DIY Alignment Tools

#2
Indeed I've had my share of frustration at alignment places as well. The Ford Twin-Beam front suspension mine has made this especially so, since it seems most mechanics aren't trained well (if at all) on working with these suspensions.


My tools of choice are a tape measure, two steel plates & two metal dowels, some chalk or a grease pencil, two eyeballs, and a trip around the block.

For toe alignment, I create a reference point on the tread of each front tire by drawing a line around the circumference of the tire using chalk or a grease pencil while rotating the wheel (with it raised). This eliminates the possibility of a wobble in the tire causing an error in the final measurement (it's not uncommon for tires to have 1/8" or more wobble in them).
(If the tire happens to be wobble-free, then a point on the tread itself is usually fine to measure from)
I then set the tires to be dead-parallel, or very close to it (I have not observed any benefit by adjusting the toe ~1/8" in, so I usually just set them parallel for best tire wear)

Camber angle is something pretty easy for me to see with the naked eye just by looking at the front of the vehicle with the wheels pointed straight, so I've never really bothered with tools made specifically for that. A camber gauge is certainly a worthwhile tool to have if you aren't confident in doing it visually however (one like what is demonstrated in that YouTube vid should work well).

Setting the caster angle involves driving the vehicle around the block to determine if it pulls to one side or the other (caster angle provides the return-to-center function). A pull to the left means the driverside needs more caster angle and/or the passengerside needs less caster angle. Vice-versa for a pull to the right.

When taking any measurement (except caster angle), I put the two plates with the metal dowels between them (dowels placed longitudinally with the vehicle) under one front tire (and a wood block of similar thickness for the other tire) to relieve any bind between the front wheels that can cause the suspension to not fully settle, leading to an alignment error (this takes place of the movable plates normally seen on an alignment machine).
 
#4
I've always found that a tape measure and some basic geometry skills help most. Set the front axle on jack stands so that the suspension is still compressed, but the wheels are off the ground. Now take four measurements on each wheel at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions and compare them. Make a note that 3 o'clock should be measured to 6 o'clock and vice versa. Then just adjust as needed. At least, that's how I was taught by guys who specialize in older ford trucks.

The problem is that these days, you're not taking it to a mechanic, but a "technician" who's trained to read a computer output and not actually diagnose a problem. That's why the TTB and twin-I beam suspensions are so frustrating to technicians. The geometry is so different from your typical IFS these days, they don't know how to cope. Plus, they over think it by trying to factor in driver's weight acting on the suspension, or any number of other non-variables, which isn't an issue with the TTB and similar suspensions. Don't even get me started on trying to explain how a vacuum controlled engine works to these guys, or a cable driven speedometer for that matter. "You mean I have to figure it out myself and not use a computer?!?!"
 
#5
You should also look into getting a factory/dealer manual for your rig. Even the digital versions can be pretty good quality these days, and a lot cheaper to buy.
 
#6
This is the one I've used quite a bit: http://spcalignment.com/index.php?option=com_spc&task=part_description&pid=91000

It does camber and caster. They'll also tell you it does toe if you buy two and toe adapters, but the toe arms aren't stiff enough to measure toe properly for my taste, so I just go off a repeatable place on the tires. :)

I use a heavy garbage bag as a "turn plate". Very slick on a smooth-ish floor. (You have to do steering sweeps to measure caster.)

I think it's available through Summit, Fat Bob's, and amazon IIRC... $140-150.
Chris
 
#7
ok a simple home made toe in gauge like this http://www.homemadetools.net/toe-in-gauge will do the toe in. a smart level can do the camber. with a straight axle like I have if I get those two and it drives strait down the road that's all I need. Ford twin I-beams can only be aligned on the rack as soon as the suspension moves up or down(like when you are actually driving) you are out of alignment. let the flogging begin, but that's the way it is. simple geometry is all it takes and tells all. highdesertranger
 
#8
The catch to your view highdesertranger is that not having the caster set to factory specs or sometimes outside factory specs CAN cause problems. Jeeps and Dodge trucks can have death wobble. Anything on a tow bar can push you into the ditch if it doesn't have enough caster... So there are times when it may "drive down the road" ok, but still have less than desirable specifications.

