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Thread: Poor man's alignment DIY

  1. #1
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    Poor man's alignment DIY

    So...after being quoted ~$70 to do one adjustment (toe) on my car, I began searching for other ways to go about doing my own alignment. I've read alot on here, and googled alot and ended up trying the string method. This way doesn't have the strings attached to the car, but uses the track info for the car to line it up. The only tools you need for this job are:

    - 24mm wrench or adjustable wrench
    - 13mm wrench
    - 2 jackstands or other heavy object
    - string
    - a few hours

    This is for an M coupe/roadster, but if you have a z3 you will have to look up the track information for your car (remember, its half the total difference for 1 side). The M's track info is:

    front: 1422 mm (56 in)
    rear: 1491 mm (58.7 in)
    69mm (2.7 in) difference \ 2 = 34.5 mm (1.358 in) difference on either side.





    A will be 34.5mm (or 1.358 in) larger than B to compensate for difference in track. If B is 100 mm from the string, A will be 134.5. This is probably the hardest part (this job is just time consuming if anything). When you move the stands to get A closer, you must check and adjust the string to B, it'll take a few times but you want the string 34.5mm farther away than the rear.

    From there you measure the distance from the front of the rim to the string, and the back of the rim to the string. It makes life easier to write this down. If the front is larger, you have Toe-In. If the back is larger, you have Toe-Out. From there, you get under the car (I could reach without having to jack the car up or disturbing the strings) and loosen the lock nut. After that all you have to do is use the 13mm wrench to adjust the tie-rod. After you adjust a little, go back and measure again, do this until the front of the rim to the string is the same as the back to the string. Then just tighten the lock nut and do the other side.

    Picture Illustration:

    Step 1: Center and lock wheel


    Step 2: Attach strings to jack stands, adjust height so string runs along center of roundel. Make sure front is 34.5mm farther than rear.



    Step 3: Measure front of rim to string


    Step 4: Measure rear of rim to string


    Step 5: Loosen Locknut (24mm) and adjust 13mm and go back and forth and measure. (I removed the boot clamp thinking there was a adjuster behind it)


    Perfect:



    Step 6: tighten everything back up and take it for a test drive.


    I used my front left wheel in the example. It was off by a total of 13mm (1/2") from front to back , which was explaining the pulling of the wheel and wandering.

    You may need to repeat if you're a perfectionist. I went for a test drive, and the wheel was off ever so slightly, but no more pulling. I re-measured the strings and the front left was off by 1mm.

    I didn't mean to make this as long as I did, but I'm trying to make it as easy to understand as possible. A few days ago I had no idea how I was even going to tackle this, but with some help from car54 and google, I came up with a really easy way to go about it. Pretty much, for a few hours of work and a little bit of figuring out, I fixed my wandering/pulling for absolutely free. Any questions feel free to PM me.


    My puppy learning early
    Last edited by IRPancake; 10-01-2008 at 05:35 PM.

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    Jeremy is offline ǝoɥsuʍolƆ ǝnƃɐǝ˥ ɹoɾɐW BMW CCA Member
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    Good write up. Thanks for sharing!
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  3. #3
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    I've also used fishing wire, but in the end toe plates are much less hassle. Either way, props for doing it yourself.

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    Awesome! Thanks for taking the time to post this info -- this thread is getting bookmarked.

    BMW makes a big deal out of having the passenger seat weighted or someone sitting in it for proper alignment and I don't see that mentioned. Honestly, though, I have yet to comprehend how that would appreciably impact toe settings (camber, I can almost understand, but, even then, if you get it set based on the passenger seat being occupied it seems like the resulting settings would be off if someone wasn't riding with you (or the reverse) -- must be some German rocket science involved beyond my simple mind's ability to reason out),

  5. #5
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    No problem! I was hoping to run into a thread like this when I was looking for info, so I'm hoping I can help at least one person out with this, and save them some money at the same time.

    I had read about weighting the car down some, but I forgot when I set out to do it today. I dont see how it could have that big of an impact on it either, but tomorrow I can have a friend sit in the car while I measure to see if it changes.

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    Glad you got it figured out! Thanks for giving me some credit!

