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Anyone doing their own alignments on cars/trucks?

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by dave11, Jul 24, 2012.

  1. dave11

    dave11 Minister of Fire

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    So I'm getting ready to tear down the front suspension on my Blazer to replace the control arms and bushings. Afterwards it needs a complete re-alignment. Have been reading about the equipment needed to do this myself, including a caster/camber gauge and parallel lines to set toe. According to some sources, with this equipment and careful work, a vehicle can be aligned this way much better than the shop will do it.

    Has anyone here ever tried this? I'd like to hear how it went.

    Thanks.

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  2. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    It would be tough to do it yourself for a variety of reasons. I've done something similar in my driveway but only to get the alignment close enough to drive to the alignment shop.
    One problem you'll have is that alignment machines allow the wheels to float in and out to simulate actual driving conditions. At home this would be hard to replicate. When you drop the tires to the ground to check the alignment there will be a preload on the suspension that will affect alignment. I guess you could put something llike really sturdy skateboards under each wheel to allow the settling that needs to occur.
    Also, you'd likely be measuring toe-in by placing a board against each wheel (the sidewall of each tire actually) and then measuring the difference in distance at the front and rear of each board. Because of the tire construction and "bumpiness" of sidewalls I don't think you could do this accurately. Alignment machines use the wheel itself for these types of measurement, not the tire. It will also be hard to center the steering wheel because you need to adjust the toe-in with respect to the lateral location of the rear tires. That's also tough to do at home.
  3. dave11

    dave11 Minister of Fire

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    There seems to be ways around all those issues. With perfectly parallel strings, you can easily measure to the wheel itself, not the tire. And using floor tiles separated with grease, you can align toe with the suspension fully loaded.

    There's a whole cadre of weekend car racers who do their own alignments this way right before they go out on the track. Was wondering if any of the major DIY people here had ever done it.
  4. MasterMech

    MasterMech Guest

    Never tried. For a vehicle that I need a $800 set of tires to last 50K miles or better, I fork over my $70-80 to have it done on the right equipment. The "better" alignment comes from modified specifications, not the limitations of the equipment. Gonna have a hard time convincing me you can align my vehicle with better precision than a modern alignment rack provides. Find a shop that will tweak your alignment to your preference. Most just set it to factory specs but often the vehicle can be aligned to the driver so to speak.

    Is that an S10 Blazer? Don't skimp out on ball joints and tie rod ends either. 4x4 S10's are notorious for eating up ball joints. And get the best parts you can afford. The "economy" stuff just doesn't last.

    NOTE: Alignments and Tires are on a VERY short list of what I don't do myself with my vehicles. I hate letting someone else hack on my vehicles/equipment.
    jeff_t likes this.
  5. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Wow that's one of the things Ive never even thought of doing myself. I have replaced struts and done other suspension work but usually did as others - just get it close enough to drive to a tire shop without crashing. Counting the turns if you took of tie rod ends,etc.
  6. fox9988

    fox9988 Minister of Fire

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    I've been aligning my solid front axle (4x4) vehicles for years. All use is a tape measure and a concrete floor. I set the toe-in 1/16-1/32 measured on the tread, then roll the vehicle back and forth to relieve bind, remeasure. The first time I tried it, I took it to an alignment shop. I don't remember the specs but he admitted it was near perfect. I get very even tread wear. After replacing suspension parts on my wife's 4x4 Dakota (IFS) and setting the toe-in, she took it and had it checked (told them I did it with a tape), they said it was out of specs. Mmmm.... maybe.
    "We'll fix you right up little lady!"()::P
  7. dave11

    dave11 Minister of Fire

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    Well, I can only speak in generalities, but having spoken to some mechanics, if anyone thinks the alignment shop is doing some sort of exquisite job aligning their vehicles, they are likely to be wrong. Like every other service, alignment needs to be done quickly, or else they're losing money. And so adjusting caster/camber/toe is not something they're going to spend a lot of time on. This was proven to me years ago, when a mechanic posting online suggested telling the alignment shop that I wanted a print out of the caster/camber/toe readings, both before and AFTER they were done. Every time I've done that, I've gotten a dirty look from the front desk guy, and I was always charged for "extra time" in some way. That tells me that the standard alignment is not being done very well.

    Likewise, when I've told the shop I wanted the trim height checked and adjusted, I got more dirty looks, and another add-on charge. But checking trim height should be the first step in any proper alignment. You can't align the vehicle without it. Yet asking for it generated an extra charge.

