To help center the toe plate on the wheel, we painted a red stripe down the middle of the plate. This allows us to quickly put the plate in position visually using the hub as a reference. You can see the adjustable length bungee cord holding the plate up.

Adjusting toe on a racecar, whether it is in your own garage or at the race track, usually takes a lot of help. You need one guy behind the steering wheel to hold it straight, one guy holding a tape measure at the left front wheel and another guy holding the tape measure at the right front wheel. Then you need a person adjusting the tie rod to change the toe setting while doing the mental math between the two different measurements.

That is a lot of helpers. In most cases, racers don’t have that many people hanging around to help — especially if there isn’t any beer. So, what is the best way to adjust your toe setting without a crew? If you think the answer is asking your wife to lie down on the cold, dirty garage floor to assist you, well, you’re mistaken. Chances are that will result in an argument about, “Why a sixteenth of an inch so important.” This will only cause more problems in your relationship — and you probably already have enough problems as it is due to the amount of time and money you spend on racing.

To singlehandedly set up toe on a racecar, we built our own do-it-yourself, by-yourself system to get our racecars as “perfect” as possible while not bothering the wife. The supplies you will need to create this system are available at your local hardware store: kite string, two pieces of aluminum, two tape measures, two bungee cords, some red paint and some duct tape. Total cost for materials is around $40.

The basic premise in adjusting toe is the difference in the measurement between the front of the tire and the rear of the tire. This can be used for front or rear axles if there is adjustability at the rear (sorry Mustang dudes). If the two measurements are the same, then your vehicle has a zero-toe. If the front measurement is less than the rear measurement then your vehicle has “toe in.” If the front measurement is larger then you have a “toe out” alignment. Most racing setups like some toe out in the front wheels, and if it is adjustable, neutral — or zero — for the rear wheels.

The difficult part in this process is setting the toe alignment to the exact specifications you want without spending $85 to $150 at the local tire shop. Besides the cost, tire shops are often difficult to work with because they only want to align cars to manufacturers’ specifications. If you ask a tire shop for 2.5 degrees of negative camber, maximized caster and an eighth-inch of toe out, they will look at you as though you just asked them to slap an infant. They only understand what the computer tells them, which is designed for tire longevity, not performance. You want to go fast and destroy tires quickly. If you were interested in tire longevity you would not be racing.

Many of us have tried to make some quick alignment adjustments on our cars at the track, maybe after some car-to-car contact or after hearing advice from a guy who is always just a bit faster. Leaning on the ground and holding a carpenter’s tape measure against the edges of a tire is not the most accurate way to get things aligned. Our DIY method employs the same concept, however we use a few parts from the hardware store to make it more accurate. So accurate in fact, that after setting the toe ourselves with some string, a piece of aluminum, and some measuring tapes, we later checked it on a state of the art laser alignment system, which cost us $85, and we were spot-on.

The concept of the aluminum plates is to create a plane alongside the wheels to use for accurate and repeatable measurements. Since gravity makes things fall over we drilled holes in the aluminum plates and purchased adjustable length bungee cords to wrap around the inside of the wheels to hold the plates in place. We painted a red stripe at the center of the plates to center the plates to the hub of the wheels. A small cut along the lower edge of the sides of the plates allows for the tape measure to feed through the plate for an accurate measurement. We purchased two tape measures, which have specific measurements spelled out on the tape itself (1/8, 1/4, 3/8, etc.) to avoid any mental errors when determining how much toe is actually set into the car.

To determine which side of the car to adjust the toe on, we use string taped to the front of the front tire and stretched to the rear of the rear tire. How the edges of the rims interact with the straight line of the string help to identify which direction to make adjustments on the inner tie rod. Once the plates are bungeed to the wheel and the string is in place, we use the two tape measures to determine how much toe we have. If the front measurement is 65 3/8 inches, and the rear measurement is 65 1/4 inches, then we have one eighth inch of toe out, meaning the front wheels are pointing outward one sixteenth of an inch on each side. Nobody can ever remember which way to turn their inner tie rod to make the wheel point in or out. The strings make it easy to visually check to ensure you are going in the right direction. Once you are finished and happy with your new settings, tighten your jam nuts to the outer tie rod ends and hit the track.

The toe plates give you confidence in adjusting your own alignment accurately and the ability to complete the toe alignment by yourself at half the cost of a trip to the tire shop. And if you are at the track and have friends to help, these toe plates make the job much quicker to perform. The next time you hit the track after doing your own shade-tree alignment, you will drive with confidence knowing the car is set up correctly as you head smoking-hot into Turn 1. Just remember to tighten those jam nuts!

