DIY front end alignment - Mazda3 Forums : The #1 Mazda 3 Forum
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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-05-2015, 04:46 PM Thread Starter
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DIY front end alignment

Okay, so, in lieu of outer tie rods, and then new strut assemblies, I found myself in for some major alignment bills. I didn't feel like shelling out 75-100 bucks each time, since at the time I didn't know I'd be doing the struts as well, it would've been twice. So I decided to give it a try myself, and if worst came to worst, pull out the wallet and cringe.

I ended up doing the string trick. This essentially involved pulling the car into the driveway with the wheel as straight as possible, backing out with the wheel still straight, and pulling back in to ensure there was no tire tension or anything else, and since I wanted the wheel to be straight when I was done, this is where I wanted things positioned. I took four kitchen chairs and some basic string from the dollar store, although anything relatively fine should work. I would've used fishing line if I had it.



Position each chair at each corner of the car. Tie your string as close as possible to hub center height on the chair leg, such that the strings run along both sides of the car past the wheels. I had mine positioned far in front of and behind the bumpers. There's a couple ways you can do this, but the concept is that your string is absolutely and totally straight along the side of the car so you have a point of reference when you check measurements on the front wheels/hubs. So the first adjustment I planned on was the toe angle, although I'm going to explain this a bit out of order, because you should be adjusting camber and caster BEFORE touching the toe angle. The strings are only needed for toe. So hold that thought on the string theory (see what I did there..).

For camber/caster, I believe it was Nuse in another thread that reported you need two people for this job, but I disagree. I did it by myself, and it took all of 5 minutes. Open your hood, and jack one side of the car up just enough that the tire leaves the ground, and loosen the 3 bolts (14mm) that hold the top of the strut assembly in place. I loosened them just enough so that I could spin the bolts with my fingers. Using a wide blade screwdriver or something else beefy, use that large center hole to pry the center nut towards the engine and the center of the car (about a 45 degree angle away from the corner you're adjusting) as far as it will go. Use your other hand to tighten one of the bolts back down, then you can release and finish tightening. These are only 20-25ft/lbs, folks. That side is done, do the other. Standing at the passenger side fender looking straight down, it should more or less look like this. Camber and caster set.



Back to the strings. The first time I did the toe adjustment, I had the front wheels off, which I think is a mistake for minor adjustments. After some more reading, when the toe angle is done, the suspension should be loaded as it would be driving down the road. Lifting it off the ground throws everything off. So, we're going to ignore the wheels being off in the picture, and suggest using 8 12" pieces of sheet aluminum, two under each wheel when you park. One square goes on the ground, an ounce or two of oil is applied, and the second square goes on top of that - so you have 4 aluminum and oil sandwiches under each tire. This allows the tires to rotate as adjustments are made, so you don't have to drive the car around, repark, and remeasure everything all over again. The second time I did it, all of the wheels were on, because I knew I was making very small adjustments and would be measuring once. Leaving it on the ground (which is a bit of a pain as far as accessing later, but suck it up buttercup), take something flat and true that you can measure against, slightly smaller than your wheel, and place it against the wheel. I had a nice laminated piece of partical board that fit nicely on the wheel without overlapping the tire.



Time to measure the back wheel from the string. I happened to have a set of dial calipers for extreme precision, but with the length of the string, I'm sure a standard ruler would be okay here. Take note of the measurement, or in my case, leave the measurement on the dial. Take your board up to the front wheel, and confirm the exact same measurement. If not, adjust the chair at that corner until it matches. Repeat on the other side.



Now, it's time to check our toe. I had more pieces of partical board, some particularly long, so I overlapped the boards, such that the small one was on the wheel, and the longer one was able to sit on top of that and float over the tire sidewalls. A longer board allows you to measure farther from center, giving you a larger margin of difference, which makes adjustment easier and more precise. Simply put, measure the farthest point in FRONT of the hub center, and then confirm that measurement is the same BEHIND the hub center. Turns out it was a good thing I checked after doing the tie rod ends, because one side was insanely far off while comparing the front and back edge of the driver side wheel. Like THIS far off:



In front of the hub was the measurement showing on the calipers in the picture there, and behind the hub (which is what I'm measuring there) was far less, so the back of the wheel was way closer to the string. So, that means I had some crazy toe-in on one side and not the other. That explains a lot from the test drive. That's my own fault from the installation, I remember rotating the inner tie rod several times instead of tightening down the lock nut. Don't ask me why.

