How To Do A Front End Alignment

Do you notice your car veering to one side while you’re driving?  Is one side of your tire more worn out than the other? Is your steering wheel misaligned even when you’re going dead straight?

All this points to skewed wheel alignment. This is not something you should be ignoring! This will only make your tires worn out and your steering shaky.

Front End Alignment vs. Wheel Alignment

To a great extent, wheel alignment and front end alignment are the same.The only difference is that a front end alignment pertains to the aligning of the front wheels.

Cars with 4-wheel drive and independent suspensions require full wheel alignment, back wheels included. For normal cars (FWD), only a front end alignment will do.

How To Front Align Your Car

It’s importantto get your wheels aligned after every 6000 miles you’ve traveled. Once you’ve decided to go for the front end alignment, it’s up to you to determine if you want to do a DIY job or seek a professional’s help.

A mechanic will charge you $50 to $100for a wheel alignment.

If you do opt for a DIY procedure, it’s better to be prepared before starting the job. Before starting any work, it’s always best to look into the owner’s manual of your car.

Key Terms

You will need to be aware of three terms; camber, caster, and toe and their desired ranges as mentioned in the manual.

Before we define these terms, here is an illustration to help you understand these terms better:

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Camber

This is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel when viewed from the top. A negative camber indicates that the upper-end of the tire is leaning inwards, towards the middle of the car. On the other hand, a positive camber suggests the upper-end of the tire is leaningoutwards, away from the middle of the car.

Caster

This is the angle the steering axis makes with the ground. A positive caster is when the bottom of the steering axis is slightly ahead of the contact patch of the tire and vice versa.

Factory alignment calls for a slightly positive caster.

Toe

This termindicates theexact direction that the tires are facing compared to the middle of the vehicle when seen from an aerial view.

Tires pointing inwards are called toe-in, and the onespointing outwards are called toe-out. Toe-in reduces the turning ability of your vehicle, while toe-out increases it’s cornering ability.

Supplies You Will Need

There are a number of supplies you need to have before starting with a frond-end alignment.

Do make sure the following supplies are in good condition and of the same dimensions. For instance,the jack stands should be of the same height and the string should be of the same length on both sides of the car.

Having  similar dimensions reduces any chance of error. Here is a list of the things you will require when doing a DIY front end alignment:

  • Owner’s manual (if you have one for your car) for the desired specifications
  • Level ground
  • Ample space around your car
  • 4 Cardboard pieces to place under the wheel
  • 4 Jack stands
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A long string
  • Tape measure
  • Pliers

Now that you’ve got your supplies ready, it’s time to move on to the steps.

Preliminary Steps

Let us start with the preliminary steps.These are steps you need to do before you get down to any mechanical work on the tire rod and tires.

  1. Make sure your car is parked on a flat, level surface. There should be ample space on all sides of the car.
  2. Check if all the tires have enough air pressure and are not deflated
  3. Place two pieces of cardboard behind each wheel and back the car up onto the cardboard.
  4. Turn the steering wheel either way- center it and get rid of the play in the wheel.
  5. Place two jackson the front end and back end of the car.
  6. Take the long string and wrap it around the crate/ladder such that it runs parallel to the sides of the car.
  7. Repeat this step on the other side as well.
  8. The string should be close to the tire; an inch or so from the center of the tire. Make sure it does not touch the tire.

Measurement

  1. Measure the distance from the back end of the rim to the string
  2. Measure the distance from the front end of the rim to the string
  3. Calculate the difference between the two measurements – let’s assume the back end of the rim is 66” from the rim while the front end of the rim is 66 3/8”  (which exceeds the desired range)

Adjusting The Tire Rod

Before starting with the final step, rememberthat a beginner may take several tries before getting to the desired range.You will get there though!

Here’s how:

  1. Turn the steering wheel so that the tire rod is visible to you and you can turn it with the wrench
  2. Locate the tire rod loosening nut; it is on the inner end of the tie rod
  3. Use the wrench to loosen the nut. Determine which way moves the rod out and which way moves it in. You can use pliers or a wrench to turn the rod
  4. Go easy with the turns, a little can go a long way; a quarter or half turn should be enough at first
  5. Tighten the nut back on and center the steering wheel, rocking it back and forth a few times to get the play out
  6. Re-check the measurements between the string and the ends of the rim. If the difference is within the desired range, let it be. Otherwise, turn the tire rod again until you get the desired results
  7. Repeat for the other 3 tires
  8. Take the car out for a spin! Your steering wheel should be centered and should not turn to one side when going straight.

Conclusion

Wheel alignment is crucial for your car’s stability, steering, and most importantly, your safety.

Deviation from the intended angle can lead to serious accidents.  That is why it is advised to do such mechanical tasks only if you’re well versed with the DIY lifestyle.

If the task seems too much for you – professional mechanical help is always at hand!

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