    Did you only have to adjust one side? You should try to roll the car forward and backward a few feet after you make an adjustment. I just grab the spokes of the wheel and do it while I'm still on the ground. (Watch your digits)

    If your center steer is off, that's easy. Just adjust 1/4 turn the same direction on both tie-rods and then test drive.

    Again, glad to see you got it done!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Car54 View Post
    Glad you got it figured out! Thanks for giving me some credit!

    Did you only have to adjust one side? You should try to roll the car forward and backward a few feet after you make an adjustment. I just grab the spokes of the wheel and do it while I'm still on the ground. (Watch your digits)

    If your center steer is off, that's easy. Just adjust 1/4 turn the same direction on both tie-rods and then test drive.

    Again, glad to see you got it done!
    The steering wheel is off ever so slightly, so I may give that a try tomorrow. the right front wheel was only off by 1mm, but the left was off by 13mm , so I did both to get it perfect. I also measured the rears for fun and came up with 1mm off on the rear left and 4.5mm off on the right.

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    I have used this same method to do the alignment on the 84 nissan 720. however, there is no way this method is as accurate as the computer laser alignment rack. so this method can be used to get you to the alignment shop but not for any great distance or if you are going to be driving aggressively. just an FYI

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    My front left wheel was 13mm off. I drove it like that for probably 6 months (probably close to 6000 miles) because I couldn't justify spending 70 bucks on an alignment at my current financial situation (yes I know, stupid decision). In that time I've done dozens of 0-60 runs, plenty of hard turning and the like. I think if you spend enough time and measure everything right it'll get pretty damn close. If you're racing or something, no, don't do this, because you can probably afford the an alignment if you can afford to race. I don't see how its going to negatively affect anything now that its closer to being correct.

    remember this is the poor mans alignment. Note the freakin' paper ruler
    Last edited by IRPancake; 10-01-2008 at 08:17 PM.

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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by IRPancake View Post
    My front left wheel was 13mm off. I drove it like that for months (probably close to 6000 miles) because I couldn't justify spending 70 bucks on an alignment (yes I know, stupid decision). In that time I've done dozens of 0-60 runs, plenty of hard turning and the like. I think if you spend enough time and measure everything right it'll get pretty damn close. If you're racing or something, no, don't do this, because you can probably afford the an alignment if you can afford to race. I don't see how its going to negatively affect anything now that its closer to being correct.
    I would be interested to see what the wear on your tires looks like in another 6,000mi. I am rather shocked you drove for 6,000mi with 13mm off in the front as that is enough to cause the computer to wig out and throw the ABS and traction control lights on your car. it is also enough to wear a new tire down at least 50%. Lastly, if you didn't notice your car was out 13mm then you wont notice when it is out 1mm for sure so happy driving

    dont get me wrong i know why you did it, because obviously 1mm off is better then 13mm off by anyones standard. but even still there is no substitute for a proper alignment (which you should include in your original post so people dont get the wrong idea)

    I have to readjust the nissans alignment every month (hence why i do it myself) but that is because the front end is wore out so it wont hold an alignment anyway.

  11. #11
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    I guess I didn't mention it but I did end up going back and adjusting it to perfect after the test drive. A good idea would be to do what car54 suggested and rolling it back and forth after each adjustment.

    edit: my front right tire is actually worn down way too far on the outer edge. This was my motivation for curing the problem, soon I'll need new tires. Either way I was going to need new ones soon, both sides are looking worn.
    Last edited by IRPancake; 10-01-2008 at 08:37 PM.

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    I think you'd be surprised how many "racers" do similar alignments. A laser rack is only as good as the guy who operates it or the calibration of the machine.

    Pancake's method isn't the best measurement alignment method, but using some other similar procedures, I can't see a reason to go to a shop for alignment unless you have better ways to spend your time.

    I'd bet you I can get within a hundredth of a degree doing a similar method but measuring at the back wheel with a laser on the front wheel. It allows you to get much more accurate.

    I'm not saying you're wrong entirely, but it's not as absolute as you claim it to be.
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    BTW ...that is one cute puppy too

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSUalum97 View Post
    BTW ...that is one cute puppy too

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    Quote Originally Posted by Car54 View Post
    I think you'd be surprised how many "racers" do similar alignments. A laser rack is only as good as the guy who operates it or the calibration of the machine.

