View Full Version : Portable Wheel Alignment Tools

05-01-2005, 10:13 PM
Anyone know of a good at home wheel alignment tool kit?

05-02-2005, 05:05 AM
You mean besides strings and magnetic base camber gauges?

How much money is a "good" tool kit worth? Longacre has some nice stuff, I use strings and levels to get close and check with a Hunter P6 series.

05-02-2005, 07:49 AM
Four jack stands, a ball of string, castor/chamber guage, and a tape measure. Good to 1/32". This will allow you to do all the basics: Toe, chamber, castor, and ride height. Add some turning plates, a bump steer guage, plumb bob and you've got all the tools to do a full alignment. All the other fancy tools just make the job faster. My guess is 75%+ of everyday racers align their car by stringing it.

05-02-2005, 02:56 PM
How important is a level floor? Mine is mostly level, but my car only ever really uses 3 jackstands.


05-02-2005, 07:44 PM
No matter how well you think you can align a car with strings and levels, you can't do as well as you can with a computerized alignment machine. I'm a mechanical engineer for Hunter Engineering were we make the alignment equipment. A computer alignment machine has a resolution of .01 degrees for all alignment angles and an accuracy under .05 degrees. The alingment machines also take into account the rear axle thrust line, the run out in each of the wheels, etc.

I know that Indy car teams still string align the cars as well as NASCAR but they don't want to lug a full alignment machine with them and they usually don't want to pay for their equipment and wee won't give it away. The Indy car guys measure the toe within a few .001" with calipers. They have a much more sophisticated set up than I think any of us would build for our home alignment needs.

Anyway, the level floor is important. It is a reference for the buble type camber and caster gages. They assume a level floor. In place of turn plates, you can put sand on the floor and place a 1/4" piece of plywood 12"x12" on that then roll the front tires on the plywood. This will reduce friction enough to do the string method.

To measure camber, you could use a framing square and a level then measure from the bottom of the rim and top of the rim to the verticle of the square. Use the difference along with the rim diameter to calculate the camber.

In order to use a buble caster gage, you need to measure the turning angle because the caster gage is measuring the change in camber at a 10 or 20 degree steer angle.

Get it close then bring it to an alignment shop. They can set it up to what ever specs you want as long as their is enough adjustment.

05-03-2005, 06:35 AM
I don't disagree that a computer alignment is far more accurate then stringing a car. But come on. You don't need 0.01 degrees accuracy for a street car. Getting the car within 1/16" on toe and 1/4 degree on camber and castor is sufficient.
I think this is a great do it yourself and save money project. Take your time and you can acheive the results you need.

05-03-2005, 06:40 AM
You would be suprised how many "it's with a 1/16" toe" I've had on a rack that were way off. There is no way for you positively know what your alignment is without an alignment machine.

BTW it's caster not castor.

05-03-2005, 12:09 PM
Thanks for all the posts. That is pretty creative to use the plywood and sand trick.

Anyhow, I was looking for tools and or instructions. I'm all for the poor man's methods if they are decent, but is there a site out there detailing exactly how to do it. I havent done trigonometry in years...

So, which do you adjust first? It seems you need to do toe last, since the other measurements would affect that. So is caster first? camber second?

I found this online which looks kinda slick for the price. I'm just asking if there exists a quality tool that will do the job for a a couple hundred bucks...


What do you guys think?

05-03-2005, 12:37 PM
I have also adjusted my older cars and trucks with the string or measuring tape method. (Still need to do the 69 Camaro) Heck even my 1979 Chevy truck has been adjusted that way and has never had a problem and it used to be my daily driver.
Obviously the computer way is the best but if you need a reliable fix then the string or measuring tape will easily get you by for several years. Now if your pushing over 100mph all the time then the computer is the way to go.

05-03-2005, 06:24 PM
Denny-I think your missing my point. Sure a high dollar alignment tool is the way to go. But done correctly a car that is aligned by the string method will work. Without a rigid frame and rubber bushings the suspension is moving around so much that 0.01 degree accuracy is overkill. Let's quite highjacking Joe's thread and give him some info he can use.

BTW-It's bubble caster gauge. Not a buble caster gage. Worry about your own spell checking JA.

05-03-2005, 07:18 PM
Denny-I think your missing my point. Sure a high dollar alignment tool is the way to go. But done correctly a car that is aligned by the string method will work. Without a rigid frame and rubber bushings the suspension is moving around so much that 0.01 degree accuracy is overkill. Let's quite highjacking Joe's thread and give him some info he can use.Actually, I do have a rigid frame and all solid bushings so in some cases it does matter. 0.01* may be overkill for the toe however caster and camber are usually the angles that get set wrong and I have never seen a homeshop toe set within 0.01*. They are usually lucky to get within 1/8" or so.

BTW-It's bubble caster gauge. Not a buble caster gage. Worry about your own spell checking JA.
Wrong guy jerky, I didn't write that quote. That was DLinson... :hammer:

Joe, the plywood trick works pretty good. I use a good amount of bearing grease sandwiched by a pair of sheetmetal plates.

