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E39 (1997 - 2003)
The BMW 5-Series (E39 chassis) was introduced in the United States as a 1997 model year car and lasted until the 2004 when the E60 chassis was released. The United States saw several variations including the 525i, 528i, 530i and 540i. -- View the E39 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 08-15-2012, 01:50 PM
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Philosphically, why do you choose NOT to perform a home DIY alignment on your E39?

Given technologically, that new measuring tools at lower prices are flooding the market ... this thread is opened, specifically so that folks who wish to discuss the pros and cons of DIY home alignment and their philosophical considerations ... have a place to do so.



REFERENCES:
- Which of the dozen alignment specs are adjustable on the BMW E39 (1) (pdf) & cn90's front (1) (2) and rear (1) wheel alignment DIYs & how to keep the steering wheel (SW) straight during home alignment (1) (2) & what tools measure rear camber at home (1) (2) and what tools measure front/rear toe at home (1) & what tools lock the steering wheel & brake pedal at home (1) & the theory of alignment with weights (1) or without adding weight (1) (2) (3) & philosophically why most people prefer to let a professional alignment shop align their suspension (1) & what expensive equipment is used at the stealer to align your suspension (1) (pdf) & Internet references for how to DIY caster, camber & toe at home (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32) (33) (34) (35) (36) (37) (38) (39)
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See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need

Last edited by bluebee; 08-26-2012 at 04:00 AM.
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  #2  
Old 08-15-2012, 02:08 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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Impossible w/o a lift or alignment platform. Then there's the issue of sourcing the required weights and necessary tools/gauges.
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Last edited by edjack; 08-15-2012 at 02:10 PM.
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  #3  
Old 08-15-2012, 02:11 PM
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Who the hell DIYs an alignment? That's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of.
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Old 08-15-2012, 02:43 PM
dvsgene dvsgene is offline
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I've already voiced my strong opinion on various inter-related threads about this:

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...77&postcount=2

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...76&postcount=6

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...77&postcount=7

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...36&postcount=6

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...86&postcount=9

More importantly, why start 3 separate threads on tools by separating Camber from Toe from Steering wheel lock. Wouldn't one thread discussing all possible tools be better than having to link back from 3 separate threads scattered about afterwards?

Last edited by dvsgene; 08-15-2012 at 03:30 PM.
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  #5  
Old 08-15-2012, 05:30 PM
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Simply put, I would not attempt to align my car due to the lack of precision I could achieve. I do not think you can achieve the required level of precision needed to completely avoid steering, tracking or other issues with a homemade DIY alignment system. If you've ever watched a proper alignment done, the measurements are done with highly accurate AND precise instruments (digital lasers). While I applaud anyone who attempts this (Cam), I would rather leave this seldom performed task to the real pros. Similarly, I would not bother to balance my wheels either, let alone mount or remove tires. This is not much different than servicing your AC. Unless you can measure how much refrigerant you have in your system, you are just guessing. While I do most of the maintenance on my car, there are some things where I draw the line. Others may think differently.

"A man's got to know his limitations...". Clint

Last edited by Fudman; 08-16-2012 at 04:03 AM.
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  #6  
Old 08-15-2012, 05:48 PM
dvsgene dvsgene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
Simply put, I would not attempt to align my car due to the lack of precision I could achieve. I do not think you can achieve the required level of precision needed to completely avoid steering, tracking or other issues with a homemade DIY alignment system. If you've ever watched a proper alignment done, the measurements are done with highly accurate AND precise instruments (digital lasers). While I applaud anyone who attempts this (Cam), I would rather leave this seldom performed task to the real pros. Similarly, I would bother to balance my wheels either, let alone mount or remove tires. This is not much different than servicing your AC. Unless you can measure how much refrigerant you have in your system, you are just guessing. While I do most of the maintenance on my car, there are some things where I draw the line. Others may think differently.

"A man's got to know his limitations...". Clint
Couldn't agree more. Even attempts mean nothing without proper verification on calibrated alignment rack operated by a competent tech.

Only when/if I come across a DIY write up which follows up and brings it to a shop afterwards to shows how accurate their method was, it's all just approximate readings even if it is basic geometry.

For some enthusiasts, approximate is good enough. For others, it needs to be exact to specs. I prefer exact to specs.

As for wheel balancing, accept nothing less than Hunter DSP9700 Road Force balancing for our cars, they make a world of difference.

