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Just got the trofit and have alignment questions

2580 Views 5 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  bmw325
Hey Guys,

As a lot of you know, my car has been getting the retrofit.

I jsut got it back and the steering is weighted beautifully and I love it, It is not quite as great as the 2002 but it is as close as I am going to get to it.

The weird thing is I know they gave my car a 4 wheel alignment but it feels like the rear of my car is coming out a little bit when I am driving. Like its going to the right when I am driving straight.

Then it hit me that my car has been driving without an Alignment since I got it almost 15,000 miles ago and my tires are used to the way the alignment sat for the last bunch of miles

I started to think I should wait at least 500 miles to let the tires break in to the new alignment. Kinda of like when you got new tires and you need to tgive them 500-1000 miles to break in to your cars suspension.

Also, I called the dealer and he said he saw the specs for the alignment and they were all within what he calls the green. He also said that it's not problem if I want to come in and they will put the car on the alignemnt rack to make sure it's within spec.

So what do you guys think ? Do the tires need to break in to the new alignment ? ? Beleive it or not, I've never had an alignment done on my cars unless I've changed tires so I am new to having an alignment without buying new tires.

Should I just go back to the dealer and have them put it on the rack though to tell you guys the truth I don't really feel like taking the time to do it and I know I won't be driving the bimmer for quite a while since it's still convertible weather.

What do you think ?
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I've also had the steering retrofit and have taken my car to have 6 different alignments at 5 different dealers. My problems have been: pulling to the right, tramlining, and a crooked steering wheel (in both directions)-- but not all at the same time- each alignment causes a slightly different set of problems. I'm going back for my 6th and final alignment this weekend and plan to watch (and supervise) the procedure. I've done TONS of research on alignments, and have learned quite a bit. Its really not hard, but most techs don't know what they're doing, don't feel like doing the right thing, or can't follow simple directions. So, if you don't want to go through what I've gone through read on:

1. Whenever a dealer says "its in spec" or "the lights are green and it should be fine" beware. It might be "in spec", but if its the toe in the front or rear is uneven from side to side, the steering wheel will be crooked and the car may pull in one direction. Its really not acceptable to have any variation-- insist that they set it evenly on both sides on the front and rear. A lot of cars actually come from the factory w/ the rear toe slightly out of whack. Adjusting the rear toe requires a special tool, and turning an eccentric bolt. The front is just a matter of turning the tie rods.
2. The steering wheel must be set straight and locked in that position when the alignment is being done. If not, the front toe will be adjusted such that the steering wheel will have to be held off center to go straight. There are markings on the steering rack where the steering shaft meets the rack to assist w/ this--but even that's a little imprecise- a very small degree of variation here will lead to a bigger degree of steering wheel crookedness. I'd suggest that you supervise the procedure and set the wheel in the straight position yourself.
3. On all E46 cars, a specific amount of weight must be added to the car to bring it to the "normally loaded position". The reason for this is that BMW's specs are written for the suspension at a specific point in its travel. If the dealer doesn't know this or disagrees- ask them to look it up on their TIS system-- these are BMW's own instructions:
150 pounds on each front seat and the seats must be in the middle of their travel.
150 pounds in the center rear seat
46 pounds in the center of the trunk and a full gas tank.
If they don't do this, they'll end up setting to litttle toe in, and the camber will appear to be more positive (as the suspension compresses the camber becomes more negative and the wheels tend to toe-out).
4. The alignment specs used are specific to the suspension -- if you have the sports suspension, the specs are different than the Xi or regular suspension. I think many dealers just use the std specs for all cars.
5. Both the front and rear camber CAN be adjusted on the E46. The front camber adjustment, requires the use of a special tool (and that a factory guide pin be removed). The E36 required that camber plates, crash bolts, or shims be used to adjust the front camber-- not so on the e46. Many dealers don't know this. Your camber really shouldn't be out of whack though.
6. Try to be watch the alignment to make sure the tech does what he's supposed to. Regardless, get a print-out w/ the before and after specs. I've made the mistake of not supervising the process and have run into lots of trouble-- so this weekend i'm taking my own advice and doing this.
7. Try to find a dealer w/ a Beissbarth Microline alignment rack. This is what BMW uses in Germany and for their training classes here. Most dealers use Hunter racks which should be fine- but it couldn't hurt to use the rack and that BMW itself uses, right?
8. For the front toe, tell the dealer to set it to .12 (of a degree) toe-in on each side (.24 total). That's right in the middle of BMW's spec for all the suspensions and should give you a good blend of on-center feel, decent turn-in, lack of tramlining and fuel economy.
9. You may be right about your tires-- but i'd still recommend taking it back and getting a printout of the specs. Odds are its not just the tires that are the problem.

I've made alignment out to sound like some really complicated procedure that's impossible to get right. Its really not- if the tech just takes his time and does it right. After a steering rack change, the main thing that needs to be reset is obviously the front toe. So, they need to center the steering wheel, add the weights and adjust evenly. A lot of cars seem to come w/ the rear toe and camber a little uneven from the factory and for some reason the steering retrofit seems to magnify the effects of this. A four wheel alignment should include checking and setting all 4 corners--don't settle for less. This is what's included in the alignment that comes w/ the retrofit.

