How Many Alignments Should It Take to Align a Car?

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Apparently three might not be enough. Here's the full story: I installed new struts on the '96 Saturn on 6/21/09. After installing the struts, I realized that I had forgotten to mark the steering knuckles. I had so much positive camber that the tires were tilted outwards. Obviously I needed to get an alignment as soon as possible. So I made an appointment for 6/22 at my local Les Schwab. I have had good experiences with this shop in the past. At the first alignment on 6/22/09, the tech spent over an hour adjusting the front camber, rear camber and front toe. According to him, he had maxed out the rear camber adjustments and the rear camber was still not in spec. He told me that I needed to buy a camber kit. In addition, he claimed that the rear toe was not adjustable and that I needed to buy a toe kit. Knowing that the rear toe IS adjustable on this car, I told him that I would return at a later date. The shop offers a 30-day warranty on their alignment, so I decided to take some time to research my problems. After speaking with a few alignment techs and Moog's Tech Support line, I learned that there is no reason why I should need camber bolts if I have elongated strut mounting holes. Considering that nothing is bent in the rear, I decided to take the car back to let the same tech have a second chance at correcting the rear toe and the rear camber. At the second alignment on 6/27/09, I told the tech to adjust the rear toe by moving the lateral links. He was able to adjust the left rear toe but not the right rear. At this point, he thinks there is something wrong with the rear suspension and but isn't sure how to solve the problem. As for the rear camber, it appears that the suspension has "settled" and the issue has resolved itself. After retrieving the car, I immediately took the car to a new Les Schwab location. At this particular location, the alignment tech was about to leave for the day but said that he could take a quick look at the car. He drove the car onto the rack, which was a very nice "underground" Hunter DSP600 setup, and had the left rear and right rear toe adjusted in a matter of minutes. This tech knew exactly what he was doing.  So now the question is, should I bring the car back for a fourth alignment? If you look at the spreadsheet below, after the third alignment, the left rear toe is barely in spec. I trust the tech at the new Les Schwab location. I want to get the alignment as close to the preferred specs as possible (center of the specified range), but would you folks agree that it is necessary? By the way, I called the manager at the first Les Schwab location and explained the situation to him. He was a bit puzzled but offered to refund the cost of the alignment. I may just have to take his offer.  Thanks in advance for your thoughts!
 
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 Originally Posted By: The Critic
I want to get the alignment as close to the preferred specs as possible (center of the specified range)
I seriously doubt that the center of the specified range is the ideal setting for everyone under all circumstances. On several of my cars, due to my driving style, "my preferred specs" were at the limits of the sanctioned range. For example, I found the toe-in setting on all my vehicles in need to be adjusted to as little toe-in as possible. At the same time I find a thrust angle other than 0° totally unacceptable.
 
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Yep, my preferred spec for my car is min toe in, fair bit of neg camber (when I don't buy big sway bars), and a little more caster. With the family car, middle is best. Bear in mind, some (older cars) had nearly an inch of total toe in the allowable range...any two cars in "normal" behaved wickedly different.
 
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I think the last alignment is good, so if you do not have any specific handling characteristic you want to alter, just leave as it is.
 

JHZR2

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I'd have taken it to the dealer and had it right the first time. This is oned of the things that IMO it is worth paying the dealer for... Ive always been unhappy going elsewhere - either a steering wheel that is crooked for the car to track straight, or something else.
 
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Saturns can be VERY hard to align. The dealership could not algin mine. Had to take it to a frame shop. They moved the engine cradle. Cost $750.
 
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Maryland
 Originally Posted By: millerbl00
Saturns can be VERY hard to align. The dealership could not algin mine. Had to take it to a frame shop. They moved the engine cradle. Cost $750.
Do you by chance know what makes these cars hard to align?
 
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Jan 13, 2009
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The S-series is no big deal usually. The S cars may be a bit more prone than some others to have cradle damage from hitting a curb or a trip into a ditch however. The L does have a tendancy to eat rear tires unless upgraded with some redesigned parts per a TSB issued a few years back.
 
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 Originally Posted By: moklock
The S-series is no big deal usually. The S cars may be a bit more prone than some others to have cradle damage from hitting a curb or a trip into a ditch however.
Quoted for truth. There's a big square shape to the subframe and the lower control arm bolts to the middle of the square where it's weakest. Also there are designed in bends in the subframe that serve no apparant purpose, and probably are for front end crash impact absorption. Also, oddly, they're more sensitive to tire balance than anything else I've ever driven. Credit a "tight" front end.
 
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Your final settings are pretty darn good. How does she drive? Should be straight, with maybe a slight drift either way on crowned roads.
 

The Critic

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 Originally Posted By: mechtech2
Your final settings are pretty darn good. How does she drive? Should be straight, with maybe a slight drift either way on crowned roads.
It actually drives a lot better than before. I wished I had less cross-camber in the back, but I can't have everything. The tires are a bit damaged from poor alignment, so it'll be a few thousand miles before they wear normally again. It has also been about 800 miles since I installed the struts, and over the past few days, the new struts decided to soften up considerably. I hope that did not affect the alignment.
 
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Worn struts do not affect the alignment. Worn springs will, somewhat. Never get an alignment right after major surgery or parts replacement. A few hundred miles of driving is best - let everything seat in, first.
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2005
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Santa Barbara, CA
 Originally Posted By: Maritime Storm
Have the alignment checked again before you put your snow tires on, it may not be out, but it will more than likely need to have the front camber reset if the struts soften.
snow tires
 
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At 1 place I worked at, the allignment machine was so inaccurate that it would be possible to line up everything right in the center of range, take the car off the machine, put it back on, and every measurement would be wrong.
 

The Critic

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UPDATE: Just made an appointment for alignment #4 on Saturday. The car started drifting to the right during highway driving again. Stay tuned.
 Originally Posted By: Cutehumor
Critic, did you pay over $300 in aligning your car?
No, I paid $83.50 for the first alignment. They offer a 30-day warranty on the alignment. All subsequent alignments have been covered under warranty.
 
Joined
May 11, 2004
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St. Paul, MN
 Originally Posted By: mechtech2
Your worn tires may be the problem. Your alignment is more then decent.
Most definitely, tires are probably the culprit in "pulling" complaints more often than alignment. There are a lot of junky tires on the road, throw in 50 potholes and a bunch of alignment wear and you've got yourself a pull.
 
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