• Please only use these forums for blogs, they are not a discussion forum

Front Wheel Alignment (toe in) with no strings (and no wheels!) attached.

I'm an old retired guy that has a couple of 2001 K11's to repair/maintain as my one of my pass-times. My daughter borrowed one K11, for a while, whilst she sorted out new family transport. Unfortunately, coming over to visit me one time, she landed in a pot-hole in the road (one of many round here). It was deep enough to shake her and the car up quite badly. I checked the car out and found one wheel trim gone and one (steel) wheel badly dented on the rim. I was surprised it was still inflated, the dent was so deep. I changed the wheel for the spare, but a month later (when the car was returned as, "no longer needed"), I found the steering needed a constant leftward direction to keep the car going straight. Yup, it needed alignment.

I had previously paid to have the alignment done on my other K11 at a garage (with laser equipment - Wow!). This had cost me about £60 and I was not keen to pay another £60. I also try and do every job on the cars - even changing tyres, balancing wheels, welding and so on. So I decided to learn to do front wheel alignment (toe-in) set-up myself. I researched all the YouTube and other internet sources of DIY alignment info, but when I tried the methods they did not work for me . . . .

The String Business

Most methods used a string suspended between, say, axle stands, parallel to the rear wheels to set a line against which you adjust the front wheel alignment. But this string keeps getting moved, when you remove the wheel in question to adjust the track rod, and you have to repeat "set-up measure and adjust"over and over again. Baaaa!

The Wheel's In The Way Business

To adjust tracking, for each front wheel, you need access to get a spanner on the tie-rod flats (13mm on my cars) on the lock-nut (19mm) and the flats on the track rod end (22mm). This (for me) is impossible with the wheels on the car, and on the ground. Even with the front jacked up it is a pain. I don't have a car lift or a pit. Since I had just put two new track rod ends on the car ('cos there is little point doing alignment with old wobbly track rod ends), I had seen the great access to adjust the tracking, with the wishbone jacked up a little and the wheel removed. (Not forgetting an axle stand under the sill, as well, for safety). What I needed was a way of setting up the tracking with the wheel removed.

My Method

This is based on the fact that if a front wheel is aligned properly, the hub it is attached to is aligned as well. That's to say, the wheel (rim and tyre) is hard bolted to the studs which pass through the brake disk, and the face of the disk brake is accurately aligned also. So when we are doing "wheel alignment" we are actually doing "hub alignment". That's the key - how could I accurately align the face of the brake disk? If I could do this, all I had to do was replace the wheel (once!) and Robert's your father's brother.

Then I had the idea! I had already paid for super-duper laser wheel alignment on my other Micra K11. The alignment had been well done, and I had a computer print out picture of the toe-in, camber and caster of all four wheels on the other K11. (Even though only the toe-in on each front wheel could actually be adjusted (short of serious modifications and welding). I had used the other K11 a fair bit after alignment, and knew it had no bad symptoms. I trusted it's set-up.

If I took alignment measurements from the "good" K11 for front wheel hubs, and accurately repeated these measurement to set up the disturbed K11, all should be well.
But what measurements? How could I get settings that I could transfer, to do the alignment?

I first set the steering wheel in the straight ahead position and secured it with a scissor jack between the seat (slid forward) and the bottom of the steering wheel. Having jacked up the "good" K11 as above, and removed the road wheel, I used a 24 inch builders spirit level to set the top two studs coming through the brake disk dead level.
I then used the level (and later I tried a length of angle iron bar) to rest on the top two studs and see where the line met the front inside wheel arch and the back inside wheel arch. (photo's later).

You will find that the maximum length of bar that will fit across the studs and between the wheel arches is about 26 inches. The important thing to remember is that the line which is used for the alignment runs across the top of the studs, and is hard against the brake disc, which is itself hard pushed onto the bearing hub. This line goes forward to the wheel arch behind the front bumper and extends backwards to the wheel arch where there is a mud-flap. In the photo's you can see a blue dot where I marked the points where the line met the arches.

Fortune Favours The Brave (K11 driver)

Before I actually did the measurement on the "good" K11, I was wondering how to record the (blue) points so that I could accurately repeat them on the K11 that needed set-up. When I did the measurement, as described above, all became clear. The blue dot landed on the rear arch directly above the lower of the two screws that secure the mud-flap to the arch. In fact, to be precise, the blue dot should be placed exactly over the screw, half-way between the center line of the screw and the inner edge of the screw. This is accurate to approx 1mm. I think this should be correct for all coil-pack K11's (and perhaps others too). In fact, the dot can be over or under the screw as it is the inboard/outboard dimension which we use to set the alignment, not the height of the dot above or below the screw (within reason). You will see in the photo of the wheel being corrected, two dots under the screw. The outboard dot is the original (incorrect) setting the inboard dot shows the point adjusted to.

I also put a blue dot on the arch behind the bumper. I replaced the wheel and did all the same work on the other front wheel of the "good" K11, to see if everything was symmetrical and that the method "worked". I found that the blue dot landed on the mud-flap in an exactly symmetrical place, BUT, the blue dot was 7 or 8 mm displaced on the front bumper arch. When I examined the front bumper fitting in detail, I saw that the "panel-gap" around one side of the bumper was different to the other side. At some time the front bumper had been bumped! The geometry had been pushed skew a little. This is why I used the dot under the mud-flap screw as it seemed much more reliable (and you only need one dot each side to do an alignment). BUT be warned that a distorted body will not give good results.

The Job Done at last

Having put the "good" micra back together, I set about the K11 with the alignment problems, (remember to fix the steering wheel straight ahead!) The first wheel I tried turned out to be spot-on accurate! I placed the blue dot as described above and leveled the studs then created a line to the rear wheel arch with an angle iron bar and the line met the dot exactly. Okay. I restored that side, and then turned to the other wheel. This was about 8 mm out! At last I could get out my 13mm,19mm and 22mm spanners and set about the tie rod adjustment. I found that 2 complete turns of the tie-rod brought the the excessive toe-in to meet the blue dot alignment mark.