    Pancake's method isn't the best measurement alignment method, but using some other similar procedures, I can't see a reason to go to a shop for alignment unless you have better ways to spend your time.

    I'd bet you I can get within a hundredth of a degree doing a similar method but measuring at the back wheel with a laser on the front wheel. It allows you to get much more accurate.

    I'm not saying you're wrong entirely, but it's not as absolute as you claim it to be.
    not arguing that at all. if you have lasers then yeah you can do just as good as any alignment place. if you make friends with a local shop then you wont be paying 70 bucks for the alignment either anyway, i am all about DIY as i have stated i do this on my Nissan, but that being said. . . its a Nissan.

  16. #16
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    Toe plates will give you total toe in or out. The strings can give you a toe measurment for each wheel.

    After you lift the car to adjust the the tie rods you really should get the "hysterious" out of the suspension, roll it forward and backward.

    Also, we use some "jet line" (nylon string), for less margin of error, when you're talking 1/16th's, a fat string won't help.

    The geometry is all tied together. For example, in the rear of our cars, as the spring and shock compress, camber increases (negatively), and the wheels toe out.

    I also use string to align my car.





  17. #17
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    that is a slightly different approach. did you make the mounts or did you purchase them somewhere?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MdMcoupe View Post
    Toe plates will give you total toe in or out. The strings can give you a toe measurment for each wheel.

    After you lift the car to adjust the the tie rods you really should get the "hysterious" out of the suspension, roll it forward and backward.

    Also, we use some "jet line" (nylon string), for less margin of error, when you're talking 1/16th's, a fat string won't help.

    The geometry is all tied together. For example, in the rear of our cars, as the spring and shock compress, camber increases (negatively), and the wheels toe out.

    I also use string to align my car.

    The main thing to understand about this design is what happens to camber and toe settings as the semi-trailing arm moves through its travel. The rear wheel on a semi-trailing arm suspension gains negative camber as the suspension compresses. Also the rear suspension gains toe-in as it compresses past the horizontal position of the trailing arms. The gain in camber and toe-in actually is beneficial during cornering while power is being applied.

    http://www.zvolution.com/Z3Faq/suspe...suspension.htm


    Essentially, as the semitrailing arm is compressed, camber becomes more negative and toe moves in (good for accelleration and hard cornering). Badness happens when the rear end is unloaded (braking, decelleration, throttle-off), and camber becomes more positive and toe moves out. This creates a very unstable rear end - often described as being "a hand-full" or "unstable" with wild oversteer.

    http://wiederhold-rd.com/suspensionrear.html
    Last edited by Adrian G.; 10-02-2008 at 04:36 PM.

  19. #19
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    Ferris "aligned" my coupe by measurement when we replaced the tie rod ends over the summer. To ensure accuracy I donated $200 to the stealer...I believe he was within 0.1 degree
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by mz.368 View Post
    Ferris "aligned" my coupe by measurement when we replaced the tie rod ends over the summer. To ensure accuracy I donated $200 to the stealer...I believe he was within 0.1 degree
    wow, now that is close!

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2kredz3 View Post
    wow, now that is close!
    yea it was ridiculous, I still get mad when I think about it, lol. Told him I was going to put a gold star on the report for him
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  22. #22
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    I hear e30m3performance.com is back up as well....good suspension talk in there. I can't access it from work to check it.

    Glad other members are posting their home alignment methods.

    Here's a link from the track forum, that also talks about Po' man's alignments.

    http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum...7#post13774947
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by mz.368 View Post
    yea it was ridiculous, I still get mad when I think about it, lol. Told him I was going to put a gold star on the report for him
    usually alignment places will check it for free. . . if it was that close i would walk

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2kredz3 View Post
    usually alignment places will check it for free. . . if it was that close i would walk
    oh no...I had to go to BMW
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by mz.368 View Post
    oh no...I had to go to BMW
    lol, who told you to do that? I made friends with the alignment guy at kauffman tire so when i need it done again from adjusting the height or what ever he slips it in under warranty

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