Last edited by dvsgene; 08-15-2012 at 05:55 PM.
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  #7  
Old 08-15-2012, 08:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dvsgene View Post
why start 3 separate threads on tools by separating Camber from Toe from Steering wheel lock.
They're different tools. They measure different things. Lumping them together 'might' make sense if there weren't so very many zillions of variations of each. But there are MANY ways to measure angles and distances ... as witnessed by the very many DIYs all using different methods!

For example, here's one camber measuring tool:


Yet, here's another:


And another:


And, another:

And another:


So to SIMPLIFY the solution (and to effect a positive result sans confusion), I broke them up into the logical tools for:
a) Toe
b) Camber (which also includes caster, kingpin, & steering axis inclination ... plus turnplates, aka guide plates)
c) Steering wheel lock & brake lock

BTW, not only Cam, but all the people writing the very many DIYs seem to think they have accurate enough readings. Of course, they're a self-selected audience ... but still ... nobody is saying it can't be done whose writing the DIY.

By way of example, this HotRod Magazine DIY (admittedly not for a bimmer) clearly says "it's actually very easy and cheap to set your wheel alignment at home".

That article then goes on to recommend tools for checking toe, saying "Very accurate toe measurements can be achieved by the string method".

Moving on to camber, they say "Camber measurements are easy with this inexpensive, yet highly accurate, caster/camber gauge from Maximum Motorsports, available for about $60".

The manufacturer claims a 1/8th degree accuracy for this tool.
The key question is what accuracy we need.

What accuracy is needed?
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Each repair should invariably add to our knowledge base by the process of inexorable incrementalism.
Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need

Last edited by bluebee; 08-26-2012 at 04:05 AM.
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  #8  
Old 08-15-2012, 09:17 PM
dvsgene dvsgene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
Are these hot rodders wrong?
Good question. I'd personally would rather see backup to such information then someone simply saying that it is accurate. If you've ever witnessed an alignment (which I know you admittedly have not) on a Hunter Hawkeye or BMW KDS II and watched the computer screen while tiny adjustments on the rear affect total readings including the front while even changes in tire pressure effects the numbers, you too would wonder how accurate home alignments can be.

To put it another way, while so many members recommend changing oils 3-5k miles or 7 k miles. A simple lab test can show just how much life is left in a oil and highly accurate. The home DIY will say the oil is black and needs replacing cause I drove 5k miles. Is that accurate?

In the end, alignments effect handling, which is why most of us have BMWs in the first place. If you drive like Miss Daisy from point A to B in a straight line most of the time, a home DIY alignment just might fit the bill. Many of us "drive" the BMW so we want to be sure things are well within specs not approximate. Even competent techs charge extra to align cars running on coilovers or dropped suspensions because it is so difficult with laser systems. Makes you wonder even more about home DIY alignments....so gather your own data and decide for yourself.

Anyway, BB, I am not discouraging you from this exercise, I am simply candidly sharing what I have seen firsthand. Why don't you take a visit to a local competent alignment shop running a Hunter Hawkeye and watch an alignment being done (doesn't have to be on your car) and let me know if you think if that process can be accurately replicated at home. Many of us who have witnessed one tend not to think so.

Last edited by dvsgene; 08-15-2012 at 09:45 PM.
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  #9  
Old 08-15-2012, 10:28 PM
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Actually diy alignments on old car and I mean OLD was doable as basically back in the day we didnt have any fancy machines for aligning the cars in the first place so yes to an extent its doable or was at least. Cost was about $1300 back then for the basic tools. This is late 60's early 70's tech. 80's saw the advent of rack lifts (the kind that lifted the cars about 3 to 4 foot max or so with smaller jacks for lifting the front end while on the lift. This used mirrors and lights, no computer stuff at this point. Cars had made it to the complicated to get right point and you layed out $5000 or more for your alignment machine and tools.

Fast forward to today. Now you have to have a 4 wheel alignment machine with all axis's covered. The machines cost around $30,000 or more. Thats about $13k to 18k for the unit and $20 for the lift that works with it.

Now ask yourself this. If you were doing this for a living would you buy $30,000 or more worth of equipment to align a car if you could do it on a dyi budget?

Most of the smaller shops are really hurting making those payments when they start out. They dont buy the equipment because they want to, they buy it because they have to.

Its just not cost effective to try this at home. Even used the average price is 5,000 to 6,000 on ebay for old alignment equipment and most people are not going to have a place to store the stuff when not using it.

So Id think this was one best left to the people doing it for a living. Heck I actually own a tire changing machine. I dont change my own tires. I take my stuff to a shop to have it done since I dont own a balancer.

Last edited by crowz; 08-15-2012 at 10:29 PM.
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  #10  
Old 08-15-2012, 10:46 PM
GSXRYDER GSXRYDER is offline
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you know...