    So no, I'm not satisfied trusting the alignment shop to do a good job aligning my vehicles. Like everything else, if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself. Or at least be able to check it yourself.
  8. dave11

    dave11 Minister of Fire

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    Exactly. But there are ways to be more precise than with a tape measure even. But I'm glad someone else is as adventurous (or as skeptical) as I am.
  9. fox9988

    fox9988 Minister of Fire

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    I agree, measurement should come off the wheel. Or a line can be scribed around the tread by jacking up the axle slightly, and rotating the tread against a nail driven through a block of wood that's resting on the floor.
  10. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    For how inexpensive an alignment relatively is, and the liability involved safety wise, just pay and get it done right.
    Adios Pantalones likes this.
  11. fox9988

    fox9988 Minister of Fire

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    I've never paid to have a vehicle worked on, ever.
  12. greg13

    greg13 Feeling the Heat

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    The easiest way to get an accurate toe measurement is to go to the inside of the rim@the tire bead. you can either use 2 people or buy a tram bar. that eliminates any possibility of using the wrong tread groove. You can also use a nail in a 2x4 and lightly scribe a line on the tread by jacking it up and spinning the tire. You can also buy magnetic caster/camber gauges.
  13. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    Same here and I've probably done well over a 1000 front end alignments as a professional mechanic. I no longer work in an automotive repair shop though.
    I should add we always gave the customers before and after measurements even if they didn't ask for them.
    The shops I now take my vehicle to also provides before and after measurements whether requested or not.

    I think you need to find some better shops to deal with. More importantly, try to build a relationship with a specific mechanic if possible.
    Mechanics tend to do much better work when they associate a vehicle with a friendly face rather than a work order.
  14. dave11

    dave11 Minister of Fire

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    Its fine for people to write in and say they would never do their own alignments (though that's not what my post was asking about). If a person is willing to trust and pay someone else to do it, have at it. That's very different from saying it can't be done well yourself. I haven't seen anyone here say that had actually tried it seriously and not been able to swing it, which was what I was actually asking about.

    Saying it can't be done well ignores the people who are already doing it on their street racers, and obviously doing a good job.
    fox9988 likes this.
  15. MasterMech

    MasterMech Guest

    My point (in my first reply) should have been that aligning a race car to handle well on the track is completely different than aligning a street-driven vehicle where tire noise/longevity are priorities over cornering grip. Good alignment techs know this and the shop I use will align to your preferences, whether that be mileage/economy, performance, or somewhere in between.

    You obviously know enough to know if the vehicle was aligned properly or not. So you should know when it's time to find a better shop. ;)

    Every shop I've used has provided me with before/after specs, no questions asked. The vehicle pulls onto the rack, targets go on the wheels, the computer captures the current alignment, the tech makes his adjustments (and takes the time to get 'em all "in the green", and the computer captures the new specs and prints out a report. Easy peasy, no extra time or money spent.

    You hand mount/balance your own tires? ;)
  16. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    Nuff said right there.
    I suppose you do sweet paint jobs, straighten frames, diagnose ECU's and ECM's, do all your own presswork, blasting, etc? You must have a big garage with either all the right tools and equipment, or a JIm Dandy tool set. Congrats, you go getem!
  17. fox9988

    fox9988 Minister of Fire

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    You hand mount/balance your own tires? ;)[/quote]Some times
    M/B is usually "free", if I can get them cheaper without m/b, I m/b myself.:)
  18. fox9988

    fox9988 Minister of Fire

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    I've never done paint, or had it done, never needed a frame straightened, Self diagnostic or scan tool,never needed any presswork, I do some sand blasting, yes, yes and thank you.
    AND I check my own tire pressure.
    OP asked,"Has anyone here ever tried this? I'd like to hear how it went." I shared my experience, it has been working for 450,000 miles,the end.
  19. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    I'm sorry you're frustrated with the feedback you've gotten. I tried to provide a constructive reply to your originial question based on my experience in this area. I also used to race and did my own alignments. As MM said alignment for racing is vastly different than for standard driving. Most racers' priorities don't include tire life.

    Another thought: adjusting toe-in with respect to the lateral position of rear wheels only works well if the rear axle is exactly perpidicular to the vehicle's centerline. Yes you can adjust total toe-in but steering wheel centering may take some time if your vehicle's rear tires are not tracking exactly behind your front tires.
  20. smoke show

    smoke show Guest

    Well said. Thats how we handle alignments also.

    Agreed.

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