheel. You'll jack up that side of the car or the entire end of the car if both sides need to be adjusted then measure camber again while the car is in the air. If you use the new camber measurement as your baseline PLUS however many additional "units" you identified that you needed earlier, you can dial it in with one adjustment. i.e. 4.0* on the ground and I want 4.2* so I need to add 0.2*. If the car has 2.5* in the air, I can bump that to 2.7* and, when it's lowered down, the static camber will be at the target of 4.2*. By doing this, it saves me time and headaches... super important if you're doing regular adjustments (this is where the magnetic "pimp" camber gauge makes life easier because you just pop it onto the hub while you adjust the car.
Step 4: Now that the camber is dialed in, it's time to string the car. "Stringing" the car simply means creating a string "box" (or using Smart Strings) in such a way that we have parallel strings on either side of the car from which we can measure wheel specific toe in or toe out. I'm not going to talk through the Smart Strings approach since I don't own them; instead, we'll focus on the "stringing" approach that's the most cost effective.
A string box can be easily constructed with 4 jack stands (one at each corner of the car) and 2 pieces of string (tied to the jack stands and run parallel to the sides of the car). The "trick" is getting the box square. In order to square the box, you'll want to know the front and rear track widths of your car. Additionally, you'll want to identify a reliable place from which to measure the offset of the string from the wheel.
I've found that measuring off the center "hub" portion of the wheel is the easiest and most reliable for me. If you do the same thing for the ITR (track width of 58.3 front and 58.1 rear), you'll want the string to be 0.1" further closer to the wheel center at the front than it is at the rear. Why? Because the front track is 0.2" wider in total or 0.1" per side. I tend to set my strings up so they're ~4" off the wheel hub at the wide axle so the narrow axle typically has measurements over 4". Getting the jack stands adjusted to where the string is precisely 4" off one axle and then 4.1" off the other is a bit of a pain... anytime you move one jack stand, it has a minor impact to the other end. The result of which is that it takes a couple iterations of adjustment to get the string "square" to each side of the car.
Once your strings are square, you'll want to start measuring relative distance from the front and rear of each wheel edge to the string. This will tell you what the wheel specific toe is and where the toe is out of whack. If you look at my setup notes again, what do you see?
The LR looks pretty good (~1/32 toe out)... but that RR is jacked up with like 10/32 toe in!! Good news with this is that since the LR has 1/32" toe out, it means that I only need to adjust the RR... take that from 10/32 toe in to 1/32 and my total toe will drop down to 1/16 total toe out at the rear which is my target for this car.
I didn't bother messing with the wheel specific measurements for the front this time because I know the 1/32 of toe out was from a recent camber adjustment on one side of the car and I know it was Zero Toe before the camber adjustment (hooooray for notes!). Point being that my records put me in a position to even out the left side camber and track that the toe change (+1/32 toe out) was from the change and brought my total toe precisely where I wanted it.
One of the tricks to adjusting toe is similar to what we did with camber earlier. Remember we measured it on the ground, measured again with the wheel in the air, and then adjusted the measurement in the air to our "delta"? We can do the same thing with toe. We know which wheel is jacked up (RR) which means we can leave the toe plates on the car and jack that wheel up to where it's just barely touching the ground (alternately you could use slip plates under the tire). Personally, I just jack the car up and then fiddle with the toe adjustment until I get the total toe in line with what I'm aiming for (1/16" toe out). If I needed to adjust both the left and right side of the car, I'd use a jack on either side and lift the entire axle with the toe plates still set up. From there, I can adjust each side and watch for the relative toe change each adjustment makes until I get to the total toe measurement that I targeted.
Step 5: Now's the moment of truth. Everything should be adjusted and straight... take it out for a spin then re-measure camber/toe.
A side note that can make things easier: if you start out with a solid baseline from a shop, it makes quite a bit of this easier. If you know your starting toe and, more importantly know that the wheels are all square to each other, you can skip the string box thing and go directly to adjusting one wheel at a time. If you re-measure after each discrete change, you're able to identify how much a camber change at one corner impacted toe and then you're able to easily fix that toe change. One of the (many) great things about the ITR is that you can take the suspension apart then put it back together and not have to re-align the whole thing over again. Folks with strut cars ( ) take it in the ass every time the suspension is apart.
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