You can fix, repair, adjust or upgrade just about anything with the right tools and a manual. However, if you’re repairing steering and suspension parts, you may throw off your wheel alignment. You’ll still want to get a computerized alignment if this happens, but get to a shop — and avoid personal injury and vehicle damage — by using these DIY alignment tips.
Tie rod replacement usually requires only a tape measure:
- Measure: For an inner tie rod end, measure from the mounting face to the locking nut. Then, install the locking nut to the same length on the new tie rod end.
- Spin: For an outer tie rod end, loosen the locking nut and spin off the old outer tie rod end. Spin on the new part until it hits the locking nut — the toe angle will usually be close to where it was before.
Your tires’ camber, caster and toe can be affected by steering and suspension repairs. A couple methods can help you get your alignment angles close enough to drive to an alignment shop:
- String: Place a couple of jack stands in front of the vehicle by a few feet, then run Mason’s line from one jack stand down the side of the vehicle, around the back tires, then up the opposite side of the car to the other jack stand. Height-wise, the string should pass by the wheels’ center line, so adjust the string up or down on the tires and jack stands accordingly. Now, with the steering wheel straight ahead, the tires should just barely touch the string. If toed in or out, the string will have to bend around the wheel. Go ahead and eyeball it. If the string is bent, adjust the tie rod ends to straighten the wheels.
- Levels and Ruler: You’ll need a couple of four-foot levels and small bar clamps for this method. Lightly clamp the levels to the wheels so they extend fore and aft of the tires. For sedans and some SUVs, you may need a plumb bob to mark the ends of the level on the floor. Then, use a ruler to measure between the levels fore and aft of the wheels. The measurements should be the same. If the forward measurement is greater, then your wheels need to be toed in, or vice versa.
- Magnetic Angle Gauge: Using a small magnetic level or angle gauge, see how vertical your wheels are. If the fenders do not interfere, you can use the four-foot levels. Usually, the camber will be negative, with the top of the wheel tilted toward the vehicle. Only adjust camber if it’s more than a degree positive or negative. On strut suspensions, lift the vehicle, loosen the strut-knuckle bolts and pull the wheel out at the top. Torque the bolts well, and then drop the vehicle. Control arms with eccentric cam bolts may be easier to adjust.
These methods won’t give you pinpoint accuracy, but a quick-and-dirty DIY alignment can get your vehicle to the shop without shredding your tires or pulling you off the road. A computerized alignment from your local NAPA AutoCare will keep your steering wheel straight, improve vehicle tracking and prevent abnormal tire wear.
Check out all the front alignment products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on alignments, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.