It might be 'technically' possible. However IMHO the digital alignment of the new equipment is very accurate and the expense of our tires and wheels is such that to drive 100miles on an ill aligned vehicle is not a good thing...Fuel consumption, and tire wear are some of the considerations...I'd happily fork over the $100 to know that the alignment is perfect.

Besides variants of our E39's prohibit them from being identical. For example the tire size vairations, 15" 16"17" & 18" the height of the tires, likewise different suspension systems call for different settings...the Comfort, Family, Sport, M-Tech I am pretty sure those are the technical names...

Bluebee if anyone can pull this off it is you...I however wouldn't risk it.
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  #11  
Old 08-16-2012, 08:38 AM
cn90 cn90 is offline
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Actually, contrary to popular belief, digital alignment has its own problems: equipment calibration, operator's skill level etc.
So it is only accurate to within ___ mm margins of error.

I do my own alignment at home for the last 10 years. Initially I was skeptical, but after a few tries at home, I bought my car(s) to the alignment shop, it is dead on.
Since then, I have gained confidence.

In order to do alignment at home, you need to arm yourself with the following:

1- Basic geometry, it does not hurt to review some high school stuff, things like degrees, sine, cosine, tangent etc.

2- Also, read up on camber, caster and toe-in.
- Camber is expressed in degrees, so you need reverse tangent to convert it back to mm.
- Castor is unadjustable on the E39, so skip it.
- Toe-in. The correct term is "Toe", positive value means "toe-in", negative value means "toe-out".
Unless you do car racing on the tracks, 99% vehicles have either zero or some toe-in (such as 1 mm total toe-in).

3- Your suspension must be in decent shape: no loose balljoints, tierods etc.
Best is to re-fresh the suspension (overhaul) if necessary.

4- A garage that is flat from R to L (i.e. no tilting from R to L).
- Virtually every garage floor slopes toward the outside due to contruction building code, so you can work around this by having your car on some 2x10 wood to raise it up.
- The idea is that: whatever you do, once your car is up on the 2x10 (maybe 1 or 2 layers), it must be flat as if it sits on a perfectly flat surface.
- You need the 4-foot carpenter level device.

5- Good plumb bob with sharp tip.

6- Close the garage door so no wind blows the plumb bob.

7- Do not move the car at all.

8- All 4 tires at 35 psi or so.

9- Re weights: I do not care for BMW weight thingy, I just have a full gas tank and that is it.

10- Measure the Front and Rear tracks. Note the difference, the draw a pencil line from front to back (using masking tape on garage floor) to establish the parallelism.
These lines must be perfectly parallel to each other and parallel to the car axis of movement.

11- Measure toe-in at tires (not at rims), it is easier this way.

12- Spray WD-40 or PB Blaster and all that jazz at the tierods a few days ahead of alignment. These nuts have a tendency to seize from road salt.
- Also, each car is different, sometimes the tierod is in front of the axis of rotation (in front of the bearing), sometimes it is behind the axis. Take note of this when you do adjustment of toe-in.

13- After all is done, go for test drive, chances you have a SW that is slightly crooked to 1 side.
- Bring car back and do "equal adjustments" on both tierods.
- For ex, if car runs straight but SW is crooked a bit to the right. By straightening the SW to dead center, both wheels are now pointing to the L a tiny bit. So bring the L wheel in a tiny bit and the R wheel out a tiny bit.
- Best is to use Sharpie marker to mark existing location. And turn the tierod only 1/4 turn or less (90 degrees or less) at a time.

14- The best way to understand this is to put yourself in the BMW engineer's minds and work from there. Look at the design of the car and the geometry, then you will get it.


Look, the alignment thingy is made too complicated by the shop and it scares car owners, but it is no more than high school geometry. It is in fact very very simple.
Plus the techs in most alignment shop are not that smart, sorry but it is the truth.

Hey, a $100 saving is still $100, I rather spend that money going out to dinner with my family.
And yes, I am dumb for doing my own alignment, but my teenage boys learn a ton and they understand their high-school geometry better now.

Last edited by cn90; 08-16-2012 at 08:42 AM.
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  #12  
Old 08-16-2012, 12:43 PM
Deathdeelr Deathdeelr is offline
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I'd never try it on the BMW only because I lack the proper conditions at home (gravel driveway). That being said it is well within the realm of possibility that it can be done and as cn90 has explained has been done. I recently disposed of an 87 Caprice that I had installed a rear end from a 69 Olds 442. Using strings, levels, and the measure-8-times-weld-once strategy, I was able to achieve a thrust angle of perfect zero as verified later on a Hunter machine at the local Firestone; in my gravel driveway. If you're careful with your geometry it is possible.

