I’ve gotten a few PM’s and requests for more information on how to do an alignment at home, so I figured it might be worthwhile to do a writeup. There’s a common misconception that alignment shops have voodoo tools and magically make your steering wheel straight and the truck track in the correct direction. It’s all bullshit. Anyone with patience and a couple standard tools can do their own alignment. Frankly I got tired of paying shops to do my alignment. In fact, I had a hard time finding a shop at all that was actually able to comprehend what it is I want them to do, let along understand English in any reputable form. The simple fact is nobody is going to put as much detail into getting anything done the way I want on my truck more than me. That said….how to do an alignment at home. This process is not exactly quick or short. In fact…it’s fucking long. But, if you’re tired of shelling out the money for alignments and never satisfied with the end result, it may be worthwhile for you.
There are three major elements to aligning any vehicle: camber, caster, and toe. I’m not going to go into detail about each one. There are plenty of articles on the web that go over in great detail about each one and do a far better job than I could. Here’s an example: http://www.ozebiz.com.au/racetech/theory/align.html
The first and probably most important step is to do this process on a LEVEL surface. If your garage or driveway is slanted in any way…you won’t be happy with the end result. Park your truck on the level surface and get the wheels as straight as possible even if it means the steering wheel is not straight. We’ll correct an offset steering wheel later.
Measuring camber is the easiest of the three. The only thing you need is an angle finder and a small straight piece of metal or wood. I have a Harbor Freight digital angle finder. IT was less than $30 and it goes out to one hundredths of a degree, so it’s plenty accurate for my needs and the base is magnetic.
Ideally if you have a piece of scrap metal, it works out well because you can just stick the angle finder to it and not fumble with it. You’ll want a piece long enough to stretch across either the inner or outer lip of your rims.
Measure the angle of dangle, and that’s your camber reading. As shown below, mine reads 88* on the nose which is actually -2* camber. Measure both driver and passenger side and write it down.
Measuring caster is a very similar process to camber, except you have to take two measurements, one with the wheels turned 20* left and one with the wheels 20* right. There’s a number of different ways to measure the 20*. I’ll go over the method I used as well as some alternatives.
First take a large piece of plywood or anything large with a straight edge. Place it flush against your tire and mark a line on the ground. I used pencil because it cleans up easy after. In the picture below you can see I extended my line. You may have to do this on both sides if your piece of wood isn’t large enough as mine wasn’t.
After you have your line scribed into the ground, turn your steering wheel to the drivers side until you are at 20*. Pictured below you can see I used an angle level set to 20* and turned the wheel with the board flush against it until my lines matched up. You can use anything that’s precise to measure your 20*, I just happened to have an angle level and it works well for me.
If you don’t have an angle level, you can make your own tool if you will with nothing more than a protractor. Take a thin piece of aluminum or a manila folder and scribe out 20* as depicted below. Then just cut it out and you have your own tool to measure 20*
There’s another simple method to measure the 20*, but it requires a couple of those laminate tiles from home depot. If you have some of those tiles, or pick some up beforehand, park your truck on top of two tiles stacked on top of each other. As you turn the steering wheel, one tile will remain planted on the ground and the other will turn with the tire. You can measure the 20* with a protractor as you turn the wheels.
Now that the wheel is 20* to the right, take a measurement exactly the same way you did for camber and record the number.
Now just because the driver’s side wheel is turned 20* out doesn’t mean the passenger side is also 20* in. Check the passenger side with the same process with the board and angle level. Once it’s 20* in, take your measurement with the angle finder.
Now turn the steering wheel 20* to the passenger side and repeat the above process for both driver and passenger side. In the end you should have 4 different angle measurements. 20* out for both driver and passenger side and 20* in for both driver and passenger side.
