Alignments seem to confuse a lot of people unnecessarily. An alignment is nothing to be afraid of and it is not rocket science. Our goal with this article is to set the record straight and give you information you can use to understand exactly what goes on with aligning your late-model Nissan truck or SUV. This is not a step-by-step guide on how to do an alignment; there are plenty of those available online. What we DO intend to do is take away some of the mystery of alignments. We will start by explaining the three different adjustments there are to a front-end alignment (you cannot do a 4 wheel alignment on our trucks, there are no rear adjustments)...
Caster: This is the relationship between the upper and lower a-arm outer pivot points (ball joints). On late model Nissan trucks, this is barely adjustable, even with the best alignment cams, so we are going to leave it alone. But what caster does is provide the steering to center itself after a turn. More caster, the faster the steering wheel wants to return to the center position and more effort has to be applied to actually turn the wheel right or left. You cannot see caster on your truck.
Camber: This is how the tires deviate from vertical as looking from the front of the vehicle. The easiest way to see a variation is to use the rear tires as a reference. Look at your rear tire. It has 0 degrees of camber (or vertical) and you can line the edge of the front tire to the rear to see the variance. If the top of the front tire is sticking out, you have POSITVE camber. If the top of the tire is pulled in towards the frame, then you have NEGATIVE camber. But looks can be deceiving, because if the TOE is off, it will mess up the CAMBER. Only ’04-’05 Nissans have adjustable CAMBER from the factory.
Toe: This is the big adjustment. Toe is responsible for about 85% of the alignment and for getting the most miles from your tires. All Nissans have adjustable toe. Toe is the parallelism of the tires. This is actually easy to adjust using a simple tape measure and some elbow grease. Toe will also affect the camber in that, if the tires are toed in (closer in the front, like a beginner skier), the bottom of the tires will try to pull towards the center of the truck and this will appear as if the camber is off. The camber can look horribly bad, even though it is really a toe adjustment that is needed. This happens because all late model Nissan trucks use very soft rubber bushings for the upper and lower a-arms and they can easily deflect if the toe is off even though the camber may be fine. The opposite will happen if the tires are toed out: the bottom of the tire will pull away from the center of the truck. All Nissans have adjustable tie-rods and this is what is used to adjust toe and center the steering wheel. Because of an issue known as “bump steer” anytime you raise or lower your truck the toe will need to be corrected. Particularly with late model Nissans, as you lift the truck, the tires will toe in.
To start any alignment process the toe must first be adjusted so the tires are about 1/16” toed in. Then the truck needs to be rolled a few feet forward and back to let the soft rubber bushings take a set. The toe can be rechecked to insure that it is proper. If the toe is good and the camber is still off, then camber needs to be adjusted using the camber adjustment bolts. The toe will need to be reset again, as anytime you adjust the camber, it will greatly affect the toe. Toe-in and toe-out are what cause your tires to prematurely wear-out. The tires need to roll parallel to get the most miles from them. Having improperly adjusted toe will also wear the inner or outer edge of the tire (an effect because of kingpin inclination and our soft rubber bushings). Improper tire wear is almost always attributed to incorrect TOE adjustment.
The tie rods also center the steering wheel. I often get calls saying “my alignment is off because the truck pulls to the right or left.” I ask if it actually pulls or is the steering wheel just off? If the truck actually pulls, when you let go of the wheel and the truck veers hard to one side or the other with no regard to the angle of the steering wheel, then this is an alignment issue. But, is the truck drives fine but the steering wheel is just not centered, this is just an adjustment. The adjustment is the tie rods, the same parts that adjust TOE.
Now you know just about as much as most people working in alignment shops. Take this info and practice yourself. As I mentioned, there are alignment guides all over the web. We like this one in particular: https://www.carparts.com/alignment.htm Good luck!