I've been going to the same shop for several years - they were one of the last places in town that actually knew how to do an alignment, rather than follow prompts on a computer screen. However, it seems their alignment guy has been traded out for a guy who just follows prompts on a screen. Not sure, but that's my guess. After several great experiences over the years, my last two - first with my '62 Falcon, and now with the Fiero - have ended poorly.
In the case of the Fiero, the service writer reported that the car was pulling to the left and the tech could not fix the issue. He suspected frame damage but didn't see any. Now, I can tell ya'll 1) there is no frame damage, and 2) the car has never pulled to the left.
I took the car on a decently long test drive, and found the car did not pull to the left at all. It did have a slight pull to the right, but the roads in the area are heavily crowned so that *could* be an explanation. I've never noticed the pulling, but in "test mode" I'm a little more attentive than normal driving. The big issue, however, was total vagueness in the front end - no on-center feel whatsoever. What prompted the trip to the shop was a full front end rebuild (bushings, ball joints, etc.) - but the car actually has been a great drive in the past week. Post-alignment is noticeable worse than pre-alignment! (And this is EXACTLY what happened when I took my Falcon in!!!)
I looked over the alignment sheet, and a couple things caught my eye:
1. Camber is .7 degrees on the left, and 1.2 degrees on the right. I don't think this is enough to cause an issue, but I'll mention it. 2. Toe was originally .2 L and .3 R for a total of .5 degrees. It's now .05 on both sides, with an inexplicable .15 combined (maybe rounding?) 3. SAI is horrifically out of spec - their machine says 6 degrees is spec, and they "set" it to ~8 degrees (now I can't remember the exact number). I don't see how SAI is adjustable on this car, since the knuckle is of fixed dimensions, but I'm not an alignment guru.
Everything else looked reasonable.
My questions to those more knowledgeable than I:
1. Any comment on the camber situation? 2. What is a preferred toe setting on these cars? On *most* things I drive I would consider very neutral to be ideal, but maybe the Fiero calls for a little more toe in? 3. Any thoughts on how SAI might have changed, much less be out of spec?
Everything on the front end of this car is new except the rack itself and inner/outer tie rods as they looked perfect. The damper, ball joints, bushings, sway bar stuff, wheels, tires, wheel bearings, brakes, shocks, brake lines - all NEW. The tires are 225/45-17 and I have not done a great deal of driving with them. However, prior to the alignment the only thing I noticed about this setup was a little extra bump steer, which was expected. On-center still felt great. And, really, all I'm trying to figure out is where that feeling went!
Sorry for the long post, but thanks for any advice!
Tony is correct. The rear alignment is very important. These cars can do some bizarre tricks on the road if the rear alignment is off ... Even if the front is done properly. The camber is too high. .7 isn't bad, but I'd prefer zero or slightly negative. Without adjustable ballpoints camber can only be adjusted by unbolting the upper ballpoints and turning them 180 degrees. Sounds like the right should be turned 180 degrees (if that takes it negative). Better yet ... Replace the uppers with adjustable ballpoints. Caster (I think thats what you mean by SAI) is very difficult to adjust. If both sides are reasonably close I'd just go with whatever you've got. Caster won't wear tires. Toe in should be zero or slightly toed in. Sounds like they could have done better.
1. The camber above is NEGATIVE, not positive. I just always think of camber as being negative in my head (who wants positive? ) and neglected to include that. So, it's -.7 and -1.2 degrees.
2. Caster is not the same as SAI. SAI is the angle between true vertical and a line drawn between the upper and lower balljoints (the steering axis). It's an inboard/outboard measurement instead of a fore/aft measurement. It should be unchangeable, a function of the shape of the steering knuckle. I don't understand how it could be wrong, much less change *during* an alignment.
3. I used TRW ball joints, and the uppers are slotted allowing a +/- 1 degree adjustment by loosening and retightening the mounting hardware.
I'll go grab the sheet and check the rear numbers. It's an '88 cradle swap (Held swap parts).
Rear looks good - camber is -1.1/-1.2 degrees and toe is .05/.05", thrust is 0 degrees. These are final numbers - the camber was previously wrong, surely a result of me replacing the rear coilovers.
But now I am really confused.
I lied - camber is positive. He actually increased it .1 degrees. I had the ball joints at full negative. In the first, I don't understand why he touched them at all. Secondly, I don't understand how they can be positive at all when I installed them in the full negative position. I just measured a spare, and the balljoints themselves are symmetrical, reversing them shouldn't change anything. Weird.
Also the SAI situation is blowing my mind - it was originally 6.9/7.8 degrees and final is 8.4/6.2 degrees. It should be FIXED. It certainly should not be able to change *during* an alignment!
[This message has been edited by thesameguy (edited 09-27-2013).]
Where in CA are you? If in the bay area I can recommend a great alignment shop.
I used to go to a friend's shop for my alignment needs but even though they kept telling me that everything was right, my Fiero would drift, the steering would fight me going around turns and the car didnt feel like it was tracking correctly. I used to think that people were full of $hit when they'd say that their Fieros handled like they were on rails.
Another friend's recommendation, I took it to a shop that the Pontiac dealer he worked at used to sublet work to. Guy put the car on the rack and showed me why the car was driving all jacked-up, even though my alignment was in spec. Whatever he did, it's like a new car now..it does handle like it's on rails and it feels centered. The guy was saying that even though it's a simple suspension system, it's very tempermental...which we all know.
Thought I would follow up on this for no good reason other than to vent.
I'd planned to take the car back to the shop last weekend to have them have another go at it, but Wednesday the front end developed a gnarly clunk as it would load and unload. I'd only put about 30 miles on it post-alignment, so of course my mind immediately went to "what did they do???" I put it up on the jack and yanked the wheels around and found significant movement on both sides, worse on the right. Wheels should not move like that. I pulled off the wheel, and that's when I spotted blue loctite on the upper ball joint nuts. I didn't use blue loctite, because I used nylock torx bolts. Jacking the knuckle around I could see the ball joint sliding in the UCA, so I removed it to inspect it. That's when I found these:
Displeased would be putting it mildly. I took the bolts over to the shop and expressed myself perhaps a little too thoroughly. They called the tech out on the mat, and he denied having touched the upper ball joint. At that point, I had no choice but to accuse him of either doing the damage and lying about it, or not performing the alignment at all because the camber came back as out of spec as it went in. Either they wrecked $20 worth of hardware, or they took money for a service they didn't provide.
In the end, they agreed to pay for the hardware (the bolts are 12.9 nylocked bullnose torx heads from McMaster-Carr - not cheap) and realign it. I'll note that it would take a crazy amount of force to strip a 12.9 bolt with a T50 head. I ordered the new hardware late Wednesday night, it's due today. I'll get it back in the shop this coming weekend. This time I am going to watch. I really hope the guy that did this "work" isn't their only alignment tech. I am not keen on him touching the car again. Sending a car back with stripped out bolts securing the steering knuckle is criminal, regardless of where the damage came from. (And, for the record, I know it wasn't me - I used a torque wrench on every single fastener, because that's how I roll.)