On an aside, I just paid Northeast Motorsports in Mahway, NJ $191 for my alignment this morning.
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Old 08-16-2012, 04:08 PM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dvsgene View Post
take a visit to a local competent alignment shop running a Hunter Hawkeye and watch an alignment being done ... and let me know if you think if that process can be accurately replicated at home.
That's a trick question.

But it's a good one for a philosophical discussion such as this ...

Q: Can you replicate the Hunter Hawkeye alignment process at home?
A: Of course, what an $80K machine does in the shop can not be replicated at home.

For one, the professional machine has to lift the car up in the air (that's got to add ten grand or more of overhead we don't need at home).

For another, it physically has to handle trucks and cars, big and small, and all sorts of crash-related frame-and-body things that we can't even adjust and in some cases don't even have on our bimmers. Add a few more grand.

Then, it has to allow the technician to get the job done fast (time is money), so add a few more grand for the mirrors and jigs and adjustment bar bells and whistles that seem small, but make the myriad tasks go faster (since time is so important - I suspect many thousands of dollars go into engineering these bells and whistles).

But wait ... there's more ...

I'm sure it has to have a (probably expensive) memory option that contains the database of every expected vehicle (add another few grand) that needs to be updated. Of course, it probably has a full color printer for the customer and color monitor (each of which has to add a thousand bucks to the cost alone).

What else does it need?

Oh yeah. It's accuracy is probably a key selling point to the shop owner, so I can imagine that one machine that claims an accuracy of, say 1/10th of a degree costs far less than another that claims accuracy of 1/100th of a degree. Add another few grand right there for the super duper model.

Then there's the pencil holder, the caster wheels, the tool drawers, the screen protector, the keyboard cover, the quick disconnects, the drawer locks, the warning stickers, the instruction manuals, etc. (I could go on you know ... but I'll spare you).

So, to go back to your question, of course we don't have anywhere near these capabilities in a home alignment setup. No doubt about it.

But that's why it's a trick question.

The question really should be this:

Q: What do we actually need in a home alignment DIY?

See also:
- The dozen BMW wheel alignment specs (1) and which 3 are actually adjustable on the E39 (1)

Quote:
ADJUSTABLE:
1. rear camber (adjustable, do first)
2. rear toe (adjustable, do second)
3. front toe (adjustable, do last, after centering the steering wheel)

CHANGEABLE:
4. ride height (change springs or add coil-over shocks)
5. front camber (add special camber plates)
6. front caster (you may need really special camber plates)

NOT ADJUSTABLE:
7. steering axis inclination
8. included angle
9. scrub radius
10. set back
11. thrust angle
12. toe-out on turns
Quote:
Originally Posted by crowz View Post
Now you have to have a 4 wheel alignment machine with all axis's covered. The machines cost around $30,000 or more. Thats about $13k to 18k for the unit and $20 for the lift that works with it.
Again, I'm not sure why we're even talking about $30K machines when all we need to routinely check in a basic E39 alignment are:
1. rear camber
2. rear toe
3. front toe

That's it. First we measure camber. Then we measure toe.

Camber is the amount the top of the wheels lean inward or outward; and toe is the amount the wheels are pigeon toed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by crowz View Post
Now ask yourself this. If you were doing this for a living would you buy $30,000 or more worth of equipment to align a car if you could do it on a dyi budget?
Since I already tackled the same question above, allow me to simply philosophically reverse that question:

Q: If I was, perhaps, your spouse ... and I asked you for $30K so that I could buy a machine to measure the amount my wheels tilted and turned inward, what would you tell me to do?

Quote:
Originally Posted by crowz View Post
Its just not cost effective to try this at home.
This app costs 99 cents:
- Measuring camber at home with the iPhone


It's certainly easy to use ... but would it be accurate enough?
Note: I don't know the answer ... but here's a screenshot which 'implies' a certain level of accuracy.


Quote:
Originally Posted by GSXRYDER View Post
I'd happily fork over the $100 to know that the alignment is perfect.
There's nothing wrong with that argument ... but, since the only thing they will adjust on my E39 is camber & toe, philosophically, I'd rather put 'my' $100 toward tools that enable me to easily & reliably measures camber & toe.

Then I can do all the alignment checks I want with those tools (which, also may have ancillary uses).

Of course, the key question is what degree of accuracy do we need?

Q: Does anyone know what we need by way of accuracy?