Time for adjustment. In the case for my toe IN, I had to adjust my tie rods such that looking at the threads, the inner tie rod (17mm) needed to be screwed INTO the outer tie rod end. So after breaking the lock nut free (24mm), I continued to back it off so I had plenty of threads available to go into the outer tie rod end.



I think in my case, this ended up being about 3 or 4 full turns. You never want to see this much adjustment, that was a fluke in my case. I believe Thai Mazda has a page that reports that each full turn of the tie rod equals 6mm, or 0.2 inches. And looking back at that picture, it looks like about 3/8" more or less. That's bad. After the initial 3 or 4 turns, this was the result.



I ended up measuring and adjusting a few times on each side until I figured out how many flats of the lock nut produced the adjustment I was looking for so that I had zero toe - which is identical measurements in front of and behind the hub. Once I had that, I put the wheels back on, and confirmed the wheel was straight while going down the road. A few more tweaks with it on the ground and no more need for the strings (since this has more to do with thrust angle (wheels aligned but not straight ahead). To line your steering wheel back up, let's say when you're driving straight, your wheel is turned to the left a bit. That means you're having to compensate, which means your wheels are pointing too far to the RIGHT. Which means you need to screw the passenger tie rod OUT, and the driver tie rod IN. I would suggest not turning more than a half turn at a time if your wheel was only crooked by a 1/8 inch or so like mine, it doesn't take much.

DISCLAIMER: Zero Toe is not suggested for final adjustment. You want a very slight toe in, 1/16" in fact, between the left and right tire combined. If you don't know how to get this precise of a measurement, maybe this job isn't for you. Incorrect toe will destroy your tires and I am not responsible for your precious Kumho's.


That's it folks, homemade alignment. From what I hear, if you take the time to measure and calculate your numbers, the adjustments that we as enthusiasts can get are MILES better than what most alignment shops pass for, a lot of them will tell you "it's in spec, we're not touching it". If you must use a shop, make sure you find one that will adjust to the numbers YOU want.
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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-05-2015, 11:38 PM
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I'm a mechanic in training at a shop. I have preformed many alignments and there are some things I want to correct.

#1 Unless you are going to race the car and/or want as much negative camber as possible you do NOT want to set your camber that way. You are basically just putting it to the max and assuming that both sides are going to be equal which isn't the case. If you aren't going to align your car after strut replacement mark the upper plate and bolt's position on the surface they contact then put them back in that position when you are done replacing the struts.

#2 For a DIY job you are better off trying to set your toe at zero. The front toe spec for a 1st gen 3 is 0.11° total toe with +- 0.22° tolerance, this is a vary small amount. To put it in perspective, on most cars I can have the toe set perfect but once I tighten the jam nuts it moves 0.05° on each side! In other words, just taking up the looseness in the tierod threads will throw it off so there is no way you are going to get it exact without an alignment machine.

#3 How can your adjustments be MILES better than an alignment shop when you have no way to know what your settings are? In short, you can't. Unless its some chain shop I see no reason why they would turn you away if you either wanted custom adjustments or wanted it perfect. At my shop a basic alignment is $90. If you want everything perfect, the whole alignment is really messed up, or we have to do special stuff to get it right then its going to cost extra but we will do it. I would see no problem if a customer had custom alignment settings that they wanted us to set their car to. We just won't be responsible if your tires wear unevenly.
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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 12:51 AM Thread Starter
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#1 Good idea! I took a spirit level to the rotors after doing the adjustment, and they roughly look exactly in the same place (as exactly as it can look with the bubble, but I was satisfied enough to take it for a test drive). I'm thinking I should be able to verify the camber with a little more math. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow.

#2 My toe is set to about 0.15deg total by my calculations, which equates to about 1/16" difference from front to back on a 25.1" diameter tire, which is working for me. Like I said, I'm not responsible for other people's calculations, only my own. If it ends up being a little rougher on my tires that I like, there's the magic of being able to adjust it again! So cool.