05-05-2005, 02:59 AM
Please keep it civil, y'all.

05-05-2005, 04:08 AM
I got a digital Smart Level off of eBay to use along with my string, framing square, tape measure, common sense, and instructions from other websites. I am fairly certain that my perfectionism will get close enough for my uses, but I will occasionally take it to a shop to have it checked/adjusted. I might be able to get a 'lifetime' or 'warranteed' alignment and then take it back every few months, the guys at the local shop would love tweaking on my car anyway (as long as they don't cross-country the car if I am away from the shop).

05-05-2005, 06:42 AM
Derek-I agree. It's too bad people can't just have a civilized disagreement and not make it personnel. Let's just stick to the facts and maybe we'll all learn something.

David Pozzi
05-06-2005, 01:12 PM
I agree the new machines are great if the operator is properly trained and wants to get the job done properly.
FYI years ago before the computer machines, my uncle aligned his car at home then took it to an alignment shop, they didn't charge him because there was nothing out of alignment, it was right on the money. All he has was a bubble gage, tape measure and turntables. Harbor Frieght sells turntables, I think they are very important to relieve pressure on the suspension and let it settle properly.

I'm sure there are plenty of bad alignments done at home though. You have to be up to speed on how it's done and pretty fussy about getting it right, even then you can't do what the pro machines do.

The advantage is, you can change camber or whatever as often as you please at no charge.

05-06-2005, 03:35 PM
I have a hunter machine at work(good for me) :woot: you can't beat a computer. I used the bubble gauges years ago and they do work well if the car is level, make sure you lock the brakes so the car does not roll around. If the front is on plates then the rear should be at the same level.

05-06-2005, 04:35 PM
I use the Intercomp digital camber/caster gauge. Is it perfect? No, but like David mentioned, I change the alignment 4-5 times a year so paying for each one would break the bank.

The Intercomp has a +/- 0.1* accuracy for both measurements. Toe is set with plates and tape measures. The tapes are not perfect, but it for what I do with the car, it works.

Setting the alignment takes about 1.5 hours.

Jim Nilsen
05-06-2005, 11:36 PM
I can remember being told that because I wanted specs that were not factory for my car that they would not align it because their new machine didn't have someone trained to do it and they wouldn't be able to guarantee it.

I think the point is to be able to handle better and not have excessive tire wear which is a catch 22 situation along with having to go back home because the places in your town are expensive and still don't understand.

I remember also being told that those big tires will really mess up your car :lmao:

Jim Nilsen

05-07-2005, 06:39 AM
Yeah, there are more than a few idiots out there that not only do not understand alignment/suspension, but can't use the machine if it doesn't tell them exactly which bolts to turn to perform the alignment.

Just have to look around and find a shop that knows what they are doing. Look for older shops with at least one guy old enough to have been a tech when they still put carburetors on cars. :lmao:

David Pozzi
05-07-2005, 04:49 PM
A Smartlevel is pretty accurate for measuring camber, you can find charts to determine caster using one but you need to accurately turn the wheel in and out a given angle for each reading. Toe can be set using trammel bars or flat plates against the wheels and tape measures. String lines are great but take a lot more work to accurately set up.
The prof road race teams use stringlines and dial calipers to measure.

I use a bubble gage from Speedway, they have a good price on them. A digital gage is probably more accurate but they need batteries and need to be zero'd before use, plus they cost more.

Verify any camber gage by clamping a carpenters level or piece of bar stock vertically in a vise, put the gage against one side, take a "camber" reading, then put it against the opposite side and read again, the true zero point is half way between the two readings.

05-13-2005, 07:40 PM
Wow, lots more comments since I checekd last. Thanks, again.

I took a look at the Intercomp guage. It looks cool. I'm still leaning towards the ART Digital Smart Guage.

I hear what you're all saying about accuracy and people knowing or not knowing what they are doing. I only took a car once to a shop that did computer alignment. I watched them fit the rim attachments and then the car was lifted in the air with the suspension hanging down at full droop. I thought "what the f..." at the time. It was about 16 years ago... my 1986 IROC... It was lowered, and I just thought how in the heck do they do an accurate alignment with the wheels not even on the ground. Maybe I missed half the show, but the car pulled to the right pretty badly afterwards.

I thought forget that and took it the next day to one of my old favorite shops. They did it with a tape measure and mag mounted bubble guages. It drove great after that.

Anyhow, I just want to do my own alignments. It's my ride and most of the fun is in doing everything myself.

05-14-2005, 09:14 PM
You caught the opening sciene of the show. When you do an alignment with electronic sensors, you first mount the sensors to the wheels, raise the vehicle, and then electronically compensate the sensors for wheel and sensor runout. The car is then lowered back onto the rack, unpinned turnplates and slip plates, then jounced and now the vehicle is ready to be adjusted.

