Adjusting the Toe In

You can adjust toe-in quite easily at home without any expensive tools - just time and patience. Important: Don't just double check your measurements: check every measurement 3 or 4 times! Here's how I did it:

  1. Turn the steering wheel so that it is centered directly in the center of the steering wheel play. Turn the wheel completely to the left, then count the number of turns it takes to turn it completely to the right. Divide by 2 and that should give you your center of steering. The steering wheel should be pointing directly straight. Triple check it! If the steering wheel is not pointing straight ahead, remove the steering wheel and reposition it.

  2. The rack (or steering box) should now be centered and the steering wheel pointing straight ahead. Tie down the steering wheel very securely. Use rubber bungee cords, you should not be able to move the wheel - very important!

    The reason behind centering the wheel and steering gear is to ensure that when the toe-in is adjusted that both tie rods are absolutely equal in length. Otherwise you will end up with bumpsteer - the tie rods will not travel in the same arc as the control arms.

  3. The rear wheels are the reference for the front wheels. That's why Steps 1 and 2 are required. I use the previously mentioned string method to provide reference points to the center of the frame for measurements.

  4. Next I measured the distance from the string to the front wheel's outside rim's front edge, recorded the measurement and then did the same for the front wheel's outside rim's rear edge. I recorded this distance and then subtracted rear measurement from the front measurement. This will give exactly 1/2 the toe-in value.

    Toe-in is required to compensate for the play in the steering from when the car is sitting still and when it is moving forward. When a car is moving forward, there is a lot of force placed on the steering components. This force causes the front wheels to toe out. By applying a static toe-in value, when the car moves forward, the play in the steering "straightens out" the toe-in giving neutral toe-in or so the story goes.

  5. I repeated the same procedure for the passenger's side.

  6. I then double-checked the driver's side and once more the passenger's side.

Expect to spend a few hours to align your wheels. There is a lot of fiddling and patience. The first time I did a wheel alignment was after I had installed some new tie rods on my 90 Honda and screwed up the toe-in royally. I had major bumpsteer and the car felt extremely dangerous to drive. I thought that I would give the alignment a try before sending it over to an alignment shop.

Well, it took about 2 hours to do the toe-in and turned out so well that I didn't need to go to the alignment shop. No bumpsteer and it drove perfectly straight with the steering wheel pointing directly ahead. I've driven it for a year now with no major problems and tire wear.

My initial measurements before I aligned the front wheels showed that I had about 3/4" toe-in on the driver's side and 1/4" on the passenger side. The toe-in setting is 0 - 1/16" for a 90 Honda. The steering wheel also pointed at about 10:00 when going straight ahead (if I remember correctly). This indicated that the rack was also not centered properly causing the tie rods to be different lengths than the control arms. This was probably the main reason for the bumpsteer.

NOTE: Wheel alignment takes a lot of time, patience and triple checking when done yourself but it can be done.

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Copyright Jan 16, 2011 Eugene Blanchard