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.