There are lots of reasons for a pull in a car. The largest cause for a pull is either a caster or camber difference from side to side. The car will pull to the side with the higher camber reading or the lower caster reading. Toe will not cause a pull. The rear end can also cause a pull. The direction the rear end is pointing relative to the geometric centerline is call the thrust angle. Electronic measurement machines measure this angle, you can't with a string. If the rear end is adjustable, you can adjust it out. If not then you align the front tires to match the thrust angle. If it is too great, you will have to replace parts. you can trie to measure the thrust angle by comparing the wheel base from side to side but then you don't know if there is setback in the front end. Setback is when one wheel is setback further than the other. Not many companies have a spec for this but it is something body shops need to adjust.

Other things that can cause a pull is a difference in steering axis inclination, power steering issues, worn parts, difference in tire inflation, and the tires themselve. Some tires may have a lateral pull in them causing the pull. Tires may have a conicity problem, difference in sidewall stiffness, and plysteer.

You may want to have the car aligned at a shop that you can trust for you base line. Then when you go to the track or at home you can measure the car with the strings and levels and then do an incramental adjustment from there. Record all of the adjustments so you can return the car back to the original alignment. The digital Smart level is pretty good. You can calibrate it for unlevel surfaces. Make sure all of your adjusments are made on some type of slip plates to relieve the stresses in the front ends. You may be able to get a cheap set of turnplates for the front tires from Harbor Frieght. I believe they may sell a set. A local Hunter service rep. may also sell you a used refurbished set. If you log onto www.Hunter.com you can find a local service rep by typing in your area code.

You may want to check out sights like Longacer Racing for tips on how to read tire temps to diagnose alignment problems. An alignment for the track will definately be different than what you want on the streets. Different tracks will require different alingments.

As for custom alignment specs, if the shop has a Hunter PC based aligner, they can create a custom spec. for you and save it in their computer data base. Then they can recall it the next time you are there. Some shops may not want to deviate from factory alignment specs because they do not want to be liable for premature tire wear and be expected to purchase the customer a new set of tires.

Good luck with the alignments.


05-14-2005, 10:35 PM
Some shops may not want to deviate from factory alignment specs because they do not want to be liable for premature tire wear and be expected to purchase the customer a new set of tires.

Good luck with the alignments.

Bring it to my shop, I rarely use factory specs. Factory engineers do their best to determine what will work best on paper. The difference between ideal on paper and ideal on the street are miles apart and factory spec almost never get you a happy compromise of good handling, good tire wear and good street manners.

05-15-2005, 05:31 PM
Offense taken. Many people think engineers don't know what they are doing buy you have to remember they are not designing the cars to handle like a race car. They are designing cars than can be driven by average people. Cars usually have bump steer designed into the car to ensure that the toe never goes negative. Negative toe is unstable. Yes lots of race cars are set up with negative toe which helps turn-in, etc. but the average driver isn't a race car driver and does not have the skills to react properly. Cars are also set up to push because that is easier for average drivers to handle. It for sure isn't the best thing on a track.

People always complain to me about about a small aspect of a product but they don't have a clue how to look at a problem, come up with a solution, design a product to solve that problem, and then produce. I invite all of those people to try and do it, and they ususally mumble under there breath and go away.

05-15-2005, 05:51 PM
Well I can tell you that DCX is having a hell of time making the LX platform drive straight, I fix them the old fashioned way...align them my way. Same with the Dodge truck from 1994-1999, I fixed those too.

05-15-2005, 10:11 PM
hey Den, how the hell do you get your arm all the way back there? LOL

05-15-2005, 10:34 PM
Years of practice

05-15-2005, 10:58 PM
Hey Denny, I would bring it by your shop, if you weren't so far away. Thanks for offering...

Anyhow, I'm only brought up the IROC to make a point and chime in with those who mentioned that a computer alignment is useless if the guy doesn't know what he is doing. I don't have that IROC any more. I'm trying to align my 69 Camaro now, and the point of this whole thread was to get input on some do it yourself tools and perhaps a step by step of the alginment process so I can give it a shot.

Thanks again, everyone.

05-16-2005, 02:00 PM

If you want to try and align the car at home these few web pages have procedures on how they aligned their own cars using strings and levels. Take a look at them, they should get you close. At least it will give you a method to change alignment angles at home or at the track to make those incramental adjustments.

54 DIY aligment (http://www.cadvision.com/blanchas/54pontiac/alignment.html)

Negative Camber's alignment tips (http://www.negative-camber.org/jam149/alignment.html)

Sherline Products (http://www.sherline.com/alignbar.htm)

Sherline is for open wheel cars but if you take your time, you could probably make similar alignment bars for your car. Just some more info for you.


05-16-2005, 03:44 PM
Awesome, DLinson! Thanks for the info!

05-22-2005, 08:10 PM
DYI alignment from corner-carvers.com (http://corner-carvers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13211)

If you haven't seen the new Hardcore Suspension thread under the Suspension section, they have the above link as well as a few others for DIY alignments. The link above looked pretty good.


05-23-2005, 11:36 AM
Yeah, actually, that article looks great, too. I like that description for leveling the floor.

Thanks, again.