How to Fix a Car's Alignment
“To the left, to the left” are great lyrics to sing in the shower; however, the same can’t be said for your car’s behavior. Is your car pulling you to the left … or to the right, for that matter? If so, there might be something off with your vehicle’s tire alignment.
Bad wheel alignment can manifest in uneasy handling and make you feel as though you’re being pulled off the road. Not only is it annoying, but it can also be dangerous. Here’s how to fix the alignment on your car.
How to fix your car’s alignment
The first step to correcting your misaligned wheels is determining the factory alignment specifications for your vehicle (which can be found in your owner’s manual). If you no longer have a manual handy, you should be able to find it online by searching the make, model, and year of your vehicle.
When dealing with issues related to alignment and suspension, consider the following three metrics:
Factory toe specifications: “Toe” refers to the front and back angle of the tires, also known as tracking. A “toe-in,” or “positive toe,” is when the tire is angled inwards. “Toe-out,” or “negative toe,” is when the tire is angled outwards.
Caster angle: This refers to the steering axis of your vehicle’s suspension. Under normal circumstances, that angle should be “positive,” or lean forward. If your wheels tend to stray to one side, even when the steering wheel is centered, chances are you have a negative caster (which means it’s leaning backward).
Camber: Whereas caster refers to the frontward and backward tilt of the wheels, camber is the inward and outward tilt. When the wheel leans outwards away from the axle, that is positive camber. A negative camber leans in towards the axle.
The most common alignment issues can be remedied by adjusting the toe of your vehicle. To do this, you’ll need:
- A car jack
- A wrench
- 2 tape measures
- 2 L-brackets
- 2 blocks
- A friend’s help
Find the tie rod ends
Use a car jack to elevate the front of your vehicle on both sides. While it’s not always necessary to jack up the vehicle, you may find it gives you more room to access the tie rod.
When you move your car’s steering wheel, it moves the tie rod, which moves the front tires. Tie rods will differ slightly by car, but are typically found at the inner ends of the tires. Once you’ve identified them, use a wrench to loosen the two locknuts on each end of the tie rod. Lower the jack.
Roll the car to settle the suspension
Make sure your car is in an empty driveway, parking lot, or stretch of road where there is a minimum of 10 feet in front of you and behind you. With the help of a friend, place the car in neutral and push the car 10 feet forward before rolling it back again. This will allow the suspension to settle, ensuring any measurements you take are accurate.
Measure the toe
In order to get an accurate measurement of the tires, you must straighten the steering wheel.
Take a couple of cinder blocks or bricks, and place one beside each of the front tires. Next, balance a set of 24-inch L-brackets across each brick so that they run parallel to the front tires.
Use two tape measures to simultaneously record the toe on the back and front of both tires. The tape measures should run underneath the car and latch onto the edge of the L-brackets.
Check your measurements against what’s listed in the owner’s manual. Toe-in measurements are different for every vehicle, but somewhere around ⅛ of an inch is considered normal.
Adjust the alignment
If you find your measurements are not in line with the factory settings detailed in the owner’s manual, make small corrections to the tie rod as needed. Turn the tie rod counter-clockwise to move the tires inward. Turn the tie rod clockwise to move the tires outward. Continue to check the measurements until you’ve reached your desired toe specs.
Test drive to check the alignment
Once your measurements are correct, it’s time to tighten up the lock nuts on the tie ends and take your car for a test drive. If your car is driving normally — well done!
You’ve fixed your car’s alignment. If your car continues to pull to the side, it’s advisable to get a professional to perform an alignment check.