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Modern day laser rack or old school shop for alignments?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by StukaBomber55, Feb 22, 2013.

  1. StukaBomber55
    Joined: Jul 26, 2012
    Posts: 115


    It's almost spring and for the first time I hope to pass inspection and be able to cruise in my 55. Couple months ago I tackled the front end. Custom disc brakes up front, mustang sway bar and mounts, and all new tie rods.

    I recently came across a coupon for a shop who was having a lifetime laser rack alignment sale. $145 for unlimited alignments at any national branch.

    With the future lowering modifications I have planed and endless tweaking of my kingpin front end I was wondering how you gentleman felt about alignments. I no doubt could find myself in need of one every couple month with only a handful of miles between.

    Would I be better off with an old school rod shop doing my alignments at $80 a pop on my plymouth or a national chain For $145 lifetime?

    Thank you gentleman.
  2. if you plan on keeping the car for a long time it sounds like a great deal.....just be ready for the high pressure sales pitch for more work/parts
  3. aaggie
    Joined: Nov 21, 2009
    Posts: 2,531


    Invest in a Caster/Camber tool and do your own alignment. It's not rocket science and I have seen cars that ran over 200MPH that the alignment was done with a tape measure, string and a carpenters level.
  4. A national chain may not know what to do with your car, especially if it has been modified significantly. If you want it done, look for a local shop that still has the old manual rack, possibly a truck shop would have one.

    I have the caster-camber gauges at home and do the toe the old fashioned way.


  5. 62nova
    Joined: Jul 13, 2008
    Posts: 340


    The coupon is a scam to sell parts. 80 dollars is a legitamite price for an alignment. Plus the chains usually put the new ( no experience) guy on the alignments!
  6. hoop98
    Joined: Jan 23, 2013
    Posts: 1,363

    from Texas

    The new alignment stuff is great for a stock vehicle.They allow people with little or no knowledge of suspension to align a vehicle accurately.

    That said any car that isn't in their data base or has been modified would leave most guys at a chain store clueless.

    If you can find a race chassis shop that knows suspension they can check for bump steer, ackermann (toe out on turn) anti-dive, KPI/SAI, and other lowering issues and better yet, know how to correct them.


  7. dreracecar
    Joined: Aug 27, 2009
    Posts: 3,116

    from so-cal

    Those racks need computer input of the type of car its measureing, if its not in the system, it wont work
  8. Find an alignment guy you are comfortable with and let him decide what equipment to use on your old car.

    It is not the equipment that makes it a deal it is the man operating the equipment.
  9. mopar210
    Joined: May 18, 2008
    Posts: 392


    just my .02 cents worth . im a gm service mgr and we have a fairly new hunter hawkeye digital alignment machine . i have done this for a long time , i started out 36 years ago doing alignments on an old "light align" machine from the 50's , i gotta tell ya - the new machines are without a doubt woth every penny you pay for them . we have done everthing from a 66 jag to a 53 f100 , 29 model a to a bmw drift car , we can do over 24" wheels and trucks set up to the moon , this thing can do stagger for circle track cars and i have done 2 friends of mines cars that they drag race (they both had a concern with shutdown pull) both are working flawlessly . we have done quite a few of the local hot rods in the last year and im sure the machine will be busy in the spring . you need to find a hot rod friendly repair facility with a similar machine and someone who knows how to run it , you wont be dissapointed .
  10. rockfish
    Joined: Apr 11, 2001
    Posts: 445


    I always try to avoid the chains like Firestone andf Goodyear bercause I never know if I'm going to get a qualified tech or not and I would sometimes get a sales pitch for parts. I use a local frame and axle shop that specializes in alignments. Last 4 wheel alignment on my OT daily driver was $125.00. They did a great job.
  11. 77powerwagon
    Joined: Oct 22, 2010
    Posts: 44


    I agree. We see a lot of old iron in my shop and use the laser rack. Everybody that had one done hasn't complained. Also helps that we do anywhere from 4-10 alignments a day on body shop cars.
  12. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,479

    Rusty O'Toole

    I'm suspicious of chain store offers too. Usually a come on for unnecessary, overpriced repairs and incompetent work.

    Years ago there was an old guy around here who used to straighten bodies and frames and do alignments in a galvanized tin barn heated with a barrel stove, using a collection of jacks and rams that looked like they came off the Titanic. I have seen shops bring late model cars from 50 miles away to get pulled, he was that good, the best around.

    Then, somebody opened a brand new shiney $300,000 rack with computers lazers and whatever else you could get in 1980. He even sent his son away to take a course on running it.

    For about a month, everybody went to the new shop. Then we all went back to the old shop. We took a current model, wrecked Dodge 4X4 to the new shop, had to return it 3 times, and it still wasn't right. The old guy pulled it true in an hour and a half.

