How To: DIY Alignment in Action (Part 2)

String box setup; time to align!

I just found this post listed as a draft and not posted to the blog. Part 1 has been up for over a year but somehow this never got posted. It was originally written in March 2011. I’ll likely end up messing with the Silvi’s alignment as well as I make suspension changes so this was a nice refresher.

In Part 1, I laid out how I planned to go about setting my alignment.  Now in Part 2, I’ll report back with the results and tricks I learned along the way.  I’ll separate the work into front and rear.  As mentioned before, changes should be done in this order: ride height > camber > toe; working back to front.

To get my feet wet and get familiar with it all, I nixed all the fancy surface level checks.  I just eyeballed a flat area and set about making adjustments.  Anything was going to be better than the previous nonsense.  The whole process of doing an alignment is constant brain stimulus of “which why do I turn this to get the desired results.”  If you thought trying to figure out which way to turn your oil drain plug was confusing, this will really test your patience and mental prowess to keep it all straight.  Do not fret; plow on and you will prevail!

-toolbox full of metric tools
-mason string
-jack stands
-straight edge
-straight edge ruler
-tape measure
-traditional carpenter’s bubble level
-notepad and pen

These were all the tidbits I used for my quick alignment. It’s actually a pretty short list of common items a garage mechanic/household handyman likely has already. I had it all except string, level, straight edge, and ruler (~$15).

My first check was ride height all around the car.  I measured to the highest point on the wheel arches.  The fronts were 633mm and the rear were 630mm.  Close enough for me.  Ride height done.


Measuring camber; same process and front and rear.

Rear Camber: I first measured where camber was set on both sides.  The passenger side had more than the driver side. Adjustments need to be made individually – you can’t just set the eccentric bolt to the same position on each side.  On a JZX, the rear camber is adjusted through the rear camber arm (the lower arm, the one the sway bar mounts to).  Since I started with a lot of negative camber and I wanted to reduce it, I had to make the camber arm “shorter” or pull in the bottom of the wheel.

Rear camber eccentric bolt location.

Loosen the eccentric bolt nut, use a wrench on the bolt head to turn the bolt the desired amount, then tighten down the nut.  Check the camber again.  At my height (not that low), my eccentric bolts are maxed out pulling out as much camber as possible.  I finished with them sitting at about -.5 degrees.  If I go lower, I’ll need aftermarket arms to correct it.

TIP:If you raise the car to gain access to the adjustment bolt, you’ll want to lower it and roll it back and forth a few times to help the suspension settle before you measure camber.  I did that a few times and then realized I could fit under the rear the make the adjustments with out raising.  This made the whole process much faster.

Rear Toe: To set the toe, you’ll need to set up your string box (as seen in the opening picture).  I chose the jack stand and string method.  It required less materials and setup.  After setting up the box once or twice, I can now set it in about five minutes.

Setting hub to string distance.

Following the method I laid out in Part 1, I set my line equidistant to the front and rear hubs.  The distance you choose from the hub to string is completely ambiguous.  I chose 185mm since it was enough to keep it away from the body but not longer than my ruler.  Make it a round number to make your life easier.  Adjust the front to your desired distance (185mm for me), then check the rear, move the rear jack until it’s set, then adjust the front jack to match, when it’s good, check the rear again.  Slight, fine adjustments of the jacks will tweak the string into position in no time.  A change at the front will affect the rear; you’ll need to bounce back-and-forth, front-to-rear a few times.

Front of rear wheel (toe has already been set just mocked for pictures).

Now, ignoring the front wheels, check the distance from the front and rear edge of the rear wheel to the line.  If the front is closer to the line than the rear, then you have toe out.  If the front is further from the line than the rear, you have toe in.  Since I wanted zero toe, the final distance from each edge of the wheel to the string didn’t matter, I just had to adjust them to be the same.

Rear of rear wheel (toe has already been set just mocked for picture).

With toe, small adjustments of the eccentric bolt result in big changes.  Crawl under the car, loosen and adjust the eccentric bolt, then check distances.  First measure to the hub, reset the line to 185mm if you bumped it, then measure to the front and rear of the wheel.  Repeat this process until you have it all adjusted.

Take care and take your time when measuring.

TIP:What is most important when making these measurements is to measure to the same side of the string and to not rest the ruler on the line. The string is about 1mm thick which is a significant amount when setting toe. Also, you want the ruler to sit pretty level from the wheel to the string while barely resting it on the bottom of the string. Consistency in measurement is the key.

Front Camber: I was a bit short on time so I called the preset front camber good enough, even though the driver side was over a full degree more negative. There is an eccentric bolt on the lower control arms that will adjust the camber in similar fashion as the rear. I also have JIC upper arms which will allow me to really go A LOT more negative should I get into a setup with serious angle.

Front Toe: This was the main area needing attention since the car had some unsteadiness at speed and the steering wheel was off-center when driving straight. Which brings me to the first point of setting front toe – make sure your steering wheel is positioned squarely before you make changes. As you make changes, you’ll notice the wheel turns. Set it to the “top”, make adjustments, reset it to the top, take measurements, make adjustments, reset it to the top, take measurements, make adjustments, reset it to the top, etc. You see the repetitive cycle. It’s very important to keep squaring the steering wheel.

I read a tip that said to place tape at the 12 o’clock position on the steering wheel to make it easier to see it square. After realizing this still left some vagueness and guess work (unless you got in the car and repositioned it every time) when adjusting the wheel through the driver’s window, I came up with an adaptation:

Chopstick, baby!

The chopstick taped to the dash acts as a fine tuner to the tape band on the steering wheel. Move the wheel back to top position and the chopstick should fall in the middle of the band. This worked excellent for getting the wheel back to the same position after each adjustment; remember consistency is key.

Easy to keep an eye on from the outside.

I also found it much easier to spot when the wheel had moved positions from the outside of the vehicle. A quick glance and it was apparent.

That’s it. Ride height, camber, and toe. Don’t be intimidated. Just get after it and it will start making sense (hopefully!).