Do-It-Yourself Wheel Alignment Guide

Do-it-yourself wheel alignment guide. How to getting your car straight, including toe in and out, positive and negative camber, steering and vertical axis.


| September/October 1988


This do-it-yourself wheel alignment guide provides step-by-step instructions and diagrams to get your wheels in alignment. (See the car diagrams in the image gallery.)

Do-It-Yourself Wheel Alignment Guide

THERE ARE THREE FACTORS contributing to proper front-end wheel alignment, and all of them must be in order if your car is to handle safely and if the tires, suspension and steering components are to live to their full maturity.

Toe is the automotive equivalent of a pigeon-toed stance; the front tires on nearly all rear-wheel-drive cars are set to point in slightly to help you go straight down the highway. Camber is vertical toe-in; the tires on many cars tilt slightly inward from top to bottom (negative) or outward (positive) to facilitate handling in turns. Caster is the angle from vertical that the wheel pivots on when turned. If you imagine this line extending to the ground, the point of contact will be in front of where the tire touches the ground. Positive caster gives the wheels an inherent tendency to center.

The bad news: You can't accurately adjust camber and caster at home with simple tools. The good news: Caster and camber don't usually need to be adjusted unless the car's been in an accident, and they're only adjustable by extreme means (such as bending a part) on many cars. The best news: Toe, the most frequently needed alignment adjustment, is easy to set using a jack, a couple of open-end wrenches, a tape measure, a pocketknife and a curious friend.

Get the Numbers  

You can find your car's toe setting in a manual at the library (look for Motors Manuals) or from one of the popular series of repair guides available from bookstores. (Official factory workshop manuals also supply the information, but they often go into more detail than we need, and they usually cost more.) The toe will be expressed as a range, usually in inches or millimeters. (For example, all 1982 to 1985 Chevrolet Celebrities should have between 1/16 inch toe-in and 1/16 inch toe-out.) A few factory manuals will express toe as an angle (1985 VW Vanagon toe is 20 minutes in, + /- 30 minutes). Unless your car has unusually large or small tires, you can figure around 1/32 inches for each 10 minutes. Furthermore, at the risk of overgeneralizing, most cars will work fine with about 1/16 inch toe-in.

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