Quote:
Originally Posted by GSXRYDER View Post
Bluebee if anyone can pull this off it is you...I however wouldn't risk it.
Is simply measuring camber & toe really all that risky?
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Each repair should invariably add to our knowledge base by the process of inexorable incrementalism.
Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need

Last edited by bluebee; 08-16-2012 at 07:37 PM.
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  #14  
Old 08-16-2012, 06:08 PM
dvsgene dvsgene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
That's a trick question.

But it's a good one for a philosophical discussion such as this ...

Of course the bells and whistles of an $80K machine can't be replicated at home.

For one, it has to lift the car up in the air (that's got to add a few grand of overhead we don't need at home).

For another, it physically has to handle trucks and cars, big and small, and all sorts of crash-related frame-and-body things that we can't even adjust and in some cases don't even have on our bimmers. Add a few more grand.

Then, it has to allow the technician to get the job done fast (time is money), so add a few more grand for the mirrors and jigs and adjustment bar bells and whistles that seem small, but make the myriad tasks go faster (since time is so important - I suspect many thousands of dollars go into engineering these bells and whistles).

But there's more ...

I'm sure it has to have a (probably expensive) memory option that contains the database of every expected vehicle (add another few grand) that needs to be updated. Of course, it probably has a full color printer for the customer and color monitor (each of which has to add a thousand bucks to the cost alone).

What else does it need?

Oh yeah. It's accuracy is probably a key selling point to the shop owner, so I can imagine that one machine that claims an accuracy of, say 1/10th of a degree costs far less than another that claims accuracy of 1/100th of a degree. Add another few grand right there for the super duper model.

Then there's the pencil holder, the caster wheels, the tool drawers, the screen protector, the keyboard cover, the quick disconnects, the drawer locks, the warning stickers, the instruction manuals, etc. (I could go on you know ... but I'll spare you).

So, to go back to your question, of course we don't have anywhere near these capabilities in a home alignment setup. No doubt about it.

But that's why it's a trick question.

The question really should be this:

Q: What do we actually need in a home alignment DIY?

See also:
- The dozen BMW wheel alignment specs (1) and which 3 are actually adjustable on the E39 (1)



Again, I'm not sure why we're even talking about $30K machines when all we need to routinely check in a basic E39 alignment are:
1. rear camber
2. rear toe
3. front toe

That's it. First we measure camber. Then we measure toe.


Thanks BB, considering there's almost $80k worth of equipment listed, I paid $80 less $25 AmexCard Cash back Promo, I got a bargain. Considering I sat back and watched the tech take care of it in 45 mins, I got $80k worth of equipment use plus a fantastic tech for less than 1% of the cost of the equipment.

Contrast to your scenario, where you spend up to $1000 on tools, and spend a few hours measuring camber, toe, leveling the garage floor, crawling under a tight space to access the adjustment bolts and still wonder if it is accurate.

2 Final points:

1) you are very good at searching. If there was ANY interest in DIY home alignment, it would show up across the various BMW forums. Considering Cam is the only one to have attempted it just on the back and even notes "Approx" in his captions should tell you something.

2) take a look at some of the very capable shadetree mechanics that have posted to your 4 recent threads on DIY home alignment. Yet the fact that they still choose to fork over $100 to $200 to get it done at a shop should tell you something about this.

Really, I urge you to go to a alignment shop first, it'll open your eye at what a bargain $100 is for what you get. In fact, if you factor in an indy cost of $75 per hour and average 30mins to 1 hour for an alignment. The $80,000 worth of equipment is practically free!! We know you like free.

I would even argue, alignments alone are a money losing service for most shops. So my counter-philosophical question is "With bargain of a shop alignment why would anyone bother to do an alignment at home?" In essence, you are renting an $80k machine and tech for 1hr and they even store the high tech equipment,maintain it, and pay the depreciation and monthly payments for you for free. In all seriousness though, despite all this back and forth, I cannot stress the importance of finding a competent tech to get your $100 worth.

Last edited by dvsgene; 08-16-2012 at 07:39 PM.
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  #15  
Old 08-16-2012, 07:06 PM
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Accuracy, or the lack thereof, is why one should not attempt a DIY alignment (unless of course you are exceptional in the DIY category, like Cam). Accuracy is the ability to actually achieve a specific alignment spec (not what your iPod tells you) using the proper tools. Then there is the human factor. Keep in mind a dummy using a properly calibrated torque wrench can overtorque a bolt as proper calibration cannot overcome improper application of a tool. A good tech can make or break whether you get a proper alignment, even using an $80K system.

