What to look for in an alignment shop?

Suspension, Steering and Chassis

  1. MRGTX

    MRGTX Well-Known Member

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    Now that all of my suspension has been swapped out, ride height has been established, I'm finally about to get my Dart aligned with an emphasis on handling performance on radials...and I'm very hesitant to let just anyone do the job.

    No, I don't plan on doing the job myself for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that I just want to have it done on precision equipment and to just be able to forget about it until my next suspension/tire change.

    At one time, any grease monkey was qualified to align a simple little car like an A-Body, at least as far as anyone cared about precise alignment specs. If they compensated for the crown of the road, you were lucky. These days, it's hard to be so sure that the local quick lube/alignment shop will care enough to do it right or not break something. Most of these guys probably haven't seen anything older or more exotic than a 1990s Camry.

    How did you find your alignment shop?
     
  2. mderoy340

    mderoy340 Well-Known Member

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    Asked other folks around with old cars where they go. Forget about the chain stores all they mostly touch is toe setting on new stuff. I found an old shop and asked the owner about setting up my car after two goodyear screw ups. I explained everything was new and not to change the ride height I had set. Car drives like new. I immediately made another appointment for my other car. I happily paid the $90 it cost per car.
     
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    • mbaird

      mbaird mbaird FABO Gold Member

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      Age
       
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      • abodyjoe

        abodyjoe Well-Known Member

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        need to find someone that understands what he is doing. not some asshole that just lines it up till the lights turn green. the light turns green specs sucks for a car with modern tires and updated suspension.
         
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        • mbaird

          mbaird mbaird FABO Gold Member

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          Ask them if they drive the car before and after... Try to find out without offending them if they understand the relationship between all the settings
           
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          • Treblig

            Treblig FABO Gold Member FABO Gold Member

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            I found that the older guys (50s-60s) Have special knowledge that the younger folks don't have. The older guys have a sense of what works best on the older cars regardless of specifications (although specs are important).
             
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            • famous bob

              famous bob mopar misfit

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              Same here , I have an appointment @ 8;00 Friday morn.. Old guy that will only do 2 a day at most, and doesn`t want to work if it`s hot.
              His front end machine seems to be pretty old , but now that I`ve established my ride height, got the front end freed up , squared the rear end and all, I think he`ll be able to handle it . He can get all the caster we need w/ my front end. I have a little neg. camber , and the toe in is out some, he is close enough that I can drive it to his house w/o loading it up on the trailer too.
              I have never been able to tell the diff. w/ radials on the front , with bias ply on the rear , even switching back and forth , will let him guide me on that-----------
               
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              • toolmanmike

                toolmanmike FABO Staff Staff Member FABO Gold Member

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                A experienced alignment tech is a must. You need to find a place where they understand the angles and how they effect drivability and tire wear. There is a alignment chart floating around here with common sense angles to use.
                 
              • abodyjoe

                abodyjoe Well-Known Member

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                make sure you get a before and after print out of the specs too.
                 
              • 72bluNblu

                72bluNblu FABO Gold Member FABO Gold Member

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                Take the SKOSH chart with you. If they won’t align it to the alignment specs you want, find a different shop.

                E5C39AFF-EC9C-41A4-B151-77096AA66E48.jpeg

                The major chain stores are usually a “no-go”, as they all have policies about setting the factory specs- which you don’t want. Sometimes you can talk them into using a more modern RWD car for the computer, but that doesn’t always work because new stuff has more caster than you’ll be able to get and the numbers still stay red.

                As far as age, I wouldn’t count on it. I’ve had conversations on this forum with guys that claim they “used to be alignment techs” that clearly show that age is not the same as experience or knowledge. Too many “back in the day” stories are based completely on dumb luck, not actual skill.

                And good luck! I bought my own alignment gear for this exact reason. I do it myself, and when I buy tires I have them check my alignment. It comes back “in the red” but I get the numbers. Usually they leave me alone about adjusting it when I ask them if they think my car came with 18x9’s, 275’s and tubular adjustable suspension from the factory. They won’t set those numbers, but they don’t make me pay them to change them back to factory either so I get the benefit of the modern equipment to check my bubble gauge alignment. Now that I’ve used the bubble gauges a few times it’s usually pretty close!
                 
                Last edited: Jul 10, 2019 at 11:06 AM
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                • Murray

                  Murray FABO Gold Member FABO Gold Member

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                  Similar to others, I asked around. Asked a local car builder who does resto's and custom frames and suspension. Went to their recommendation, and these guys are old and young but are racers too. They understand all kinds of suspension and were great. I even took my new car to them because I didn't trust the dealer. They said all was set correctly. I didn't paying them the $100 because I trust them. Ask around, when you find a good guy- stay with him.
                   
                • Krooser

                  Krooser Reform School Graduate

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                  Find a shop that does nothing but frame and alignment work....most big shops that do trucks also do cars and light pickups.

                  My local favorite does them all....a Charger may be parked next to a Peterbilt....
                   
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                  • RustyRatRod

                    RustyRatRod 30 Degrees Outta Whack FABO Gold Member

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                    Look for age and experience. Most alignment shops have kids doing it compared to our old Mopars.
                     
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                    • mbaird

                      mbaird mbaird FABO Gold Member

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                      I just set an appointment with a local Big O Tire store that is owned by a drag racer. He will have his guy set my car to what ever specs I give them
                       
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                      • MRGTX

                        MRGTX Well-Known Member

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                        Thanks to all for the input!

