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Wheel Alignments Do your own at home!

#1 User is offline   TallyXJ 

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Posted 30 September 2007 - 03:07 PM

Wheel Alignment, or Front End Alignment, is one of the most asked about subjects on this forum. It is also a cause or partial contributor of many problems up front such as tire wear and even the dreaded "Death Wobble".

Doing a front end alignment for yourself isn't terribly difficult. Keep in mind that this technique may differ with various types of front ends, but is applicable to most Jeep vehicles, which is the focus of this forum.

Please look at your own application to make sure you have a steering setup similar to what is pictured in the illustrations below.

WARNING!! Improperly adjusting steering components can potentially cause problems that could lead to loss of control of your vehicle if not done right, and certainly if you do not make certain that you have properly tightened down all of the adjuster sleeve bolts! Check your work!!

Understanding Alignment Angles
Wheel alignment is the relation of the wheels to one another and to several planes of angle.

Caster: Imagine a vertical line drawn through the center line of the wheel/hub while viewing the wheel from the side. The angle or degree that the steering knuckle center is forward or backward is positive or negative "Caster". Positive caster can make steering feel "quick", giving the effect of turning into a corner quickly and easily. It can also cause an unstable front end. Negative caster does the opposite, giving the feeling of stability but slower steering action. Caster can be adjusted by shimming the lower control arms or if you have adjustable upper and/or lower control arms.

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Camber: Imagine a vertical line drawn through the physical centerline of the front of your tire when viewed from the front. Camber is the angle/degree that the wheel is tilted off the center line. This is a wear angle and should be corrected. Its cause is a bent knuckle, bent axle, or worn ball joint. This angle is not usually necessary to adjust on a straight axle application. Off-set degree ball joints can be purchased if this angle needs correcting.

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Toe In/Out: Imagine looking down at the tops of your front tires from above. Looking at their front and rear edges, Toe is the relation of the distance between the front edges and rear edges. Toe is another wear angle and is probably the angle to most likely be off and causing trouble. Bad toe adjustment can be caused by several factors such as worn tie rod ends, lift kits that raise the vehicle and changing the effective length of the tie rod and drag link, bent front end parts, etc. Toe is also the easiest angle to set and is what you would normally be adjusting yourself to get better tire wear and driveability.

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Here are illustrations showing the front end parts:
The Drag Link connects from the right wheel knuckle to the Pitman Arm on the steering gear box. The Tie Rod connects from the right end of the drag link to the left wheel knuckle. There are four tie rod ends, one on each end of both rods. There are three adjustment sleeves, one on each end of the tie rod tube and one on the pitman arm end of the drag link.

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Doing Your Own Alignment
Performing a toe adjustment and setting your steering wheel straight is easy. All you need to do is have a flat hard surface to park your vehicle and a few hand tools.
You will also need a measuring tape.

Park the vehicle on the flat surface and make sure the front wheels are as straight forward as you can get them. Never mind the position of your steering wheel at this time. You will straighten that later. Just make sure the front tires are pointed straight as possible. I sometimes use a long piece of string wrapped all the way around all four tires. I slide the string down to the center of each tires edge and make sure it does not rest on any raised lettering etc. This gives me an idea of just how far out the front tires are towed in or out. Look at the string as it rests against the outside edges of the front tires.

Using your measuring tape, take a measurement between the inside of the back of the front tires and then measure between the front inside edges. Make sure you measure from points on the sidewall without any raised letters. Write these measurements down if you need too.

The measurement should show that the rear edges of the tires are slightly farther apart than the front edges. Most say 1/8" inch to 1/4" inch difference. You want to have a little Toe In, not toe out. If this needs adjusting, simply loosen the adjuster sleeve bolts on each end of the long tie rod tube, and rotate the tube. You will need to rotate the tube and see which way your tires move, then rotate the tube until your tires are at the measurement you need them to be. Rotate tube, then measure, repeat until its right! Once its set, tighten down the adjuster sleeve bolts!!

Once thats done, check your steering wheel. If its not straight, get back under there and loosen the bolts on the drag link adjuster sleeve up by the pitman arm. Rotate the adjuster itself a turn or two and check your steering wheel. Once you get it straight, tighten down the adjuster sleeve bolts!!

If all was done correctly, your Toe angle will be close and your steering wheel will be straight! It might take another adjustment to get it just right, but, after a few times you will gain knowledge and confidence in what you are doing. Give'er a test drive and see if its not better!

This is just "shadetree" work, but it should keep you from totally trashing your tires. I still suggest getting a professional alignment done on a good machine for it to be exact.

#2 User is offline   Rollbar 

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Posted 30 September 2007 - 03:42 PM

Very nice write up, I'm sure it will come in handy.


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#3 User is offline   Jim B 

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  Posted 01 October 2007 - 09:34 AM

Nice visual & info. :naughty:

We had a thread that would also complement some of this information a while back.
How to Set Toe & Conversions
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#4 User is offline   SavageSun 

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Posted 01 October 2007 - 09:08 PM

Here is my writeup on "caster" adjustments:
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