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Wheel Alignment Problems

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How do you align an "unalignable" vehicle? It depends on what makes it unalignable. Front toe on virtually every car and truck is adjustable. But as we all know, there are a lot of vehicles that have no factory adjustments for front camber, caster, rear camber or toe. If the wheels are out of the factory specified range and need to be corrected, it may seem like mission impossible, especially if you are not aware of any aftermarket alignment aids such as shims, eccentrics, offset bushings, strut plates or other modifications for the particular vehicle you are trying to align.

The secret to aligning these kinds of "unalignable" vehicles, therefore, is keeping up-to-date with the latest aftermarket products that are available. It is a never ending assignment because as fast as the auto makers can throw new surprises at us, somebody comes up with a fix (a good reason to always read our New Products section!).

CHRYSLER

The 1995 Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus and Plymouth Breeze, for example, have no factory front camber adjustments. Chrysler says no adjustment is needed because these cars are built to such exacting tolerances. Yeah, right. We have heard that one before. Either somebody goofed or Chryslers bean counters axed the camber adjustment to save a few bucks on every car they build. In any event, we all know that some of these cars will likely require a camber adjustment at some point in their lives. So one aftermarket supplier has come up with set of eccentric cams and bushings to replace the stock bushings in the upper control arms. The eccentrics provide up to 0.75 degrees of camber correction.

Other new Chrysler vehicles that also lack factory provisions for front camber adjustment include the 1995 and up Dodge Avenger, Chrysler Sebring and Eagle Talon (also Mitsubishi Eclipse and Galant). The fix here is another set of aftermarket eccentric cams and bushings for the upper control arm.

Going back a couple of years, the rear suspensions under 1993 and newer Chrysler "LH" cars (Chrysler Concorde, New Yorker, LHS, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision), have two lateral links on each side and MacPherson struts. The rear link on both sides is adjustable to change toe (the preferred setting is 0.1 degrees toe in, with an acceptable range of 0.2 degrees out to 0.4 degrees in). But there is no way to adjust camber. Chrysler allows anywhere from negative 0.6 to positive 0.4 degrees of rear camber, with a preferred setting of negative 0.1 degrees. But if there is more than half a degree of camber difference between the rear wheels, the wheels should be realigned. The way to do it is to replace the original equipment bushings in the rear links on each side with aftermarket eccentric cams and bushings.

1994 and newer Dodge 1500 4WD trucks as well as 1984 to 1996 Jeeps have no factory camber adjustment and no means of changing individual caster on the front wheels. But there is a way to change both if your customer is willing to pay for new ball joints. Replacing the upper ball joints with adjustable aftermarket ball joints can provide up to 2.0 degrees of camber/caster correction in 0.5 degree increments.

FORD

Chrysler, of course, is not the only vehicle manufacturer who builds cars and trucks that lack factory camber/caster adjustments. Ford provides front camber adjustment on the 1995 Windstar, but the amount of adjustment is limited. So there is a new aftermarket upper strut mount can be installed to provide up to 1.25 degrees of positive camber change.

On 1995 Ford Explorer (2WD & 4WD), the front suspension has limited caster adjustment but no camber adjustment. The solution? A new set of aftermarket cam bolts that replace the original equipment upper control arm bolts.

Some people think all late model Ford trucks are "unalignable." But since 1987, all Ford trucks except the

fullsize 4x4s have a pinch bolt suspension that allows the ball joint bushings to be easily replaced for camber/caster corrections. Do not assume the original equipment bushing has a zero degree offset, though. It usually does not. Many have 1 to 1-1/2 degrees, usually positioned to correct camber. If you have checked camber/caster alignment, replaced the OE bushing with an offset aftermarket bushing to make your corrections, and then find your camber/caster readings are not what they should be, it means the OE bushing did not have zero offset. The solution here is to install an aftermarket zero offset bushing to make a

reference check. Then replace this bushing with one that is offset the desired amount to make your camber/caster correction.

On 1986 and up Ford Taurus, front camber and caster can be adjusted by drilling out the spot welds on the upper strut bearing plate to adjust camber and caster. But sometimes the strut cannot be moved enough to correct the problem, which may mean the engine cradle is shifted to one side possibly as a result of collision damage or misassembly if the transaxle has been replaced. If you see too much camber on one side and not enough on the other, it usually means the cradle is shifted toward the side with the least amount of camber. When this happens, it also changes the SAI angle because the cradle moves the lower pivots of the control arms. If the SAI goes down on one side, camber goes up an equal and opposite amount. So the first thing you should do is measure SAI and the included angle on both sides. Then use a jack to raise the subframe, loosen the cradle bolts and shift it toward the side with the most camber until SAI is equal on both sides. This will usually correct the camber problem. If not, there are aftermarket upper strut mounts that can provide up to 1.25 degrees of positive camber adjustment.

Rear camber adjustments of up to 2-1/2 degrees can be made on Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable station wagons by removing the factory pivot bolts on the rear control arms and installing cam bolts with eccentrics. There are also combination camber/toe offset bushings that allows 2 degrees of camber and/or 1 degree of toe change for both rear wheels. If you need more toe correction, an eccentric bushing that allows up to 2.25 degrees of toe change can be installed where the OE toe adjuster bolt attaches the rear spindle to the lower control arm.

By now everyone should be familiar with rear toe and camber corrections on Ford Escorts and Mercury Tracers. On the 1991 and up models, Ford has just one rear toe adjuster on the right side. Installing an aftermarket offset bushing on the left side allows you to set individual toe on both sides, not just total toe. Also, the nonadjustable OE toe bushing on the outer left rear parallel arm can be replaced with an aftermarket adjustable offset bushing to provide up to 2 degrees of toe correction. Camber corrections on these models can be made by installing camber wedges between the strut and spindle.

