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Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Help, Advice and DIY Tutorials on Volvo's extremely popular car line -- Volvo's 1990s "bread and butter" cars -- powered by the ubiquitous and durable Volvo inline 5-cylinder engine.

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Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by j-dawg » Sun Jun 14, 2015 2:19 pm

I recently replaced my left control arm with a Lemforder unit due to a bad ball joint. I was naive enough to assume that pleasant handling would be restored.

That would have been too easy. After swapping out the control arm, my steering wheel was pointed a few degrees to the left when driving straight, the car pulled to the right on braking, and the car felt a lot less planted on the highway. Clearly, I needed an alignment. But I had some schedule constraints, mechanics were all booked up on the Saturday I had available, and my schedule wasn't getting any clearer in the next few weeks. The car was real squirrely on braking, which was making me nervous.

This isn't exactly an original process I've invented, but there are many variations on it and I thought I'd share the one that worked for me. I should note that this is really pretty dirty, and it's not really a substitution for a full four-wheel camber/caster/toe alignment. But it'll get you by until you can get it done properly, and toe is probably the most important alignment parameter for drivability. If your car isn't driving straight, give this a go and maybe you can get it drivable until you've got time to do it right. cn90 has written a much nicer guide that might need more time and more tools, but is more precise.

MATERIALS
In addition to a basic set of mechanic's tools, you'll need:
- 2x/4x some kind of post, for which I used two jack stands
- Mason twine, fishing line, or some other type of thin string that you can attach to your posts
- A small stiff ruler with at least 1/16" measurements and the same units on both sides.
- 22mm open-end wrench, for the jam nut on the tie rod. Not found in most basic tool sets, so I thought I'd call it out specifically. rspi's outer tie rod video says a 7/8" will work, too. I found that crescent wrenches did not work, but your suspension bits may be less horribly jammed up than mine were
- Whatever wrench your inner tie rod wants - for me it would have been 13mm if the thing hadn't totally rounded itself off, so it became a pair of vice grips. This may vary from one tie rod manufacturer to the next.
- PB Blaster, because your jam nut is probably extremely stuck
- Hammer, because hammers are the single most important suspension work tool one can have

I say $10 because that's about how much I spent on a can of PB Blaster and a 22mm wrench.

PROCEDURE

For, like, a week before you start, give your tie rod jam nut a healthy soak in PB Blaster every night.

Park the car with the steering wheel straight. Make sure the car moves a foot or two with the wheel straight, and that you don't touch the wheel after this.

Attach the line to your posts and set them up along the length of your car, an inch or two out from the wheels. (I measured both sides, but my adjustment was only going to be on one, so I only set up one string. If you need to adjust both front wheels, use four posts.) Get the string taut enough to not sag, and have it at about the height of your wheel hubs, as shown below. I clamped my string to my jack stands.
P4202599.JPG
You'll soon realize that "straight" is not easily defined. They're boxy, but even these Volvos have a lot of curve and taper to them. A lot of guides for doing this job have you mess around with the centerline of the car, precise repeatable measurements, blah blah blah. Nah. This is quick and dirty, bruh. I knew that my rear toe was fine, and the cause of my alignment wrongness was replacing the front control arm. The rear toe spec on these cars is very nearly zero. If you have reason believe your rear toe-in is fine, you can use the rear wheel as a reference for straightness, to point your string in the right direction.

Squat by your rear wheel and stick a ruler above the string, butting it up against the back rim of the wheel, as shown below.
P4202605.JPG
Rock the ruler back and forth until you see the string passing under the same line on both sides of the ruler. Now you're measuring the perpendicular distance between the string and the rim. In the image shown above, we're seeing the string pass under the ruler at 15/32" on both sides. Repeat the procedure at the front of the back wheel and compare the measurements. Move your posts (here, the jack stands) around until the measurement in the back is equal to the measurement up front. This process can be pretty tedious. When the measurement is the same in the front and back, your string is "straight" with respect to the car. This is your reference - DO NOT TOUCH IT until you're done measuring the front!

Measure the front wheel in the same manner. This is your initial measurement. On my car, I read 5/32" of toe-in on this front-left wheel. Using magic trigonometry, I determined that the tie rod needed to be about 1/16" to 3/32" shorter to bring my car within spec. Rough numbers generated from rough measurements, but much better than throwing in a new control arm and leaving toe alone.
P4242608.JPG
Actually adjusting toe was the hardest part of this job. The tie rod end jam nut was super stuck, and it took three nights of hammering and PB Blaster-ing to crack it. Though it would have been nice to leave the reference string in place, it ended up being necessary to lift the car and drop the wheel. Pictured is the the setup that worked for me. After many failed attempts at using crescent wrenches, channel-locks, vice grips, etc, the only thing that worked was whacking the 22mm wrench with a two-pound sledgehammer - that jam nut was really, really jammed, and I didn't want to torch it for fear of wrecking the nut. If you have to do this, be careful to clamp the tie rod end with something, as I'm doing here with the vice grip and jack stand. This reacts the torque from the hammer, so you don't react it through the ball joint and wreck it completely. (Ordinarily this takes a 13mm wrench, but my nut was stuck enough that the wrench was just rounding off the tie rod end.)

Once you've finished your celebrations, turn the jam nut to the desired adjustment distance by butting a ruler up against it. The ruler I used has a nice sliding clip that makes verifying measurements very simple - butt the end of the ruler up against the nut, slide the clip down until it's in line with the tie rod end, and read your measurement at the clip. See below:
P4242611.JPG
As you can see, I've backed the nut off by about 1/16". Now turn the inner tie rod counterclockwise to draw the jam nut towards the outer tie rod, until they are touching. Tighten the jam nut down. As before, grab the inner tie rod with something so you're not bending the ball joint.

