The machinery for performing an alignment has changed drastically. Long gone are the old string machines, and the infrared machines are all but museum pieces. Today's machines are computer-driven camera and target operated. But even though the machines have changed, the procedure for making the adjustments have not.
Ride height, steering, and suspension checks are the beginning of any properly done alignment. According to MAP (Motorist Assurance Program) guidelines, ride height should be within the manufacturer's specifications and any part that has perceptible movement with reasonable hand force should be replaced before any adjustments. For more information about MAP and the industry standards they set, visit their site at http://www.motorist.org/ .
Rear camber and toe adjustments
After the pre-alignment inspection, first adjust rear camber angle and toe angle. We begin with the rear because we want to adjust thrust angle, which is the direction the rear wheels are pointed, to as close to zero as we can. This allows us to reduce a condition called dog tracking, and assures a straight steering wheel.
We should begin our adjustments with rear camber angle first. The reason is that when a camber angle adjustment is made, it naturally changes toe angle, but a toe angle adjustment has only a minor effect on camber angle. So, for that reason, camber is adjusted before toe.
Front camber and caster
Upon completion of rear adjustments the front adjustments can be done. Beginning again with camber angle, we can adjust camber and caster using a technique called "Stack and Drag". To perform this procedure, set the machine for reduced tolerances, and move to the bar graph screen.
If the adjustments for camber and caster are located on the upper control arm or strut mount, begin by moving the rear adjustment point so that the arrows indicating caster and camber on the bar graph "Stack" directly on top of each other. Then move the front adjustment so that the arrows both "Drag" into specs.
If the adjustments are located on the lower control arm, reverse the procedure, and begin with the front adjustment to stack, and the rear adjustment to drag. Remeasure caster angle to verify the adjustment.
Front toe adjustment
Now with caster and camber set, its time to adjust toe angle. Begin by starting the engine, and from inside the passenger compartment looking straight at the steering wheel, rock the steering wheel back and forth and stop on center. Following this procedure will center the steering gear, and insure a straight steering wheel.
After shutting the engine off, make your first adjustment. It does not matter which wheel you start with, but after each adjustment, recenter the steering wheel as before to verify the accuracy of the adjustment.
When both front toe angles have been set, the alignment procedure is complete. Remove the equipment, make sure all fasteners are tight, and test drive.
For further training on front end alignments, Hunter Engineering has available web-based training. Visit them at http://www.hunter.com/
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