My numbers were as follows:
Driver 20* Out: 89.60
Driver 20* In: 87.60
Passenger 20* Out: 89.70
Passenger 20* In: 87.80
Caster is measured by calculating the change in camber from when the wheel is steered 20* out and 20* in and then multiply the difference by 1.5. For my example above:
Driver is (89.60-87.70)x1.5=3*
Passenger is (89.70-89.80)x1.5=2.85*
Now obviously these are my “after” numbers. The numbers you initially recorded are a baseline for what your current camber/caster are and what needs to be adjusted. I won’t tell you what you set your camber and caster to as everyone has their own preferences based on their driving style. Personally I like as much caster as I can possibly get. If I set my camber at 0, I end up eating the outsides of my tires up well before the inside, so to counter that I add a little more camber than most people do.
Adjusting Camber and Caster
I attached the relevant section of the FSM for both the first gen and second gen tacomas. The FSM goes into a lot more detail than I will, but I’ll try to simplify it as much as possible. On each LCA there are two adjustment cams, one on the front of the LCA and one on the rear of the LCA. The two pictures below show how to adjust the cam tabs to make each side of the LCA “longer” or “shorter.” Really there’s no difference between the first and second gen, they just drew the diagrams slightly different.
In a nutshell, if you want to add more camber, you would rotate both front and rear cam tabs “longer.” If you want to remove camber, you would rotate both front and rear cam tabs “shorter.”
If you want to add more positive caster, you would rotate the front cam “shorter” and the rear cam “longer.” If you want to reduce caster (not sure why anyone would do that…but whatever), you would rotate the front cam “longer” and the rear cam “shorter.”
As you can see, adjusting camber will inadvertently adjust caster and vice-versa. It’s a bit of a game to get both balanced the way you want. Once you make the adjustments you think might work, go through the camber and caster measurement exercise to find out how you did.
After you have the camber and caster set the way you want, only then should you set toe. There’s no point in adjusting toe until camber and caster are set as they will affect wheel position. Toe is always last!
To check the toe, again make sure you are parked on level ground with the tires straight ahead and then center the steering wheel. Jack up one of the front tires then spray-paint a stripe on the tread while spinning the tire. Now you don’t have to paint the tire, but it makes the next step a lot easier. The spray paint will wear off after a couple days of driving anyway.
Scribe a sharp concentric line in the paint on the tread by spinning the tire. I used a nail hammered through a 2x4 and then pushed against the tread to ensure a straight line. You may wish to make more than one scribe if you want to take measurements from multiple locations. If you decided not to paint the tire, you can still see the scribe line, but it’s a lot more difficult to see.
Lower and remove the jack. You may wish to lower the jack fast so that the suspension loads again as it would be normally. Alternatively you can bounce up and down on the front bumper to load the suspension again.
Now measure exactly half way up the tire both front and rear of the tire and make a line. If you look below you can see the mark I made with a sharpie.
Now the next step really requires two people. Really it’s a stupid easy process, but you need someone to hold the other end of the tape measure. Measure on the front side of the tires the distance between your scribe lines on the left and right tires at the middle point you marked. Write the number down.
Now measure the distance between the scribe lines on the back side of the tire. The difference between the front and rear measurements is how much toe you have. If the front and rear were identical, you would have 0 toe. If the front was 1/8” less than the rear, then you have 1/8” toe in. If the rear is 1/8” less than the front, you have 1/8” toe out.
Once you have your measurements, just loosen the lock nut on the tie rod and rotate the rack ends to extend or shorten the ends until you see fit. After you make any adjustments with the tie rod, I’d recommend you turn the steering wheel lock to lock and back to center again so it transfers to the wheels. Then measure your front and rear scribe lines again to see how close you got. Repeat as necessary.
Two things to remember when measuring and adjusting toe: First, true spec is measured midway up the tires. If for any reason you cannot measure half way up because of bumpers or skid plates or whatever, take the front and rear measurements 1/4 of the way up the tires, then double that to get the true toe as it would be in the center of the tires. Also, an off-center steering wheel can be corrected by adjusting one tie-rod more than the other. Steering wheel position has no effect at all on your final alignment. But if you’re anal retentive like me…it’s annoying as hell when it’s not straight.
And that’s it! Simple huh