Do it yourself alignment – at home for free – almost!!
Not telling you anything you don’t already know, but alignment is very important! Especially when it comes to lowered trucks and suv’s. You may have spent more hard earned money on wheels and tires than your lowering kit, easy to do, so make dang sure your not wasting your dough after getting your “look”. The single most often tech call is about alignment, the lucky ones have been told by the local alignment guy “can’t align this thing, it’s been lowered”, the folks whom aren’t so lucky have spent nearly a $100 or more getting a bad alignment. Now, not all alignment shops are bad, some do know the drill with lowered trucks and are quite good. There’s just not enough of them and depending on where you live you may not have access to a good one!
There are 3 Big Things when it comes to alignments – Camber, Caster and Toe and as Jeff explains in the video below (scroll down) these adjustments can be accurately done by you, at home, in your garage, as many times as you want. Heck you can be the local alignment expert for your club!
Lets get a primer before the video:
Camber: When you lower a truck you cause negative camber. When you lift a truck you cause positive camber.
It’s that simple, and this is why the way you lower is so important. Cutting, heating, or even using engineered lowering coil springs will cause negative camber every time and you need to have the ability to adjust the camber enough to offset this. (This is discussed on the coil spring page). Camber adjustment takes place with the upper control arm, a primary reason why control arms have such an advantage over spindles (this is discussed on the control arm page). Spindles do not have any effect (good or bad) on the alignment. So moving the upper control arm in or out (relative to the frame) is how camber is controlled. Moving the upper arm out gets you more positive and moving it in results in negative camber. If camber is out of adjustment you will see uneven tire wear, if the camber is too negative for example then the tire will wear the inside tread. If camber is different from side to side it may cause a pulling problem. Typically the truck will pull to the side with the most positive camber. As a general rule, if you drive hard, a little negative camber (around -1/4 degrees) can actually improve handling.
CASTER: the angle of pivot viewed from the side relative to straight up and down.
Check out the caster illustration to help understand this alignment characteristic. If this pivot angle is leaning toward the back of the truck it is positive caster, and, of course, if the angle is rotated toward the front of the truck, it is negative caster. Look at it this way, you've used a grocery cart, notice the rear wheels and how they are mounted slightly behind the vertical steering axis, or a motorcycle front fork slopes back providing positive caster. So what happens if caster is out of alignment? You would notice problems in straight-line tracking, or if it were different from side to side the truck would pull to the side with less positive caster. If both sides are equal but too negative the steering will feel light, the truck will wander and be difficult to keep driving straight. If both sides are equal but too positive, the steering can be heavy. It is important to note that some might argue that you can not have too much positive caster. Remember there is no absolute right numbers to align your truck to. If you are the spirited driver from the camber tutorial, you could benefit from some of the handling properties of positive caster. Increased tire contact patch during cornering, increased turn in response, improved directional control, improved steering (“feel”), improved steering (“self-centering”). In fact if you are trying to fine-tune your alignment it is better to adjust caster than camber. Why, you probably wondering, lets look. Camber doesn’t improve turn-in, Positive caster does. Camber is not good for tire wear, Camber doesn’t improve directional stability, Camber adversely effects braking and acceleration. This alignment information is used for high performance set-ups. If you have noticed Mercedes, BMW, or an Audi’ front ends when turning tight to park, you will see a lot of positive caster. Just like high performance tuning of engines, you can do a high performance “tuning” of your suspension with alignment.
TOE: The relationship of a set of tires where they are either parallel, pointing towards each other or pointing away from each other.
TOE IN/OUT Back in the old days, before radial tires and power steering, alignment values were a lot different. For example caster tended to be negative because at highway speed the dynamic caster resulted in a positive value, with a corresponding near zero or very slight negative camber. This was because of tires actually changing shape and altering the physical dimensions of the front end. It was also popular to set the toe negative, now days you can decide how you would like your toe based on your driving style. The toe setting is typically used to help compensate for the suspension bushings compliance, and to enhance tire wear. On rear wheel drive trucks they push the front end down the road causing the control arms to “deflect” rearward against their bushings. Because of this most rear wheel drive vehicles use some positive toe-in, which allow the wheels to run parallel to each other at highway speeds. Toe can also be used to affect your trucks handling. Increased toe-in will typically result in reduced oversteer, and improve high speed stability, but too much and you get an unresponsive, thick feeling. Increased toe-out reduces understeer, and improves “turn in” when cornering. Excessive toe-out makes the truck feel “nervous”, twitchy, lacking in directional stability. Racecar’s are generally set with toe-out, they are willing to sacrifice straight line stability for a sharper turn-in to the corners. For street guys a little toe-in is probably the best choice. If you are doing your own alignment or just getting it close before you take it in, always make the toe adjustment your last one. In fact it is a good idea to “eyeball” the alignment yourself good enough to put a few miles on your truck and then recheck all bolts and fasteners making sure that all are tight and nothing has moved on you before you take it to the alignment shop. If you can find a good alignment guy, it’s not a bad idea to perform regular alignment checks, especially if you have expensive wheels and tires and certainly if you notice your truck pulling to one side or if you hit a “pothole” etc. It optimizes tire wear and handling and can actually save you money over time.
We have covered most issues you can encounter when it comes to alignment of lowered trucks. So how can I do it? Glad you asked! Check out the videos
DIY ALignment on a 2007 Silverado with a Calmax 4/6 kit
Want to see a slightly different take on alignment? How about using fresh doughnuts to explain the BIG 3 THINGS. Just another reason you can do this in your garage!
DIY Alignment on a 1997 F150 with a Calmax 4/6 kit