#3 I am willing to bet my alignment IS better than the shops I've talked to, considering I've been told by the 6 closest shops that they don't do precision or custom alignments, "even though they uphold brand standards to make sure your car is safe and within specs". That's great and all, until you find out that "within specs" can mean some pretty wild differences, at least in my opinion. And again, this is my own experience, my apologies for sounding like I was putting all shops everywhere in one hat.

I am just not personally interested in paying that much money for someone not as concerned as I am. Clearly we need more mechanics like you out here on this side of the country.


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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 08:03 AM
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I eyeballed my alignment once.... seriously.

Then took it into the shop that does my tires, paid the $100 to have them put it on the rack and align it; and it was actually almost untouched.

As far as camber goes; there are camber gauges for that reason, but finding a perfectly flat floor is a bit more difficult.

As far as argument 3 goes?
I've seen people say they just had an alignment done and everything felt weird, asked them to share the spec sheet, and I am appalled by the results.
It actually happens far more often than it should.
Just because some people are getting alignments on racks, doesn't mean they are good alignments...

Especially if I can eyeball an alignment to near perfection :/

I do mine wheels on and roll it 3ft back then forward; I don't like doing it with just brakes. Difficult to get a more precise measurement, so I do agree if you DO do it this way, aiming for zero toe is probably best.

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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 12:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zoomtictac View Post
#1 Good idea! I took a spirit level to the rotors after doing the adjustment, and they roughly look exactly in the same place (as exactly as it can look with the bubble, but I was satisfied enough to take it for a test drive). I'm thinking I should be able to verify the camber with a little more math. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow.
I assume there was no load on the suspension when you put the level on the rotor. Its impossible to get an accurate determination of camber with no load. I've had vehicles with almost identical left and right camber readings when on the alignment stands but once you lift it off the difference between left and right camber readings is usually huge.
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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-06-2015, 02:17 PM Thread Starter
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Nope, it was on the ground. The level fit between the spokes and onto the rotor.


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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-07-2015, 12:47 PM
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Ok, I forgot how wide the gaps in the 04-06 wheel spokes were.
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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 04-17-2016, 10:14 AM
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My problem with doing toe using a string on my 2006 3 is that the track width of the wheels is 60.2 inches front and 59.6 inches rear. If you don't take the track width difference of .6 inches (almost 5/8" total, or about 8mm each side on the rear) into consideration when setting your string, it's going to seriously throw your angles off and louse up the toe.

The third gen 3 (2016) is a little less in difference (though opposite) with the front at 61.2 inches, and 61.4 inches rear. Still enough to seriously skew the toe measurements when complete. With decent tires running over $150 a pop, you have a lot riding on your alignment.

I bought a tool called Trackace for about $120 and I love it. It's not perfect as it only does total front toe and does not help with leveling the steering wheel, but it is still well worth the money. I checked my front toe out of the shop and it was set to +0.166 toe (10' total) and it was obvious in the handling. With the Trackace I was able to dial the total toe back to a total of -0.033 (2' total) and the improvement was immediately noticeable. Steering response and handling is the best it has ever been. The 3 is a fun car to drive, and an accurate alignment makes it a blast.

If you get this tool be sure to follow the instructions exactly, particularly in placing the laser scale properly. If you do, you will be very satisfied.
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Last edited by remnant01; 04-17-2016 at 10:26 AM.
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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 04-17-2016, 12:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by remnant01 View Post
I checked my front toe out of the shop and it was set to +0.166 toe (10' total) and it was obvious in the handling. With the Trackace I was able to dial the total toe back to a total of -0.033 (2' total) and the improvement was immediately noticeable. Steering response and handling is the best it has ever been. The 3 is a fun car to drive, and an accurate alignment makes it a blast.
Are those measurements in degrees? If so then you were closer to spec before your adjustments. Spec for your car is +0* 11' +- 0* 22' so you were almost dead on to begin with. I would hardly call that an "accurate alignment".
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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 04-17-2016, 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by madmatt2024 View Post
I would hardly call that an "accurate alignment".
I do. On a front wheel drive car I like a little toe out and factory spec is toed in. I set it for 2' out because that is what I like and wanted. The response and tracking are excellent on my car at that setting and I am very happy with it. YMMV.

Stringing a first gen 3 without including the difference in wheel track is anything but an "accurate alignment" and will result in a massive toe out. I'm surprised you didn't mention that to the OP.

My other car is a Honda Civic...
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