So sometimes knowing the caster is also important, and useful in making sure your vehicle performs well.
It's also sometimes useful to have a starting point if you've really messed with the front end, such as on an IFS rig that you're re-assembling. With multiple cams, you need more a little more information about where caster is than a tape measure and a level can provide, and simply guessing and driving is not a good way to set caster.

But I do agree that you can get very close on camber w/o any specialized tools, and that setting toe requires nothing but a tape measure. :)
Chris
 
#9
I am not going to argue that point. but having a leaf spring front end and a straight axle I don't think my caster has changed much since the last time I had it aligned. I just gave the 2 easy ones. it's true also that more complicated front ends need more attention and yes the caster is important. highdesertranger
 
#10
Mine has never once been on a rack since I've owned it (and it has many non-stock parts on it too)... Only once did I ever find any unusual tire wear, and it was because of my own screwup (I failed to tighten one of the tie rod adjusting sleeves).
Let go of the wheel and it continues dead-straight in the lane.
No problem whatsoever flat-towing it behind our RV too.

A high-tech alignment rack certainly takes a good amount of the guesswork out of a frontend alignment, but by no means is it required to do a dead-on alignment... Setting the caster is very doable just by driving it and noting how the steering responds. Of course if one is unfamiliar with what to expect, then I guess I can see where getting anywhere with it might be more difficult in that case.

Most vehicles have a pretty broad range of acceptable caster angle (often 2-8°), so it's not exactly real difficult to have it within the ballpark to start with.
 
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TwoTrack

Buy Once, Cry Once
#11
I really appreciate all the responses, lots of great info. Caster has been my biggest struggle with the Tundra. Not to mention how annoying it is to pay money for an alignment only for your steering wheel to be crooked at the end.

Sent from my Nexus 5 using Tapatalk
 
#12
Most vehicles have a pretty broad range of acceptable caster angle (often 2-8°), so it's not exactly real difficult to have it within the ballpark to start with.
That right there tends to be one source of poor alignment jobs. The factory specs are awfully permissive of maladjustment. This is what I've learned-
Set the caster to the largest value achievable on both sides. This will sort out many problems.
Set camber near zero, possibly a bit of cross-camber, depending on the crown in your roads.
Toe near zero, or to match your cross-camber.
A lot of IFS trucks don't allow for much (enough) caster. Some UCAs can help that.
 
#13
having your steering wheel straight is part of the alignment. if the shop charged you for an alignment and didn't set the steering wheel straight they didn't do a complete job but charged you for it. rip off. take it back and tell them that they charged you for work they did not perform and demand they make it right. highdesertranger
 
#14
That right there tends to be one source of poor alignment jobs. The factory specs are awfully permissive of maladjustment. This is what I've learned-
Set the caster to the largest value achievable on both sides. This will sort out many problems.
Set camber near zero, possibly a bit of cross-camber, depending on the crown in your roads.
Toe near zero, or to match your cross-camber.
A lot of IFS trucks don't allow for much (enough) caster. Some UCAs can help that.
I'm with you 100% on that. I try to go for the higher end of the available range also.

My point mainly was (in response to a couple posts prior) that setting of the caster angle is not something only possible using expensive professional tools such as a rack. Once you're within that (broad) ballpark (which is also possible to eyeball too if you know what it is you're looking at), it's pretty easy to fine-tune it from that point onward with a test drive or two.
 
#15
having your steering wheel straight is part of the alignment. if the shop charged you for an alignment and didn't set the steering wheel straight they didn't do a complete job but charged you for it. rip off. take it back and tell them that they charged you for work they did not perform and demand they make it right. highdesertranger
What he said ^^^^^
 
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