I've done lots of research on this subject- so please don't hesitate to ask me if you have any problems or questions!
Rob, thanks for that incredible write-up . . . it's amazing how much you know about this particular subject.

My steering wheel feels perfectly straight and the car really feels like the front has been done 100% correctly. My real concern is the rear of the car.

Something feels a little strange like it's off.

I have 2 questions for you

1) By driving your car, how can you tell if your rear alignment is off ?

2) Once you get an alignment, do your tires have to break in to the new pattern they are set in ? Kind of like when you get new tires and they feel weird at first but then after 500-1000 miles they are broken in to your car .

I didn't know a thing about alignments until after my steering retrofit a few

months ago. You can tell how frustrated it made me. :(. I was also surprised

at how poor the information is on alignemnts. IT took me lots of reading from

tons of different sources to figure out the "right" way. In the end, it turned out

to be quite simple. ITs just that most dealers only do a few (or none) of the

necessary steps- and you really have to pay attention to everything to get

good results.

1. The rear alignment is an interesting subject. If the rear toe is uneven, it

creates a "thrust angle", meaning that the wheels are both point in a direction

to either the left of right of the geometric centerline of the car. If you think of

a hook and ladder fire truck w/ rear wheel steering, you'll get the idea of what

this does-- it causes the car to turn in the opposite direction of the thrust

angle. If the rear wheels are facing opposite directions like this: \ /, it creates

a dangerous toe-out condition which can causes sudden severe oversteer. I

really doubt that you have this condition. Its hard to know just from driving

the car if the rear isn't set right- although a rear misalignment tends to cause

more dramatic pulling than the front. By the way, a "thrust angle" can be

compensated in how the front toe is set. You may have seen the term "thrust

angle alignment". THis is when sensors are attached to all 4 wheels, but only

the front toe is adjusted-- and its adjusted such that they front wheels are

pointing in the same direction as the rears. This will allow the steering wheel to

be straight,and for the car to travel straight. But, if you think about it- the car

will also be travelling slightly diagonally relative to its body. If sensors are

only attached to the front wheels when doing an alignment, and the rears

aren't taken into account, the car will end up pulling in one direction. Of course

the right thing is to have the rear toe set evenly side to side and to toe-in

slightly and for the front to do the same. The amount of total toe in the front

and rear doesn't have to be the same though. My car's rear toe was out of

spec, and apparently the first dealer hadn't done a proper alignment. I finally

had both the front and rear set evenly-- but my steering wheel has been

crooked in several different ways-- so that's all i'm really working on now.

2. Interesting point that you bring up about the tires "setting in". Its true that if your alignment is off, your tires will wear poorly. Depending on the tire and the alignment condition, there's all sorts of different wear problems that can result. Unfortunately, from what I've read, it appears that after a certain point (about 1000 miles), is nearly impossible to wear the tire back into proper shape following a proper alignment. But, the good news is that I doubt your current and previous alignments were off enough to cause any bad wear. Again, I really think the problems you're experiencing mostly have to do w/ the alignment itself and not the the tires condition. You can check the tires-- Is there more wear on the inner or outer side? Is there a "saw-tooth" pattern across the tread blocks? Is there wear on both sides but not in the middle?
Alan F said:
Rob, thanks for that incredible write-up . . . it's amazing how much you know about this particular subject.

My steering wheel feels perfectly straight and the car really feels like the front has been done 100% correctly. My real concern is the rear of the car.

Something feels a little strange like it's off.

I have 2 questions for you

1) By driving your car, how can you tell if your rear alignment is off ?

2) Once you get an alignment, do your tires have to break in to the new pattern they are set in ? Kind of like when you get new tires and they feel weird at first but then after 500-1000 miles they are broken in to your car .
thanks again for all the info . . . I'm not really looking for the perfect alignment since to tell you the truth I've never been able to tell if my car had a perfect alignment. My tires love to follow the grooves in every road so I really can't say that my car has EVER traveled straight, It's the only car I ever had that I can't tell . . .

Anyway, the point I was making with the tires is one I've found very few people ever discuss. Your car, my car and just about anyone elses 3 series is slightly different. Each car is unique and as you drive your car, your tires wear a certain pattern and they 'break-in'. Even though I can't do this because my tires are staggered for argument sake let's say you then rotate your tires from back to front you'll notice your car does not drive the same because the rear tires wore a certain way and so did the fronts.
At first your car feels a little strange but after you put 500-1000 miles all of a sudden your car will start driving well. The suspension has worn your tires into a certain pattern and broken them in.

So it hit me as I was driving home from the steering retrofit that since my alignment must have been changed, different parts of the tire are riding on the road so they might need to be broken in . . .

I totally understand and agree with what you're saying about the tires needing to "break in" to a certain alignment. But, I think its worth it to take your car back and have them print out the specs. There's really no other option than having a "perfect alignment". Anything else is going to cause uneven tire wear, pulling, tramlining, bad handling, etc. THe sooner the better- you wouldn't want your tires to wear into a strange wear pattern due to an alignment that's off. In all fairness, if all that's off is that the front toe is uneven-- you end up correcting htat w/ the steering wheel since the toe has to be even side to side in order for you go straight-- but if there were too much toe-in or toe-out it could cause wear problems. Let me know what you decide to do. :bigpimp:
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