Bentleys specifies rear wheel camber for my model as -2 deg 04' +/-5'. The required tolerance (accuracy) is +/-5' or 1/12 a degree or 0.083 deg. Your iPhone inclinometer app has an accuracy of about 1/2 (0.50) deg or 30'. That assumes a phone app is even as accurate as it claims to be. Your not even close to what you need. You may as well use a bubble level, if that is the accuracy you are willing to accept. Moving on to rear toe, it requires 0 deg 22' +/-4'. The front is +/- 10'. Again, you are not even close to achieving the accuracy required. This is why I would not even consider doing my own alignment.

Now that you have my technical rationale, here's my opinion on does it really matter? I would venture to say that 90% of the drivers on this forum (myself included) could not tell (by driving) the difference between a properly aligned and a misaligned car until they begin to see uneven tread wear. While many drivers (especially men) tend to think we are pretty good drivers, in fact, most of us are of fairly average driving skill (how many have attended driving school?). Our butt meters are just not that good. Hence, the need for this accuracy may be somewhat overstated, from a performance aspect. But from a tire tread durability aspect, alignment (along with inflation) plays a key role in tread wear. At $600/set, I simply want to maximize the lifespan of my tires.

BTW, my tire store matches internet pricing and provides free mounting, balancing and alignment (on a Hunter). Over course, the techs probably rotate through like McDonalds, so you get what you pay for. Even so, I'd rather let them do it.
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Old 08-16-2012, 07:51 PM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Originally Posted by dvsgene View Post
I sat back and watched the tech take care of it in 45 mins, I got $80k worth of equipment use plus a fantastic tech for less than 1% of the cost of the equipment.
This is true. You paid only 1% of the cost of the equipment.

Philosophically, I see both sides of that service-cost-vs-equipment-cost equation.

Given you only probably needed about $250 (or so) of equipment to measure camber & toe, the way I see it, is that you paid 1% of the cost of the equipment that the SHOP needed in order to work on all cars; but you also paid (at the same time) about 1/3 of the cost of the equipment that YOU actually needed to work on just your car.

How we look at those numbers makes a big difference, philosophically.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dvsgene View Post
If there was ANY interest in DIY home alignment, it would show up across the various BMW forums.
I wholly agree with you. Almost nobody, in practice, does their own camber & toe on the bimmer.

Given the dearth of decent BMW DIYs (like Cam's), I just did a search and updated the BMW-specific ones to this list:
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14)

Those were culled from this larger list:
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32) (33) (34) (35) (36) (37) (38)

Below, for reference, are some pictures of the BMW-specific home-alignment DIYs.

< WARNING: unregulated philosophical musing: >

One reason for the lack of decent bimmer DIYs might be that you have to think (much) harder to do an alignment than you do for most DIYs.

It's the same reason we see over and over people complain about the SRS light after replacing window regulators. They didn't want to think before doing the job. An alignment is like that. You have to think first. Measure and calculate second. And doublethink third when you adjust (have you ever 'seen' those whacky camber/caster charts?). The whole problem, methinks, has a lot to do with the fact that alignment requires thinking. Cam is used to that. But, I guess, most others might not be (including me).


< / END wholly unsubstantiated philosophical musing >
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Last edited by bluebee; 08-16-2012 at 08:46 PM.
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Old 08-16-2012, 08:00 PM
dvsgene dvsgene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
This is true. You paid only 1% of the cost of the equipment.

Philosophically, I see both sides of that service-cost-vs-equipment-cost equation.

Given you only probably needed about $250 (or so) of equipment to measure camber & toe, the way I see it, is that you paid 1% of the cost of the equipment that the SHOP needed in order to work on all cars; but you also paid (at the same time) about 1/3 of the cost of the equipment that YOU actually needed to work on just your car.

How we look at those numbers makes a big difference, philosophically.


Executive Summary of this Thread:

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus


Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
< WARNING: Philosophical musing: >

One reason might be that you have to think (much) harder to do an alignment than you do for most DIYs.

It's the same reason we see time and time again that people have the SRS light on when they fix their window regulators. They didn't think before doing the job. An alignment is like that, only with orders of magnitude more thinking involved. Most people, I think, can't handle the thinking involved.

< / END unsubstantiated philosophical musing >

That could be one of the reasons and the cost of such inaccuracy turns up in costly tire wear, chasing vibration issues and poor handling which can add up to much more than the savings. The problem I see with home DIY alignments aside from the multitude of variable mentioned earlier is that the issues aren't immediate like many other repairs and when it is realized, additional money and time is already lost OR a counterpoint to all this might be some people are willing to allow a certain level of inaccuracy to save money and could be considered penny wise pound foolish.