That's it! Toe is set. Put your wheel back on and lower the car. If you like, set up the posts and measure to make sure you're within spec. I did not do this because ignorance is bliss. Highway handling is much improved. Outside of any massively stuck jam nuts, this is a quick and easy job, and it's way more palatable than spending $75 on alignment that only one wheel needs right after dropping $120 on a control arm.
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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by oragex » Sun Jun 14, 2015 2:49 pm

It's a great method without issues for tire wear.

I put engine oil over the nut so it doesn't ever jam again. No need to over-tighten the nut. Tighten so as to not be too hard to loosen it again.

To loose a jammed nut, I pry with a cheater bar between an locking pliers on the nut and a wrench on the tie rod, the two set as a scissor.

Finally I use a measuring tape instead of a wire. I just measure and compare the distance between the same point on the tire thread and at the same height, both in front and on the rear of the tire, with a 1-2mm difference.



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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by cn90 » Sun Jun 14, 2015 2:51 pm

I have a level garage.
I use plumb bob, pencil and a long piece of wood (wood trim used in home molding).
Then measure total toe etc.

One of these days, I will do a write-up, too busy now, no time!


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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by misha » Sun Jun 14, 2015 3:02 pm

Replacing a control arm(ball joint) doesn't need allignment. :!:
In other words....untill you replace or disturb a tie rod,you don't need allignment.You can replace everything in suspension system and as far as you don't mess with a tie rod,alignment is not needed.


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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by j-dawg » Sun Jun 14, 2015 4:19 pm

cn90 wrote:I have a level garage.
I use plumb bob, pencil and a long piece of wood (wood trim used in home molding).
Then measure total toe etc.

One of these days, I will do a write-up, too busy now, no time!
You did do a write-up!
http://www.matthewsvolvosite.com/forums ... hp?t=28454

It's linked in my original post. Nicer method, takes a bit more work.
misha wrote:Replacing a control arm(ball joint) doesn't need allignment. :!:
In other words....untill you replace or disturb a tie rod,you don't need allignment.You can replace everything in suspension system and as far as you don't mess with a tie rod,alignment is not needed.
Well, it doesn't need an alignment if the parts you install are identical to the ones you take out.

I replaced some unknown-brand cheapie with a Lemforder. Dimensions between manufacturers are not necessarily identical - the one that came out was from a different casting, as it didn't have the same cast-in markings as the Lemforder - so I could believe that there would be some minor differences in the dimensions that would have affected my alignment.

I also drove for a few thousand miles on the busted ball joint (against my better judgment). Highway stability was great when I drive from Pittsburgh to Chicago, and when I drove from Chicago to Texas a week later stability was dramatically worse - a very short time, but maybe I hat a bad pothole or something. Maybe that distance on a bad ball joint messed up something that wasn't replaced, though I have a hard time thinking of what it could have been.


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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by dosbricks » Sun Jun 14, 2015 7:20 pm

misha wrote:Replacing a control arm(ball joint) doesn't need allignment. :!:
In other words....untill you replace or disturb a tie rod,you don't need allignment.You can replace everything in suspension system and as far as you don't mess with a tie rod,alignment is not needed.
I've also often thought this. But I guess, as the OP pointed out, it might only apply when swapping OEM components for like parts.

We may tend to obsess a bit about alignment here in the US because it's such a big country and hours of high speed interstate driving usually separates large cities--thus aggravating the affect of minor mis-adjustments. That said, I'm only willing to shell out $79 for a 4-wheel alignment when absolutely necessary. Right now I'm on the home stretch of doing control arms, CV boots, inner and outer tie-rods, and struts on my wagon. After that....a professional alignment and a new set of paws. 8)


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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by cn90 » Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:51 am

j-dawg wrote:...
You did do a write-up!
http://www.matthewsvolvosite.com/forums ... hp?t=28454
@j-dawg,

I did that "mini" write-up 5 years ago, I have since modified it. Basically:

1- Level garage from R to L sides. All garage floor slats toward the street a bit (city building code to allow water to drain). I use 2x12 wood to lift the car up so I can access underneath: if the front faces inside the house: then one (1) piece of wood under each front tires, and two (2) pieces of wood under each REAR tires, this way I have a level car.

2- Carpenter square: I cut a small slit to allow the string used in plumb bob.

3- Get a long piece of wood molding (quarter round molding) from hardware store. Maybe 8 feet is enough. Or long piece of oak flooring is fine too.

4- Lay the wood molding so it sits exactly under the middle of the tire, aka the bulging part of the tire at 3 or 9 o'clock positions, because this is where the plumb bob falls off to the garage floor.

5- Use measuring tape with metric system, mm is easier to use than inches etc.

6- Propane torch to undo the rusty adjusting nut, likely will need pipe wrench too.

7- Once done, test drive the car, you may need to realign the SW a bit so it is not annoying to the driver. If the car tracks straight, but the SW is crooked, then adjust the tierod with equal increments on each side.


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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by erikv11 » Mon Jun 15, 2015 9:45 am

Well done and kudos for advertising it as a $10 job!

I get annoyed by the write-ups that claim a procedure costs $7 and then describe using a couple $60 tools that most people don't have, chemicals, miscellaneous "free, spare hardware parts," etc.


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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by j-dawg » Mon Jun 15, 2015 8:04 pm

I would have listed it as a $6 job if I'd had the PB Blaster already, but I moved recently and very smelly aerosols were not on the list of things I wanted in my car for a 1500 mile drive.


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Re: Quick-and-dirty $10 front toe-in alignment

Post by cn90 » Tue Jun 16, 2015 7:19 am

Oooops,

Forgot the cost of the house where the car is being worked on.
Another $300,000 in cost LOL.


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