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Recommend Bang-for-the-Buck Setup Tools

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Time to take the plunge into doing my own setups (caster/camber/toe).  For those already there, toolset recommendations?  Simple, durable, cost-effective (i.e., value rather than cheap).  What has worked well for you?

Will be using on a variety of cars from open-wheel to vintage to good ol' Miatas.

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Smart Strings (or similar) are the 'universal' necessary setup tool.  you can do it with jackstands and some string, but OMG PITA.  

Toe plates are handy and easy to check toe on each axle, but it's hard to square the rear end with the car- that's where the strings come in.

a Longacre (or similar) camber/caster gauge would be necessary as well. I prefer the wheel-mount style (the ones on sticks) vs. a hub-mount style due to the various size hubs and whatnot out there and the amount of error induced if there's even a small imperfection in the hub face you're attaching to..

You'll want some turn plates if you want to make life easier, but you can also simply use some grease plates too.  i.e. couple 12" squares of plate steel with a blob of grease between them.  you can slide the car around on them with one hand.

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Tried to respond to this, and ended up on Matt's profile somehow, which had a hot pink background.

Anyway, my home setup is pretty close to what Matt described:


I used to set up 4 jackstands longer than the wheel base, and square up accounting for the difference between front and rear trackwidth on the Miata @ the axle lines.  So I'd set the strings at axle height, and square at the axle line.

Stack tires to match driver weight as pictured and use a Longacre Camber Gauge (3-arm type) to measure Camber.  Measure to each of the front and rear lips of the wheels for toe, then use an online alignment calculator to input measured wheel diameter (lip to lip), toe, thrust angle (or whatever the front to rear axle variation term is) etc.

The Longacre gauge also does caster with something like 30-50deg sweep left and right from center while on the caster setting - which the turn plates with graduated angles on them are great for.

What those turn plates were not great for was the rest of the alignment, on account of me not having ramps to roll on and off with, so I would ditch them / roll car back and forth / bounce on corners / lap around the subdivision between adjustments to get things right.

Something like:

- set caster once, ever

- check ride heights and pressures and things before Alignment and adjust if necessary - usually I was playing with springs and wheel/tire setups / rubbing / etc

- then Camber with the car just on the ground (not turn plates), then toe.  The strings (instead of toe plates) work great to square the front to rear to chassis toe configuration, as long as you remember to set the steering wheel straight before getting started 😂

For my purposes it seemed to work great.  If I had my time back, I would have used the turn plate money against scales to do corner weights - but that's another leap I haven't had the stomach for, yet.

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Ya, the turn plates are really only good for messing with caster and toe.  you can make the 'grease plates' very cheaply and they're thin, so you can use a similar size spacer in the rear and keep the car's height the same off the floor.

If you intend on doing a lot of alignments on fender cars, a set of hub stands would also be great, but costs start going up quickly with toys like that.  The hub stands get the huge wheel and tire out of the way so you can reach the suspension.  otherwise, doing alignments on fender cars is a royal PITA unless you have a 4 post lift or some other way to reach under the car and adjust toe.


one thing I used to do to counter that was to measure the car on the ground and get all of my references.. (say it measured 1/8" toe in and I wanted 1/16" out...)   then I would jack up the car and measure again, THEN adjust from that measurement 3/16" outward so I can slide under the car and make adjustments.    now put the car back on the ground and debounce the suspension, and check again.   With luck, I would only screw it up and redo it a couple times.

Stuff like that is where the Smart Strings that attach to the vehicle are key.  it's WAY easier to set up and get repeatable results than using the string & jackstands thing because you don't have to re-square everything in the line each time you move the car.

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Plan on using a 4-post.  And, yes, strings attached to the vehicle seems like a clear winner.

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*whiney voice* I want a lift!!!

can't decide on a 2 post or 4 post.  4 post is nice working on chassis setup and whatnot, but 2 post gets the job done when the wheels need to come off....   best of both worlds I guess is a 4 post with jack thingies under it.

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For me, its:

1) smartcamber gauge

2) 12" linoleum squares to level the floor on the 4 tire contact spots

3) Strings for toe (I use jackstands) BTW, pay attention to your vehicles track width front and rear and offset as required.

4) newpaper/waxpaper make cycling the steering L/R for caster measurements easier


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We have a Hoffman 770 at the shop.  Thankfully- one of the guys does the work.  Works out better as I would be sure to break something on me on or the car; hahahahahaha.  You might be able to pick up an used one for a decent price.




Hopefully- you don't need active steer alignments- 🙂  One of those alignment systems is next up for our shop and requires quite a bit of space area.  However; if I recall correctly, your shop has plenty of room!

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