So now that you have compiled a whole host of BMW specific DIY home alignments, and it seems you just need a 99 cents IPHONE app, carpenter square and string. Given the prevalence and access to IPhones "EVERYONE should be doing alignments at home now" should be the conclusion this philosophical thread. Next we should start a thread given the cost of a 99 cent IPhone app, how many would attempt a DIY 4 wheel alignment on their BMW? We both agree, very few would or will.

As for me, given what I have seen on a Hunter Laser system and the impact of changing of rear effecting front and vice versa on the screen, I would much rather learn to completely take apart my engine and transmission when something goes wrong there before doing an alignment on my BMW, it just isn't worth it TO ME given what I've seen.

Last edited by dvsgene; 08-16-2012 at 11:00 PM.
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Old 08-16-2012, 09:12 PM
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Im sticking with a real alignment machine. I actually aligned cars 25 years ago for a living. I wouldnt be willing to use the equipment I had then to align my bmw and I know I cant use an iphone app to do a real alignment now either.

But to each their own.
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Old 08-19-2012, 03:18 PM
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Originally Posted by crowz View Post
Im sticking with a real alignment machine
I understand. This is a good discussion because most (almost all) bimmer owners elect to have their vehicles aligned at the shop.

So there MUST be good reasons for that. Right?

I suspect a key reason is effort.

It turns out it takes a bit of work to determine each alignment spec, then to understand each of the alignment specs that can be changed, and then figure out how you're going to measure them, and then learn how to make the requisite changes.

It's certainly much easier to just take it to the alignment shop.

But the one argument that fails is the money one, at least the way it's presented:
- The alignment machine costs big bucks so how can I possibly do the alignment at home ...

We already noted that the price of the alignment machine contains 'stuff' that you don't need to do a home alignment so it's not a meaningful comparison on that basis alone.

It's sort of like saying that high-octane gas is better gas than lower-octane gas simply because it costs more. It's NOT better gas; it's just different gas.

Likewise, it's somewhat like saying a house in California is better than one in Texas because it costs five times more. It isn't necessarily better (in fact, it's far more likely to be worse, in and of itself).

In a way, it's like saying "Coca Cola costs more than RC Cola, so it must be better". Well, there's a ton of advertising that CocaCola does that you're paying for when you buy a bottle ... and a bunch of humanitarian campaigns ... and high salaries, etc., none of which has any direct bearing on the taste of the results.

This pdf, for example, describes the BMW alignment equipment, almost none of which is actually 'necessary' for an alignment.

So, while the price of the equipment is hugely different between the alignment shop and that of the home garage ... I don't see that, in and of itself, being any argument that will hold water alone.

Said more directly, if I can measure an angle to the required accuracy with a two dollar tool, if I paid ten times that for someone else to check it with 'their' professional tool (which has different requirements which make it cost more), that, in and of itself, isn't an argument that the alignment is any better simply because the tools used by the pro cost more.

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Last edited by bluebee; 08-19-2012 at 03:44 PM.
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  #20  
Old 08-20-2012, 11:37 AM
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tedm tedm is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
I understand. This is a good discussion because most (almost all) bimmer owners elect to have their vehicles aligned at the shop.

So there MUST be good reasons for that. Right?

I suspect a key reason is effort.

That statement can be read to mean that those who go to the shop for alignment are lazy... I would say convenience and accountability are my motivators. Sure, I imagine I could figure out how to do one in my garage, but my time is too valuable to spend a day screwing around to save $90. If I were to do it and not be pleased with the result, I get to spend even more of my time screwing around with it. And what if I don't have time to re-adjust my mistakes? Do I drive the car until I have the time to spare again and not worry about the mileage I'm not going to get from my tires due to my bad alignment? It makes much more sense to me to go to my indy's shop, give him $90, get on his wifi and work in his waiting area on stuff that I need to get done. I know he's going to get it right... and if he doesn't, he'll take care of it right there and then.

Again, it's about convenience (time management) and accountability. I don't mind putting forth effort... I'll do something like swap out valve cover gaskets and save $500 or $600, but to spend the better part of day trying to save less than $100 when someone else can do the same job in under an hour? No, thanks. That's why I said I think it's dumb.
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Old 08-20-2012, 12:09 PM
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Took the alignment shop over 1Hr to do it. Asked for lowered sport setup without agressive track-oriented layout. Explained I want to maximize the life of tires. So below is the sheet with the setup. They started with the M-sport setting and tweaked it for street use. Very happy with the outcome, and I'm certain I wouldn't be able to figure out the settings my shop came up with. They told me they had to figure out the combination of my needs, BMW specs for M-sport suspension and the actual specifics of my suspension & wheel specs. Not a DIY exercise IMHO.