                        So this chart has been around a while and I have it saved on my phone with the intent of bringing it along to the shop. :D

                        The question that I still have is about applicability- do these guidelines apply only to cars with stock suspension components? I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't be able to get the race spec camber/caster setting out of the stock stuff but I just want to check before I proceed.

                        I have the QA1 upper/lower arms...which should allow more caster at a given camber setting than the stock stuff. Should I try to take advantage of that? For example, if I can get 3.5* caster and -1.5* camber should I do it?
                        I'm planning for max street performance with occasional autocross...

                        Also, any guidelines about the adjustable strut rod settings would be a huge help!
                         
                      • 72bluNblu

                        72bluNblu FABO Gold Member FABO Gold Member

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                        The SKOSH chart is basically for radial tire use on Mopars. You can see that in the notes on the bottom. With stock components you're not likely to be able to get more than a couple degrees of positive caster. With offset bushings up to about +3.5°. More than that usually requires some kind of tubular UCA.

                        With the QA1 UCA's you should be able to get up to about +5° of caster without too much trouble. Whether you want that much is up to you, if you have power steering I'd say do it. If you have manual steering, realize that while adding positive caster improves stability it also makes the care more resistant to steering inputs, so, harder to turn. I run +6.5° caster on my car with 16:1 manual steering and 275's up front, so it's relative.

                        For camber on a street car I wouldn't go past -1°. That's just because more than that will start to show camber wear on the tires. You can run more, but your tires will wear faster.
                         
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                        • MRGTX

                          MRGTX Well-Known Member

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                          Excellent info as always. Thanks!

                          I have been running -1.5° on my Ford for the past 20k miles (on 200 treadwear RE-11s no less) and so far so good...but I'm starting to think that something closer to -1° is probably wise. The fact that you were able to get away with 6.5° caster...I'm much more inclined to try something similar. I do have a smaller diameter steering wheel in addition to the manual 16:1...so I do need to think about that too.

                          Again, thanks!!
                           
                        • 72bluNblu

                          72bluNblu FABO Gold Member FABO Gold Member

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                          The camber thing is just a guideline, the more cornering you do the more even your wear will be. But for normal-ish street driving I've found the -1° mark is a good guideline. More than that still helps your corner handling, but you just wear out tires faster. If you're not driving thousands and thousands of miles it may not matter, your tires will still age out before they wear out.

                          At one point I was actually running +8° of caster. That was accidental on my part, I had a set of magnumforce tubular UCA's I bought second hand and I didn't realize someone had installed offset UCA bushings in them as well. I did a rough set on the alignment, meaning I just set it for max caster and then evened up the camber visually (and set the toe). That was before I had all my alignment gear. Anyway, I drove it for longer than I should have before I bought all my alignment stuff and when I finally did do a proper alignment on it I had been running 8° of caster. With my current set up I've changed it a few times, down as little as +6° at one point and then back up. +6.5° seems to be a nice spot, it helps keep the car from tracking ruts too much with the wide front tires but isn't impossible to steer. Above that it really starts to get hard to turn the wheel below 10mph. It's great on the freeway or at speed, but it gets old fast in a parking lot. I have a reproduction Tuff wheel on my car, so I think that's a 14" wheel? So in between most of the Grant wheels and the larger standard wheel.

                          I accidentally posted my last comment before I was finished. For the adjustable strut rods it's a process, and unless you take it to a race shop they're not gonna want to do it.

                          I put the car up on jackstands, remove the torsion bar adjusting bolt and the shock. That allows you to cycle the suspension through its full range of travel. Then I shorten the strut rod until the LCA starts to bind when its cycled through the range of travel. At that point I lengthen the strut rod back until there is no binding of the suspension within the range of travel. That's it. But it's labor intensive, you're lifting the suspension through the range of travel every time and feeling for binding. It's very much a "trial and error" kind of process, the more practice you get the faster it is but it takes time. Which is why I would say it's something you'll have to do yourself before you get the alignment done. No one will want to deal with that part. That and the ride height should be done before you go to a shop IMO, unless that shop is used to doing old Mopars and custom suspension.
                           
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                          • MopaR&D

                            MopaR&D Nerd Member FABO Gold Member

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                            I just call around local alignment shops and ask if A) they have experience doing alignments on classic or high-performance cars and B) if they will set my car's alignment to the specs I give them. I find usually those two points go hand-in-hand.

                            It also helps to understand the method; first time I rebuilt the front end on my Duster I took it to a shop for alignment and the guy seemed like he knew what he was doing but it took him forever. After a while he brought me in and explained he was having a tough time getting the caster/camber right because the adjustment for one affects the other at the same time (uhhh really? Thought you were supposed to know that buddy!). He eventually got it but overcharged me because it took so long; some years later I figured out you have to adjust the rear UCA cam bolt as far inward as possible (closer to the car) to give max allowable caster then gradually adjust the front cam bolt until the camber gets to where you want it. At that point the caster is pretty much "what you got", if you want more you need to change parts like UCA bushings or tubular UCA's.

                            I know a guy with a resto-modded Datsun 260Z built for the race track and he has his own alignment tools so he can change settings at home or at the track, they seem pretty slick and I definitely want some. IIRC I asked how much they cost and it was less than I had thought.
                             
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