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Alignment made simple

To: MG Mailing List <>
Subject: Alignment made simple
From: "John M. Trindle" <>
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 1995 10:46:14 -0500 (EST)
Some of you may remember that I took my MG into the local Merchant's to 
get a "professional" alignment and ended up with 1) nebulous results, 2) 
a steering wheel cocked about 40 degrees to the right, and 3) a report of 
a split steering rack boot.

Well, I finally had a chance this past Sunday to get grimy and resolve 
these issues.  It really is quite easy if you know how... or don't, in my 

I jacked up the car, put it on stands and started to undo the driver's 
side tie rod.  Since I was going for maximum difficulty I had left the 
lugnuts fully torqued on both wheels, AND I decided to separate the ball 

The first one separated a bit easily, but a bit too soon.... the nut was 
stuck on and the ball joint just rotated in its socket when i tried to 
remove it.  No real way to brace the ball either.

After lowering the car again to loosen the lugnets, and jacking it up 
again, my floor jack was getting extremely weak.  I followed the bleeding 
procedure a couple of times with no joy.  Sigh.  It had just enough oomph 
to get the car back up on the jack stands, but I was skeptical of further 

Finally got the drivers side tie-rod separated, and removed the tie rod 
and alignment adjusting nut... counting the threads before moving it 
(aha!  a synapse fires).  The new boot goes on fairly easily, and I know 
the next instruction is "fill the boot with gear oil before tightening 
the clamps.  I know this is physically impossible but give it a shot 
anyway... yep, smelly gear oil all over the place.

I button this side up, first positioning the alignment nut leaving half 
the total number of original threads (left was 15, right was 9).  Wow, 
half-way done in only an hour and a half!  The next side will be a breeze 
'cuz I know how to do it now... a theory evolved from my 45 minutes 
drivers side brake pad replacement, followed by 10 minutes for the 
passenger side.

I foolishly try to separate the tie rod on the passenger side (AFTER 
loosening the nut this time to a point where I know I can get it off).  
Bang bang bang bang with my tiny hammer.  No joy.  I hit on this for 15 
to 20 minutes, getting more frustrated each time.  Hell, I need a separator!

Off to NAPA with the credit card.  I get a bonking tool (the pickle-fork 
style separator), a bigger hammer, jack oil, and some sundries.  Now this 
job is costing me more than the "alignment" at Merchant's did.

On the way home I figure out how I am SUPPOSED to be doing this, without 
separating the ball joint.  Argh.  Well, the ball joint has me irked now 
and I want to beat on it with my bonking tool and big hammer.

I do so, for a couple of minutes... it's satisfying in a Cro-Magnum P.I. 
kind of way, but not at all productive.  The pickle fork is too big for 
this car.

I then get under the car and unscrew the tie-rod from the tie-rod end, 
just like I was supposed to in the first place.  Time: 10 minutes start 
to finish.  Live and learn.

Now of course I have to get the gear oil into the boots SOMEHOW.  I 
remember CrazyMike told me that you fill it from the tensioner area in 
the "center" of the rack.  I fill, work the rack, fill, work the rack, 
until I am sick of it.  Tensioner cover (with shims) back on, and time to 
check the alignment.

0"!  And the steering wheel is 5 degrees to the left of center.  Not too 
bad (and certainly better than 40 degrees!).  Steering is free and smooth.

Key elements:

1) Rack Boots come in two kits, cheapo and Rover.  The cheapo boots are 
shorter, thinner "rubber", and use twist-ties to hold the boots on.  The 
Rover kits are more robust looking and use metal screw-clamps.  This is 
much better.  I split the cheapos after only a few weeks on my previous 
rack.  The damage this caused is one reason why it is my PREVIOUS rack.

2)  Don't mess with the ball joints!  The tie rod itself has a ball joint 
in the rack, and so will turn freely and unscrew from the tie rod end.

3) When you put the boots on, clamp the inside (the big end) down firmly, 
since you won't have to deal with it until you replace the boots the next 
time.  Leave the small end loose so you can screw the tie rod back on.  
If you tighten it you'll twist up the boot.

4) Lubricate from the tensioner area of the rack, and move the rack back 
and forth between fills.  This will distribute lube evenly.  The "fill 
the boots" instruction assumes the rack is OUT of the car, so you can 
stand it up on end.

5) After you set the alignment, you can tighten the clamp on the small 
end of each boot.  Loosen it again before resetting alignment.  The 
tension is enough so you could actually leave the twist-ties off the 
cheapo boot kit on the small ends, and it would only leak a little.  If 
you're not going to reset alignment frequently, you could use the twist tie.
You see here how the screw-clamps are much more convenient.

5) Oh, speaking of clamps.  The OE clamps may be installed from the top,
since the boots were installed outside of the car.  This is impossible to
get on with the radiator installed without a small, stubby Posi
screwdriver.  A Phillips won't work.  Since you are going to install new
clamps, it is much faster to break the old ones with pliers or wire

John M. Trindle | | Tidewater Sports Car 
Club '73 MGB DSP     | '69 Spitfire E Stock | '88 RX-7 C Stock
Home Page:
"1st Law of OleoHydroDynamics - Little British Cars Leak. - JMT"

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