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!