Laser wheel alignment at a garage might be easiest but you can always do it at home with a bit of time and a lot of string
Having your front wheels pointing in the right direction is vital. If they are even slightly out of kilter, your steering will feel fuzzy, your front end might wander, your tyres will wear and you’ll use more fuel.
So wheel alignment, or tracking, really should be checked from time to time. And if you’ve changed something in the front suspension or steering that could affect the tracking – for example a track-rod end, a tie-rod, a MacPherson strut attached to its hub in a way able to be adjusted – then you’ll need to check and maybe adjust the tracking.
The painless way is to get your local tyre shop to do it, but you can reset the tracking yourself. One method used by racing teams when away from base is to use string – or fishing line, which sags less under its own weight – along with four axle stands and a tape measure. You place a line along each side of the car, stretched between two axle stands, level with the centres of the wheels and positioned so the lines are parallel to each other (measure the distance between them at front and rear), and the same distance away from a wheel as its counterpart on the same axle. You will, of course, have already checked that the steering wheel is properly centred.
Now you measure the distance between the line and the frontmost part of each front wheel rim, and the same for the rearmost part of the rims. Halving this measurement gives the toe-in, or toe-out, for each front wheel, to compare with the manufacturer’s spec. Then adjust one or both trackrods as required (some cars have only one adjustable rod), and re-measure. Job done.
Or you can buy a Gunson’s Trakrite. This consists of a plate able to slide laterally over another plate, the movement recorded by a pointer on a scale. Drive slowly over the Trakrite with the left front wheel, and any side-thrust from misaligned tracking will move the plate and show the adjustment needed. In my experience, this simple method is very effective.
Words: John Simister