    Moral of the story, the right guy can get great results with old equipment, the wrong guy can't get good results with brand new $300,000 equipment.
  13. HUSSEY
    Joined: Feb 16, 2010
    Posts: 628


    I used to work as a mechanic and have done a ton of alingments. It all comes down to who's doing the alingment. A guy using 30 year old technology who has attention to detail will do a better job that a guy just busting out an aligment on a brand new state of the art machine.

    I think you're better off paying the $80 for it to be done right by someone who's experianced and will do it correctly. I would suggest finding an independent aftermarket repair shop who has a modern alignment machine and go with them.

    And no, the car doens't have to be able to be brought up on the machine, you can manually enter the alingment specs.
  14. tommy
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 14,757

    Member Emeritus

    The computerized machine that I had, let you put in all the specs but that was 15 years ago. I had several antique car specs put in my machine.

    Quite often you will need to replace some "worn" parts to get your life time alignment. No free alignment. I got some good customers when we replaced lifetime brake pads with "normal" pads and did not try to sell rotors every time.
  15. Actually, someone who knows their shit can give you a better alignment with a 4-wheel system. Everything becomes square with the rear axle.

  16. TR Waters
    Joined: Nov 18, 2006
    Posts: 1,439

    TR Waters
    from Vermont
    1. Early Hemi Tech

    I am amazed by the amount of people on here that fight modern technology.
  17. I don't fight modern technology, I just fight bad mechanics. On any given day I would much rather take my old stuff to a good mechanic with a tape measure than a bad mechanic with a state of the art machine.
  18. BootleggerMatt
    Joined: Aug 17, 2011
    Posts: 258


    I second that. I would find the oldest alignment shop in town and get the guy with the dirtiest coveralls to do it. There are shops like that here that do in for $50 for single pop alignments on the old light machines.

    If you plan on modifying your car by lowered it, that is a big reason for them to not give you a free alignment, the places I asked wouldn't offer lifetime alignments for modified cars.
  19. lawman
    Joined: Sep 19, 2006
    Posts: 2,665


    I lowered my 57 chev 4" in the rear and 3" in the front. Took it to a
    Chevy dealer to have it aligned. They had the new type rack and said
    I had to raise my car up to the stock height to align the car.
    Don't know if the old style rack would have worked on a lowered car as I took the block's and clamps out to have mine done on the dealer rack.
  20. studebaker46
    Joined: Nov 14, 2007
    Posts: 675


    heres the deal back in the 70s i was front end tech for name brand dept store in st.louis with the purchase of 4 new tires we would align your car for .99 the techs motto on a busy saturday was set the toe and let em go theold guys will know what i mean tom
  21. BootleggerMatt
    Joined: Aug 17, 2011
    Posts: 258


    Haha, stay away from shops that sell tires and alignments, that just a scam waiting to happen.
  22. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 28,553


    Took the words right out of my fingers. It doesn't matter a lot which equipment they use as long as it's in good shape.

    I started out with a caster camber gauge and a tape measure and then went to a shop that had a John Beam visualliner that was almost state of the art in 1972. The best thing about using the Visualliner was that it was a great sales aid and took the hokus pokus out of it for the customer.
    I went from that to a dealership that used the stick on the wheel gauges and a scrub bar for toe in. I did over a thousand alignments with that setup and it worked great.

    I never worked in shop with a computerized alignment machine but have had more than one shop tell me that their computerized machine is as accurate as the Snap-On guage that's in the bottom of my tool box.

    It isn't the machine that they use but the skill of the person using it. the computer may make things a bit easier and a bit quicker and is definitely a much better sales aid. It's a lot easier to sell front end repairs to a customer when you have a computer read out showing that the front end is out of line and showing that there is X amount of excess movement in the ball joints. It's a bit harder to make the sale when you are hunched over a gauge stuck to the front hub of the car and have no print out to show and have a bit of a time demonstrating what the problem is to people who can't comprehend these things.

    As far as the guarenteed wheel alignment for XXX $ and X time or miles it's a good bet for both the customer and the shop on a stock family type car that the customer hangs on to for an extended time. The customer gets his car in and checked on a regular basis and hopefully an alignment problem from hitting a curb or pot hole is fixed before it eats a tire. The shop gets to see the car every few months and gets a chance to sell something to their repeat customer.
    The thing is, if you screw with the front end yourself or take it to another shop all bets are off and the unlimited alignment thing is canceled. That's going in and telling them that you fucked with it and now you want them to fix what you fucked up for free. That is no different than taking your car to a tune up shop and having it tuned up and then deciding to make changes yourself and then going back and expecting them to fix it for free after you screwed with it.
  23. StukaBomber55
    Joined: Jul 26, 2012
    Posts: 115


    Some very good points here gentleman.

