08

Wrench Tip: How to Do Your Own Alignment!

by Nikita Rushmanov

 

When most people hear the word alignment, they think of two things-- lasers and alignment racks. There is a preconceived notion that in order to achieve an accurate alignment, you need a $50,000 alignment rack. That is simply not true. With a little ingenuity and math, you can achieve extremely accurate alignments without any expensive tooling whatsoever. When racers hear the word alignment, they think of strings and levels.

 

Pretty much every race team out there uses strings to align their cars. If it’s good enough for F1, it’s good enough for us.

Many many years ago, I used to get my car aligned on a Hunter rack at a local Firestone. However, I was never satisfied with the accuracy; my car never once tracked straight after coming off a rack. After getting fed up, I attempted my own string setup, and after making very careful adjustments, I was absolutely blown away by how perfectly straight my car would track. Now I’m not saying that alignment racks are inaccurate, rather, the point I’m trying to make is that it’s not about how big your tool is, it’s how you use it.

 

Showing off my perfect alignment to all my friends.

There are products out there designed specifically to help with at home alignments, however, you may find it hard to justify the price. For example, a set of Watkins SmartStrings costs $450… for strings and tubes. Or, their SmartCamber gauge is essentially a $250 angle finder. QuickTrick turn plates cost $230 for two sheets of metal and a bearing. I’m going to show how you can do the same thing with stuff you probably have laying around your garage.

 

Here is a list of everything you’ll need:

  • String

  • Bars to hold the alignment strings (I used 1” square aluminum tube)

  • Ruler

  • Tape measure

  • Vinyl tile ($1 from Home Depot)

  • Soapy water

  • Bubble level

  • Angle gauge (optional, but highly recommended)

  • Jack stands

  • Wrenches for adjusting arms

 

Before we get started, you need to know what caster, camber and toe is. You also should probably know what kind of settings you want. I highly recommend you read Mike Kojima’s Ultimate Suspension Guide.

The first step, is to make sure your floor is level.

 

The easiest way to check if the floor is level is by using the alignment bars that you have. Simply place them along the side of the car, with the ends next to your wheels, propped up on 2x4’s. Then you can place a level on the bar to check if the floor is level across the side of the car. Repeat this on the other side as well.

 

Now, using the same method, check if the floor is level going across the car as well.

If your floor is not level, it isn’t the end of the world. One thing you can do, is put plywood shims under the wheel that is low. For example, in my old garage, one corner of the garage dipped a little bit, which meant that 3 wheels were level with each other, but the rear left dipped down. I was able to still do alignments in that garage by simply placing a 1/4” thick sheet of plywood under that wheel.

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Comments
crxguy52
crxguy52link
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 4:30 AM
I use the cheap-o harbor freight suction cups with a long bolt through it to make my own "smart strings". You need to measure the front and rear track width first, but after that the strings move with the car. I wrote a blog post about it:

https://crxguy52.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/setting-up-a-string-alignment-on-a-ap2-s2000/

I got the idea from either Honda-Tech or S2ki. The suction cups don't last forever on a curve surface, so I usually tape them on with painters tape after I suction them on. Works like a charm.
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 5:35 AM
We used strings on our SAE car. We made a simple jig out of PVC tube and then weighed down the corners with cinder blocks. Worked really well and it was easy to pack. We also made a very basic camber gauge out of two pieces of aluminum sheet stock. We just bolted them together at the bottom with a wing nut, then set it on the ground with one bar vertical and the other leaning against the tire. Tighten the nut to hold the angle and then measure the angle with a protractor. If we were really good, we'd have used some aluminum angle stock, added a bubble level, and then calculated and marked the actual angle on the aluminum itself. But of course we were too busy working on the actual racecar to make real alignment tools. Our advisor built his own and it was pretty nifty.
ED9man
ED9manlink
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 10:38 AM
Surprised to see stretched Nankang tires on Motoiq
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 11:14 AM
Be real, considering that this is a grassroots drift car, in drifting only the pros use expensive tires. Grassroots folks use the cheapest longest lasting tires they can find. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if you are not competing but running for fun, practicing or just sessioning with the boys.
ED9man
ED9manlink
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 1:23 PM
Fair enough, the stretch still seems a little scary though!
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 4:37 PM
That is not that extreme of a stretch. One of the reasons why this works besides aesthetic reasons is that a Grassroots mild SR powered S chassis doesn't have enough power to keep a drift going on a lot of courses without running super high tire pressures and clutch kicking. Cars like this require bleeding off grip. The stretched sidewalls and high-pressure help give cheap tires some feeling of stiffness. It's a JDM trick.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 4:45 PM
A cool trick I have learned from Nate Haugh of Bink Industries is to use a big ziplock heavy duty freezer bag filled with a few tablespoons of light grease to act as a slip plate. I have seen him do this on all sorts of surfaces and it works great. However, I still prefer to roll the car out in the direction of travel.
spdracerut
spdracerutlink
Wednesday, August 09, 2017 9:18 PM
Always good to see practical uses for math!
engineered
engineeredlink
Thursday, August 10, 2017 8:50 PM
Excellent article. I've been planning to setup my own DIY smart strings when I get some time.
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