Clockwise or counterclockwise, that is the question. Do you know the difference? Do you know the difference when you are looking up? Do you know the difference when you are turning an inner tie rod while trying to adjust toe measurements? Sure, you know these things, in theory. But in practice, when turning a wrench, it is very easy to become momentarily confused. Or maybe you’re like me and you were just born dumb. As a dumb person, I like to organize things to make my life easier, especially at the racetrack when I am lying on my back in a gravely paddock trying to work quickly to make the racecar better.
We have been using Smart Strings at the track for years, especially in the Honda Challenge series where we tend to bash cars into each other and thus require a quick realignment to get the car back on track for the next session. As we hurriedly work through making the adjustments on the inner tie rods, there was always this pause where we are under the car talking to ourselves, “Okay, so if I want to get more toe-out, I need to make the length of this rod shorter, and if I want this shorter then I want to screw on the outer tie rod, righty tighty, which means I need to turn the inner tie rod the opposite direction, lefty loosey…so, that is counter-clockwise, if I’m under the car and the wrench is below the tie rod then I want to move the wrench from the front of the car toward the rear of the car…I think?”
Confusing? Absolutely! I knew there had to be a better way of doing this.
My first attempt to resolve this issue was by making a quick reminder on a sticky note and placing it on the fender of the car. It was extremely rudimentary. Essentially it was a hand drawn image of a clock with some arrows reminding me that the inner tie rod should be turned in the opposite direction. I had done this a few times and had to keep redrawing the sticky note. Eventually, I decided to design something on my computer that I could stick to the side of the car to help me quickly know which way to turn a wrench. Remember, I’m dumb. Obviously, I need this guide in my life.
We were preparing for the NASA Championships at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and we needed to align our Honda Challenge car anyway, so we put the new paper reminder to use. It seemed to work and the direction of the wrench movements correlated with the illustrations on the paper. I decided to create designs for different vehicles because it would matter if the tie rod was rearward or forward of the tire, and it would matter if it was the passenger side or driver side of the car. By the way, this is America, so the driver side is the left side, as God intended.
Because the sticky note worked and the paper prototype worked, I decided to make something a bit sturdier and reusable by using thin magnet sheets and blank printed shipping labels. This way we could reuse the “alignment magnet” reminder over and over again. We simply stick the magnet on the corresponding fender (passenger side, driver side) and start making adjustments. What do you do if you have a Corvette with fiberglass fenders? Not my problem.
The thin magnetic material worked like a charm holding our alignment guide in place as we did our adjustments aligning the car. As I went back and forth between one side of the car to the other making small adjustments to the inner tie rods the alignment magnet saved tons of time. It saved time by taking away all of the guessing and also saved a ton of time by not having to redo adjustments after doing them the wrong direction by accident — something I have shamefully done many times. I told you I was dumb.
In an earlier design of the alignment magnet, I had wrench rotations to correlate with the number of millimeter changes to the toe. I decided to remove that portion of the design as I found it wasn’t consistent with all cars I worked on. However, I did find that on average one half of a full turn on the inner tie rod usually equals 1 mm of toe change. Put that little tidbit in your mind for useless facts to impress people at a bar with.
As we use the end wrench and the alignment magnet to turn the inner tie rod, we use a tool to measure from the rim edge to the strings along the side of the vehicle. The difference in the leading edge measurement to the trailing edge measurement on the rim is the toe measurement for that side. For instance, if the leading edge of the rim measures 30 millimeters from the string and the trailing edge of the rim measures 28 millimeters from the string then you have 2 millimeters of toe-in on that side of the car. PRO TIP: When we align cars we put driver weight in the driver seat.
We measure toe on each side of the car and then add those two sides together to determine the overall toe for the car. If we have 2 millimeters of toe-in on the driver side and 3 millimeters of toe-in on the passenger side then we have 5 millimeters total of toe-in with the steering wheel not on center. In this case, if we wanted zero toe, we would use the alignment magnets to guide us in the direction of which way we need to turn the inner tie rods so that the measurement to the strings for the leading edge and trailing edge of the wheels are the same.
This little magnet we created doesn’t change how the Smart Strings tools work, but it certainly changes how quickly they work, especially for me, since I’m dumber than most people you’ve met. I like things nice and simple. These magnets make things simple, and I’m a simple guy. So, take some advice, build your own alignment magnets and then go forth and align!