    Maybe I lucked out but the local Firestone chain has an awd rack and has always been friendly about modified cars. I have a heavy tuned road race Audi with their lifetime alignment plan. I went from lowered springs to a set of coilovers and the guys had zero problems with aligning it. They didn't give a hoot that it's been modified. Naturally with lowered cars there is only so much they can do with the lower stance but with regular rotations my tires look pretty good.

    I did just do a complete 12 piece control arm/ suspension replacement though. So all new parts.

    I used to get an alignment and rotation with every oil change.

    I'm goin to have to get the store manager on the phone to ask about my 55, see what he says.
  24. kennb
    Joined: Jan 8, 2008
    Posts: 178


    A laser alignment machine is definitely more precise than the old machines. As far as competent technicians go, the machine gives you a read out before and after. If it's all lined up correctly the final printout will show it. If it's done wrong it will show on the sheet. You could get an apprentice tech to line up a car properly with one of these machines. I'd just go over all the nuts and bolts to make sure they are tightened sufficiently. On the $65,000 machine I use you can put any specs you want into it. New technology is a good thing. Do you really think the old blacksmith down the street can do a better job. He might put more heart and soul into it and be a great guy and dependable, but the laser will outdo his precision. Oh, and by the way, I'm one of those old guys. Ken
  25. tommy
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 14,757

    Member Emeritus

    The problem you may run into on a lowered car is that the modern machines use lasers to get their measurements from. Mine was an antique:D G-111 Hunter machine that used strings between the wheels. The heads that mount to the rims must be able to be seen from the front heads. With strings we just wrapped the front to back strings around the rear tires. You can't do that with lasers. It's not that we don't like modern equipment but sometimes the modern equipment doesn't like us. The fancy machines are for making alignments faster In the old days you loosened the bolts and added shims then you had to redo the alignment to see if you did it right. The new machines you just adjust until the lights turn green and you know that it is correct. No need to know why you are adjusting the wheel in or out. You just watch the screen.
  26. Here here...
    Ran both types of machines and the old fashioned way. Each serves its purpose in the situation at hand.
  27. Gman0046
    Joined: Jul 24, 2005
    Posts: 6,260


    I take my cars to a shop that doesn't have a computerized rack. This shop uses equipment thats probably 50-60 years old. The last alignment they did for me was $35.00 on a 35 Chevy with a Mll that would make a right turn if you let go of the wheel. I'll go there all day long before I went to a chain store.
  28. TR Waters
    Joined: Nov 18, 2006
    Posts: 1,439

    TR Waters
    from Vermont
    1. Early Hemi Tech

    I will add one more thing, contrary to my other post. The guy on the new machine is going to align the car according to the given specs, and a print out will show that. On the other hand, the guy doing the alignment manually may know that this certain vehicle rides and drives better with another .5 degree of caster or camber than factory specs. Just something that comes with experience.
  29. GearheadsQCE
    Joined: Mar 23, 2011
    Posts: 2,724

    Alliance Vendor

    As a retired Autoshop teacher, I have some very strong opinions on wheel alignments. First of all, I have used strings, bubble gauges, and cameras. You or your best friend cannot duplicate the accuracy of the modern equipment using old technology.
    That being said, I never taught students to use the new stuff until they understood the principles of alignment and had at least been exposed to the more traditional equipment and methods. As has been said previously, it really all does depend on the integrity of the operator and shop. If you're a shoddy technician it doesn't matter what equipment you have.

    What the new stuff does show you is the deviation from specifications or side to side differences. A true modern alignment takes into consideration things like thrust angle, SAI, Wheelbase deviation side to side, rear toe etc. Yes, all this can be found without a $60,000 machine, but not many places can afford to have yoour car on the rack for a couple of hours for the $39.95 special.

    This much accuracy is probably not necessary for the average car. If you live in Michigan, you can have the car aligned drive it around the block and it won't be the same.

    To the original poster:
    My advise is be upfront with the shop you're considering. Tell him your plans. If he agrees to give you the lifetime deal, ask him if he can give you something in writing to show other shops in the chain or his own shop if he's not there. If I was the manager, I would give you the deal with the understanding that you buy all your parts from me.
  30. mohead1
    Joined: Jan 18, 2013
    Posts: 587


    I usually go to the old guy (hell im old now) that has been tweaking front ends for most of his life....this latest car came with a heidts front end based on the MII....the caster is pretty much built in, but the camber and toe is fairly easy. He sets it up like the race cars he usually does, knows how to add a few degrees to make it better and the tires (thin fronts, like 5") hold up well.

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