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Tracking, Camber and Toe
CHECKING AND ADJUSTING WHEEL ALIGNMENT ON A 2013 DODGE CARAVAN
Correct wheel alignment is necessary for accurate tracking of the vehicle while it is being driven. In other words, the car moves in the direction it is steered. Proper vehicle tracking is also required for safe operation of the vehicle and the safety of its passengers. Furthermore, even tire wear will result from proper wheel alignment, maximizing the life of the vehicle’s tires. In order to ensure proper tracking and tire wear, wheel alignment should be checked once a year, or when new tires are installed on the vehicle.
The world of wheel alignment has changed dramatically since the arrival of the front wheel drive layout. One reason is the change in vehicle design. Gone is the double wishbone front suspension (in most cases). It has been replaced by the McPherson strut / lower control arm layout. This results in camber and caster values that are built into the design of the vehicle. In other words, these parameters cannot be adjusted (there are some exceptions which will be discussed later). Front toe is adjusted as it always was, but now the rear toe is also an adjustable parameter. Vehicles such as the Chrysler 300 have a 5-link, independent rear suspension which has adjustments for all 3 alignment parameters.
The other major change is in wheel alignment equipment (refer to Figure 1). In the old days, the right and left alignment heads would project a beam of light forward onto a panel with scribed lines, similar to a ruler, on the forward wall. The mechanic had to read alignment settings off this panel, which could be difficult because of the width of the light beam. And the shop had to be dark enough to easily see the beam. Today, the alignment head (one for each of the four wheels) that reflects a beam of light back to its source. The four reflected beams of light allow a computer to calculate the three alignment parameters for the front and rear suspension. The readings are displayed on a simple monitor.
Pre-Wheel Alignment Inspection
Before doing a wheel alignment, the following inspections and necessary corrections should be performed in order for the alignment procedure to be as accurate as possible.
- Verify that the fuel tank is full; if the tank is not full, it will increase the curb height adversely affect alignment angles
- The passenger and luggage compartments should be empty
- Check the tires; all tires must be the same size, evenly worn and correctly inflated
- Check the front tire and wheel assemblies for excessive radial runout
- Inspect ball joints and steering linkage for wear and damage; replace any worn or damaged parts
- Check all rubber suspension bushings; replace any that are worn or damaged
- Verify that the curb height is within specifications
After finishing the vehicle inspection, position the vehicle on the alignment rack, chock the wheels and jounce the front and rear of the vehicle. Install the alignment heads on each wheel (see Figure 2).
Follow the instructions for the particular equipment in your shop in order for the three alignment angles (camber/caster/toe) to be accurately measured (a typical instruction screen is shown in Figure 3).
If the front camber and caster are not within specs, reinspect the front suspension and subframe for damaged components. What might not be easily seen by the naked eye will be seen on the alignment rack. A closer look should find the damaged parts. It must be remembered that these two alignment angles are determined at the time the vehicle is designed and is known as net build. If camber and caster are within spec, the front and rear toe can be checked. Front toe is adjustable on all vehicles and the rear toe is adjustable on some vehicles.
Front camber and caster can be adjusted, if necessary due to an excessive pull or lead, by shifting the position of the front crossmember. This is a time consuming project. Check the appropriate service manual for the specific details. On minivans, such as the subject vehicle, a 2013 Dodge Caravan (RT body style), there is an easier way to adjust the front camber. This is through the use of a camber adjustment bolt package. This special bolt is shown in Figure 4 and replaces the original lower bolt. Notice the off-center bolt head and eccentric cam. Rotating the bolt head rotates the cam against the edge of the strut to move the strut and change the camber angle.
In order to use the bolt, however, the lower bolt hole must be slotted. There are two ways the lower bolt hole can become slotted. First, the strut can be removed and the bolt hole can be slotted by hand using a grinder and grinding wheel. The second way is to replace the strut with one that is already slotted (see Figure 5). For minivans, this modified strut is available for minivans built from 2001 up to the present model year.
Note: After slotting the hole, or using the modified strut, do not install the original bolts; only use the service package bolts and dog bone washers to attach the strut to the steering knuckle.
After the two bolts have been installed in the strut and knuckle, install the dog bone washer, which is included in the bolt package, over the ends of the two mounting bolts. Install the nuts from the bolt package on the two bolts. While holding the bolts in place, tighten the nuts to hold the steering knuckle in place when adjusting the camber, but still allow the knuckle to move in the clevis bracket, as needed.
After installing the tire and wheel assembly and lowering the vehicle back down onto the alignment rack, adjust the camber to the preferred setting by rotating the cam bolt. After the desired setting has been achieved, hold the cam bolt in place and tighten the nuts to 65 ft-lbs.
After verifying, or adjusting the camber and caster, check the toe reading. Front toe is often adjusted, especially when the vehicle is driven on poorly maintained city streets, such as those which experience winter weather and the resulting potholes.
Before adjusting the front toe, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, adjust the left front toe first, then adjust right front toe. Secondly, do not twist the inner tie rod boots when adjusting the front toe. Remove the boot clamps at the inner tie rod ends and make sure that the boots move freely on the inner ends.
Adjusting the toe is a straightforward procedure. First, position the steering wheel in the straight ahead position, then lock it in place. Next, loosen the jam nut on the left outer end. Grasp the inner tie rod on the serrations and rotate it, as necessary, to obtain the preferred toe setting. Finally, tighten the tie rod jam nut.
Repeat the procedure for the right side.
When finished, reinstall the boot clamps. Be sure the boots are not twisted before installing the clamps. Remove the steering wheel clamp, then the wheel alignment equipment. Road test the vehicle to verify that the steering wheel is straight and the vehicle does not wander or pull.