DIY 4x4 Wheel Alignment
Do you ever feel like finding a good and trustworthy mechanic is like finding a buried treasure? I know I do. If that wasn’t enough, when you have to use a mechanic shop or specialty service regularly, you can feel that you are almost willing getting robbed. There’s no doubt that this feeling can become annoying.
Therefore, we “Do It Yourselfer’s”, and “mechanically inclined people”, are always looking for ways to get around having to pay someone else to do something we can do ourselves. Personally, I HATE PAYING FOR, wheel alignments. My rig gets wheeled somewhat frequently, I drive on potholed and washboard gravel roads regularly, and I have no qualms about driving over a curb to get around someone. I mean…that’s why we have a 4x4 right!
Unfortunately, using a 4x4 the way it was designed to be used, and sometimes ways they weren’t, causes the need for constant maintenance. You can take the tone, “…my alignment will last a week. So, why bother…?”, but this attitude does no favors for your vehicles components. Plus, you will spend more money in replacing worn-out parts, than what you pay to keep your 4x4 well maintained and the steering system aligned. Maybe though, just maybe…you don’t have to stress about either of these problems. How so? What if you could do a reasonably decent quality DIY home alignment in your driveway, with a minimal investment?
No, it’s not a dream. And no, it’s not stupid complicated or time consuming. You will only need a few basic tools, a flat area to work on, and to pay close attention. If you do that, then you can have a quality DIY alignment in about an hour and a half. Probably even less once you get the process down. Here’s how to do it. *
Of course, you will need a few tools to do this job. If you do any kind of work on your 4x4, then you probably have most of them already. Here is a list of the tools you will need:
- Large sturdy straight edge
- Jack stands or blocks
- Flat area to do the work on
- Vehicle jack
- Wrenches that fit your Tie Rod Adjustment Links and Jam Nuts
- Measuring Tape
- Possibly a under vehicle light
- Possibly a set of pressure pliers or a Plumber’s Wrench
How It’s Done
Finding Center: First, you will need to find the center point of your Chassis. Typically, the best way to do this is by measuring the chassis cross member that is at the front of the vehicle. Make sure there are no hoses, components, or other items that will impede your ability to get a correct measurement. I also typically suggest opening the hood. This way you can usually get some light coming thru the engine compartment, making it easier to see under the vehicle.
Prepping Your TRE For Adjustment: Your TRE’s have a Jam Nut that locks them into place after an alignment has been done. These nuts will need to be loosened before you start doing any alignment work.
If your TRE’s have been on the vehicle for some time, you may need a plumber’s wrench, a set of pressure pliers, and even a hammer to loosen the Jam Nuts or TRE Adjustment sleeves.
Getting It Close**: Making some basic, “eyeballed” adjustments, are a good idea. To do this, jack up the wheel and spin the TRE adjustment link until the wheel looks pretty straight on your 4x4. This is just to get the wheel in a “close proximity” of straight. Then you will actually start to measure out for each additional adjustment.
This step is really a good idea if you’ve had major steering component damage, and you can’t re-measure to see what the original measurements were.
Setting Up Your Alignment Guide: With your wheel fairly straight, you will now want to set up an alignment guide. To set this guide up, take a long straight edge (I used a 2x2x.125” piece of square tubing stock I had laying around.) and set it up on even blocks or evenly adjusted jack stands beside your rear wheel, running the length of the vehicle. Try and get the straight edge as close to the rear tire as possible. Your starting point will be based off of this measurement.
To accomplish this alignment, you will be checking, at least, two different measurements. Remember, we are not just trying to get you front wheels straight, but also find any alignment issues with your back axle as well, if there are any.
Measuring Off Your Alignment Guide: Now that the guide is level, it’s time to make sure it’s parallel with the rear tire. To do this, I like to take different measurements. I first measure off the rear lip of the back wheel, and then I measure off the front lip of the rear wheel. Make sure that the distance between both lips of the rim and the guide are the same.
If there are even or smooth surfaces on the tire (sidewall) to use for measuring from, this can be used as an additional measurement reference point. In the case of a solid front axle vehicle, you will need to have the front of the vehicle completely jacked up, and use two guides at the same time.
Refining The Front Wheel Alignment: With the guide aligned to the rear wheel, take measurements from the front lip and rear lip of the front wheel. If the front lip is further from the guide than the rear lip of the wheel, adjust the toe outwards by turning the TRE adjustment links so that the TRE’s spread apart. If the front lip is closer than the rear lip, turn the TRE adjustment link in the opposite direction to pull the front edge of the wheel inward toward the chassis.
I should point out that, if your 4x4 is IFS, the distance between the guide and the front wheel may be greater than the distance between the guide and the rear wheel. This is due to the way the control arms draw inward when the vehicle is jacked up from the chassis or cross-members. If you are doing an alignment on a solid front axle vehicle, it’s easiest to lift the front of the vehicle up and set it on jack stands to take the majority of the weight off the wheels for easier alignment adjustment.
Fine Tuning Your Wheel Alignment***: Once both front tires are aligned with the use of the guide, you will want to do a final evaluation. Measure from the centerline of the TRE threaded stud (where it attaches on the knuckle) to the center mark on the chassis cross member. Do this on both sides. If one side is further out than another, or closer in, then make the adjustment needed using the measurements off the chassis center point. Once done equaling out both sides, step back and look at the vehicle from the front and make sure both wheels are straight. If one of the two looks out of alignment, re-evaluate your measurements, and make any needed adjustments.
Never forget to both visually inspect and take measurements. This way, if you measure wrong, you will have a better chance of catching the error. It’s typically not a good idea to hook the measuring tape on the outside of the TRE Stud Castle Nut because this could cause discrepancies in your measurements.
Locking Your Alignment In: Once all your alignment measurements are done, don’t forget to lock those jam nuts again so that the TRE’s don’t move more than necessary.
At this point you may need to use the Plumbers Wrench, or pressure pliers to get the nuts locked down again.
Seeing The Over-All Picture
If you find that after aligning the front wheel (by measuring off the center mark of the chassis) that it’s no longer parallel with the guide, then you should investigate potential possibilities that could be causing this misalignment. A rear axle can get out of alignment for a number of reasons. You may want to take your vehicle to an alignment shop if you can’t seem to find any causes yourself, but see that the rear axle is still out of alignment.
As Good As It Gets For A Free Alignment
Maybe I shouldn’t use the phrase “Free Alignment”. I mean it will still cost you some of your time. However, I can definitely say that I personally have had very good success with this process. Producing much smoother and straighter driving condition than what the local alignment shop has turned out for me recently. So, if you’re a bit disappointed with your local alignment shop, or just don’t want to spend the cash on an alignment that won’t last more than a week. This may very well be the fix for you!
*Note: In this article we are going over how to do a “Toe” alignment for your vehicle. At a mechanic shop, they usually do a camber alignment as well. We will not cover this aspect of an alignment in this article.
** From time to time, you may find that the TRE’s are not evenly threaded into the adjustment link, therefore requiring you to detach one of your TRE’s from one of the knuckles to even the system out. Also, it is good to check your steering system making sure that it is indexed correctly. Meaning that when both wheels are straight, the steering box is at dead zero and that the steering pitman arm is also “clocked” to the correct position.
***These measurements will only produce a reasonably good alignment if your chassis is actually straight. So, if you have reason to suspect (or know for sure) that your chassis has been in a major accident before, you should take your vehicle into an alignment shop where they have a Laser Alignment System.
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