We have all done it. You need a quick and dirty measurement on your toe alignment and you drag a measuring tape across the front tires. Is this precise? Not usually. We decided a set of toe plates could help us perform a more accurate adjustment.
We have all done it. You need a quick and dirty measurement on your toe alignment and you drag a measuring tape across the front tires. Is this precise? Not usually. We decided a set of toe plates could help us perform a more accurate adjustment.
We found these premade toe adjustment plates in the trunk of a racecar we bought. We used them once and realized quickly that they require about four people helping to work well. Grassroots guys don’t always have four people. We decided to modify these for the solo racecar mechanic.
We found these premade toe adjustment plates in the trunk of a racecar we bought. We used them once and realized quickly that they require about four people helping to work well. Grassroots guys don’t always have four people. We decided to modify these for the solo racecar mechanic.
To make our toe plates stand up by themselves, we drilled two holes in the plates so we could connect a bungee cord to wrap around the inside of the wheel.
To make our toe plates stand up by themselves, we drilled two holes in the plates so we could connect a bungee cord to wrap around the inside of the wheel.
We purchased an adjustable length bungee cord to go around the inside of different size wheels and then slip into the new holes we drilled into the toe plate. Adjust the bungee length until it is tight, then simply pull the bungee cord at a right angle to the hook to force the bungee cord into a tight slot in the hook to fix the bungee length. We affixed a label to it so the crew would know what it was for.
We purchased an adjustable length bungee cord to go around the inside of different size wheels and then slip into the new holes we drilled into the toe plate. Adjust the bungee length until it is tight, then simply pull the bungee cord at a right angle to the hook to force the bungee cord into a tight slot in the hook to fix the bungee length. We affixed a label to it so the crew would know what it was for.
If you have ever checked toe with a tape measure you and your friend have played this game, “It’s 65 inches and, uh, two lines, then a smaller line, I think that’s three-sixteenths?” Some people struggle with fractions. To get rid of the guessing game I found two tape measures with the specific measurements listed out on the tape.
If you have ever checked toe with a tape measure you and your friend have played this game, “It’s 65 inches and, uh, two lines, then a smaller line, I think that’s three-sixteenths?” Some people struggle with fractions. To get rid of the guessing game I found two tape measures with the specific measurements listed out on the tape.
To determine which direction to adjust toe, or which side of the car to adjust it on, it helps to use strings on the sides of the tires. A simple solution is to use some duct tape to tape the string at hub height to the front of the front tire and at the rear of the rear tire.
To determine which direction to adjust toe, or which side of the car to adjust it on, it helps to use strings on the sides of the tires. A simple solution is to use some duct tape to tape the string at hub height to the front of the front tire and at the rear of the rear tire.
In this photo you can see that the string taped to the front of the front tire is touching the edge of the rim at the front, but is not touching the edge of the rim at the rear of the wheel. This indicates toe out alignment. If the string on the other side of the car is touching both the front and rear of the rim, then this would be the side to make the adjustment on.
In this photo you can see that the string taped to the front of the front tire is touching the edge of the rim at the front, but is not touching the edge of the rim at the rear of the wheel. This indicates toe out alignment. If the string on the other side of the car is touching both the front and rear of the rim, then this would be the side to make the adjustment on.
There is a dumb end of a tape and a smart end of the tape (depending on which side you are holding). We put the dumb end of the tape into one of the slots on the toe plate and then extend the tape to the other side of the car.
There is a dumb end of a tape and a smart end of the tape (depending on which side you are holding). We put the dumb end of the tape into one of the slots on the toe plate and then extend the tape to the other side of the car.
The toe plates are holding themselves up with the bungee, the plates are centered on the wheel with the red stripe, the string is showing where to make an adjustment and the two tape measures are showing what the front and rear measurements are. Now you can adjust the alignment to the toe setting you desire.
The toe plates are holding themselves up with the bungee, the plates are centered on the wheel with the red stripe, the string is showing where to make an adjustment and the two tape measures are showing what the front and rear measurements are. Now you can adjust the alignment to the toe setting you desire.
This is where the new toe plates and the easy-to-read tape measures really pay off: accuracy. You can see the measurement with confidence and make adjustments to your inner tie rod to adjust toe.
This is where the new toe plates and the easy-to-read tape measures really pay off: accuracy. You can see the measurement with confidence and make adjustments to your inner tie rod to adjust toe.

 

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Image courtesy of Rob Krider