GENERAL MOTORS

On GMs "W" body cars (Buick Regal, Chevy Lumina, Olds Cutlass Supreme and Pontiac Grand Prix), the 1988-89 models had a factory cam for rear toe adjustment. In 1990, GM did away with the cam but left the slotted hole. Rear toe is still adjustable, but it is much easier if you install an aftermarket cam kit.

Front camber adjustments can also be made on these cars by repositioning the upper strut mount after elongating the three bolt holes. One aftermarket supplier makes a template that can be used as a guide to cut the holes into slots.

IMPORTS

On later model Honda Accord, Civic, CRX, Del Sol, Prelude and Odyssey models, as well as Acura Integra, Legend and Vigor, there are no provisions for camber adjustment on the front suspension. But camber corrections can be made by replacing the stock upper control arm bushings with aftermarket eccentric cams and/or offset anchor bolts. This can provide from one half degrees negative to 1-1/2 degrees positive camber correction.

Rear camber on 1986-89 Honda Accords, which has no factory adjustment, can be corrected by replacing the OE mounting bracket and bushings that attach the rear upper control arm to the iner fender with aftermarket offset bushings.

You also won 't find any factory adjustments for rear camber on 1984-89 Nissan 300ZX and 1984-88 Nissan 200SX models. Drilling out the support brackets for the rear trailing arms and installing an aftermarket offset camber plates can give 1 or 1-1/2 degrees of positive camber correction.

Trying to align a rear-wheel drive Nissan or Datsun vehicle that has no caster adjustment? It should not be a problem if you install an aftermarket caster adjuster kit over the strut rod. Such a kit can give you up to 1-1/2 degrees of positive or negative caster adjustment.

Many Toyota 4WD trucks with 40, 60 or 70 series monobeam axles have no factory camber/caster adjustments. The same goes for Suzuki Samurai 4WD trucks. The fix here is to replace the original equipment bearings with eccentric bearings that provide up to 2.2 degrees of camber/caster adjustment.

MORE CASES

Another vehicle you might classify as "unalignable" is any that has adjustments but the adjustments are difficult to make for various reasons. Toe sleeves may be inaccessible, rusted solid or require special tools to adjust. Such vehicle can be a real pain in the slip plates to adjust. Even so, there are usually aftermarket products or tools that can help.

Adjusting toe on a front-wheel drive Chrysler "LH" car, for example, can be tricky because (1) the sleeves and jamnuts are hard to reach, and (2) the outer tie rod ends tend to twist against the steering arm when the outer jamnut is tightened up against the adjusting sleeve. This can upset your carefully made toe adjustment as well as bind the outer tie rod end. One aftermarket company has introduced a new tool set that allows you to reach and break loose or tighten the jamnuts while holding the outer tie rod in a centered position. The kit includes a cup that fits over the outer tie rod to hold it steady, a special tie rod socket to loosen (and tighten) the jamnuts, and a special wrench to turn the adjusting sleeve.

On General Motors "J" and "N" body cars that have a center takeoff rack & pinion steering gear mounted on the firewall, rust can make toe adjustments anything but fun. Rust builds up in the tie rod linkage, preventing the sleeve from turning far enough to make the adjustment. One cure is to take it apart, clean out the rust, then reassemble and make toe adjustment. Or, you can replace the sleeve with a new one.

If you have ever tried to make a camber/caster adjustment on a 1994 or newer Camaro or Firebird, it helps to have a tool that can push or pull the strut while the weight of the car is on the suspension. Position the tool with the ends in either the caster or camber slots (do caster first, then camber if both need to be corrected). The tool must be in place before loosening the lower control arm nuts so the suspension does not shift. After loosening the control arm nuts, turn the tool to pull or push the strut in the desired direction, then tighten the nuts once the desired correction has been made.

PROBLEM APPLICATIONS

A third category of "unalignable" vehicles includes "problem" vehicles that keep coming back because they continue to wear out tires or do not steer straight no matter what you do. Aligning such a vehicle can turn into a fulltime career if you are not careful.

Sometimes the real problem is undiagnosed collision damage such as a bent strut, steering arm, control arm, mislocated strut tower, subframe or engine cradle that is affecting alignment. Rear axle steer is another often overlooked problem that can cause front toe wear as well as a steering pull.

Other times, a problem vehicle may turn out to have misaligned structural members that position the front or rear suspension. Assembly line build tolerances have tightened considerably in recent years, but nobody is perfect. Mistakes are made, and the so-called plus or minus 1 mm build tolerance is more myth than reality in many instances.

Some vehicles (especially trucks) just seem to wear tires because of built-in Ackerman problems (or the lack thereof) that prevent the front wheels from toeing out properly when turning. Others may rub the shoulders off the front tires because of high built-in caster angles in the front suspension. There is not much anybody can do about these kinds of problems short of reengineering the suspension.

One thing you should do is check to see if the vehicle manufacturer has issued a technical service bulletin on a tire wear problem, and if so what their recommended cure is.


Wheel Alignment Resources:


Alignment Guide
Wheel Alignment & Suspension Diagnosis Guide

Alignment Guide is a quick reference program that covers all the basics of wheel alignment and steering/suspension inspection.
It covers basic toe, camber and caster alignment, causes of various kinds of steering and tire wear problems, and tells how to correct these conditions.




More Wheel Alignment Articles:

Wheel Alignment: Camber, Caster & Toe
Blame It On The Tires
Tire Wear (What to look for, how to reduce it)
Fixing Wheel Alignment Problems
Aligning Light Trucks & SUVs
Correcting Steering Pulls
Ball Joints: Inspection & Replacement Tips
Getting The Right Attitude: Restoring Ride Height

To More Technical Info Click Here to See More Carley Automotive Technical Articles

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