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  #22  
Old 08-20-2012, 01:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doru View Post
Took the alignment shop over 1Hr to do it. Asked for lowered sport setup without agressive track-oriented layout. Explained I want to maximize the life of tires. So below is the sheet with the setup. They started with the M-sport setting and tweaked it for street use. Very happy with the outcome, and I'm certain I wouldn't be able to figure out the settings my shop came up with. They told me they had to figure out the combination of my needs, BMW specs for M-sport suspension and the actual specifics of my suspension & wheel specs. Not a DIY exercise IMHO.

Interesting, Doru. The camber & toe specs quoted on your sheet differ from the Bentley specifications. Not by much but different. And they really dialed out your rear camber. Can you feel this difference? Unless your butt meter is recently calibrated and you drive like a banshee, I would guess that most folks could not feel any differences.
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Old 08-19-2012, 04:17 PM
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Actually the alignment by the pro's equipment is better because while the computer hardware that runs the alignment machines on average is what Id call junk the software its running isnt. Also that software is counting on the alignment machine to be in spec thus giving an easy reference point to measure from. I get paid on average $45 an hour. Be it working on a site Im hosting, fixing a computer, cutting your grass, whatever my times worth $45 an hour. Most in my field charge more but Im happy with that rate.

It cost me 0 effort and 30 minutes of my time (sitting in a waiting room reading a magazine or watching the tv) and $40 to get my car aligned. So figuring it would take me with all the manual tools a full day to do a proper alignment on my car Im going to stick with paying to get it done. Can it be done 100% accurately at home with yard sticks, iphone apps and such? Im my opinion no, but you can get close enough I guess by most people standards but the at home alignment would cost me $360 or more to do since thats time I could be making $45 an hour doing something else.

I love working on my own stuff. I even build my own engines, transmission, etc but alignment, tire mounting(I actually own a $3500 hunter tire mounter), tire balancing and such I do not do myself. Its just not worth it to me.

No going to fault someone that wants to do it themselves. Just not something I want to do.
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Old 08-19-2012, 07:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crowz View Post
$40 to get my car aligned.
I'd die for a price like that out here. I'm constantly amazed at the prices elsewhere in the country!

But even so, your price seems WAY low if this thread, from 2000, is any indication:
- average price for a wheel alignment?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason5driver View Post
I usually pay around $150 for all 4 wheels to be aligned...
Quote:
Originally Posted by crowz View Post
Actually the alignment by the pro's equipment is better
I don't disagree.

First off, I'm sure the expensive machines measure 'more stuff" (even if it's not adjustable ... it 'could' have been bent by an impact).

Plus, like surveyors, I suspect you're wholly correct that they start from a known good reference point (e.g., perhaps they can better locate the midline of the vehicle, for example for single-wheel toe measurement).

Also, they're always level. And, best of all, I suspect their accuracy is better.

BTW, does anyone actually know 'what' the accuracy is of the shop machines?
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Each repair should invariably add to our knowledge base by the process of inexorable incrementalism.
Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need

Last edited by bluebee; 08-20-2012 at 10:46 AM.
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  #25  
Old 08-19-2012, 07:43 PM
dvsgene dvsgene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
I'd die for a price like that out here. I'm constantly amazed at the prices elsewhere in the country!



BTW, does anyone actually know 'what' the accuracy is of the shop machines?

Ask around BB. There ARE competent techs at lots of places that charge less then $100. I suspect even in San Jose area. Prices vary from free (with tire purchase) to $200 in NYC as well. You just have to ask around and check the regional section for recommendations. I found my tech because his name appeared on numerous BMW forums where people would drive 2 hrs across state lines to get an alignment with him. The Amex Small Biz promotion at the time was a bonus for me=$55 alignment. I absolutely agree with crowz on the opportunity cost factor and I bill a lot more per hour but cost of living in NYC is probably twice Alabama too.


The accuracy of most laser machines need only to measure down to 1/100 of a degree by factory specs. You probably could even go to 1/1000 if needed with the right software program. After all we are talking about laser systems here.

As I stated early on, you will never get accuracy at home. For most DIY at home, 1 degree accuracy or approx is good enough. For the majority of BMW owners, we want it down to the 1/100 as per factory specs. For the price paid, it is a bargain. For shops, charging over $100 they are just plain gouging or simply trying to recover equipment costs.

While we can continue sparring on this subject matter, let's just agree to disagree on this topic as I doubt what any member says (besides CN90) will change your mindset.

Last edited by dvsgene; 08-20-2012 at 07:45 AM.
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