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Can any tire shop do a front end alignment on a '56 Buick?


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Guest Buick56Special

I just signed up because this looks like a great site. I bought a '56 Buick Special 2 door sedan a couple of months ago and there's something wrong with the steering. It's not loose, it's just the opposite. The car goes from one side of the lane to the other and I'm constantly fighting it to stay in the middle of the lane. I've tried adjusting the steering box a few times and also the center link thing with the cotter pin at each end but it didn't change it any. I found an old thread on this site with a lot of good info on it and they said to get the front end aligned. Here's the thread....

http://forums.aaca.org/f162/1956-king-pin-symptoms-325011.html

My question is will some kid at the local tire store know how to properly do a front end alignment on a car almost 60 years old? If not where should I take it? I'm in the Louisville, Ky area. Thanks in advance....

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First: congratulations on the purchase of a nice car. If you don't have a FACTORY issued shop manual, get one, it will give you a thorough knowledge base to work with.

I'm sure that 'some kid' will do much better than some random adjustments of threaded rods without measuring what you were accomplishing or trying to accomplish.

I know that is rather harsh. But a front end is not something to just fiddle with, unless you take some measurements, say of the toe-in and then change that setting, compare that measurement to a spec sheet on your make and model of car. Then drive it to see if it drives better.

A car that wanders usually has toe-out, and could also have both caster and camber problems, From your description, it sounds like it even could have some very loose or worn out components as well.

While your car is far from some modern small car with McPherson struts and rack and pinion steering, the basics of setting up a car on an alignment rack, Inspecting the front end components for wear, obvious damage, or loose or missing bolts. Then taking the existing alignment readings, going to a book with the correct specifications for your car, or even just a general average for a car of your type of front suspension, Then adjusting your alignment to the specs.. Those are normal things an alignment technician does.

The only thing a young tech might not have is actual hands on experience with your car, but the basic GM double A-frame front suspension or some variation of that has been around well into the 70's and 80's, but it is getting rare compared to more modern suspension designs.

If your car has some odd quirks unique to it's design, then possibly finding someone with the fix for it's quirks might be needed. but I highly doubt that your front suspension is radically different than just about all the mid 50's GM cars.

I'd get it checked out just for the safety aspects of the inspection and a look-over for wildly out of specification measurements, loose or missing parts etc.

GLong

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I doubt that shops with the latest equipment can do it.........even though they'd like to.

I had my '59 Chev to Auto Select as they said they could do it but it turned out they couldn't fit the sensors to the tires because of the fenders or something.

I called them later asking about lining up my '65 Mustang but that time they said they wish they could but can't.

Luckily one of my old customers for whom we worked owns a body shop and happens to have old school alignment equipment to do the job.

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I know there can be "mysteries" about front end alignments, but it's all "geometry" and such. There can be several electronic ways to do these measurements, but a "bubble gauge" alignment device which attaches to the spindle itself can do just as well for caster and camber as the electronic gadgets. Only thing is that it can't be used on the Magnum 500 style wheels, but can be used on any other wheel which allows the spindle end ready access. Just snap off the spindle cap and snap on the alignment device. Quite simple.

There have been many ways to attach the electronic or "light beam" devices to the front wheels, but I haven't seen any that would not work on a '59 Chevy passenger car, yet. Not to say that there might be some!

In many cases, if a shop can't find the alignment specs in their equipment's database, then supplying them with that can help. Some of the older cars, with king pins, also have a "King Pin Inclination" spec, but I think that might have to be more of an indicator of suspension damage than anything else. But, in the absence of any specs . . . I'd aim for slightly positive caster (from "zero" to "+1 degree), whether the orig spec might have been dependent upon "power steering" or "manual steering". Some liked to vary it, side to side, to allow for "road crown", in earlier times, but I suspect few do that now. Camber should be, basically, "zero". Toe-in, might need to be "minimal", possibly using a spec from even an '80s rwd LeSabre (or similar), as a guide.

As you have joined the AACA Forums, please be aware that you can participate and post in ALL of the AACA Forums, even the ones specific to "Buicks". In that area, a participant known as "Old-Tank" is very knowledgeable in '55 era Buicks. Plus, also, "5563". I feel sure they can give you some excellent advice/recommendations! Go to the "General Forum" in the BCA section, click on their names in their posts, and send them a "Private Message" or re-post your inquiry there, either in the "General Forum" or the "Post-War" forum.

Welcome aboard and please also consider a membership in the Buick Club of America.

NTX5467

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I'm not entirely sure you should be blaming the alignment for the dartiness on the road. I had one particular old car from the '40s that came to me with modern Coker wide whitewall radials on it, and it was a real handful to keep on the road. It was all over the place. I had two alignment shops check everything and it was within spec and like you describe, the steering felt tight. Still, the sucker lunged for the curb every chance it got and it was impossible to keep it straight without constantly sawing on the wheel.

At my father's suggestion, I aired up the tires to 45 PSI--the wandering decreased considerably. Following that train of thought, I pulled the radials and swapped out a set of wheels and bias-ply tires from a similar car in the shop and went for a drive. Voila! No wandering!

I know that radials are supposed to be the cure, not the problem, but this particular car just wanted bias-ply tires (or perhaps the radials were just crap, I can't say for certain). We bought a new set of original-style bias-ply tires and the car drove properly once again. It looks like your car has a set of modern radials on it (skinny whitewalls give them away), and I might humbly suggest that could be part of the problem. Before going to the alignment shop, fill them up with 45-50 PSI and see what happens. You won't hurt anything (it'll ride like crap, though), but see if the wandering decreases. It might just be the tires...

Edited by Steve Moskowitz (see edit history)
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You will want to make sure someone (including yourself) didn't overtighten the steering box. You want a little free play. if you don't have any the car won't return without you physically returning. (the gears in the box are binding) Wherever you point it is where it will go and will not come back at all until you pull it back. I think around an inch of free play on a manual steering car is within Specs. You can check it sitting still in your garage or paved driveway. Just turn the wheel a little each way and see how much play you have. The steering wheel should have a little pay and bounce back a little when you turn it. if that all seems right. Then I would take it to an alignment shop. Like the others said, an old shop will probably be your only bet and bring your own specs along. Radials have to be set a little different than bias ply tires as well.

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I double checked with a friend that does alignments on old cars here(30's and up) and you want to have atleast 1 degree positive Caster with radial tires. It will wander otherwise. Are your rear spring bushings all in good shape. Badly deteriorated ones will cause the rear end to walk around and give you problems as well.

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The alignment can be done on a current Hunter Alignment machine. I have worked as an alignment tech for a few years. The machine has the capability to have specs entered into the data base so the car can be aligned. If the manual has those specs for caster, camber, toe it will be helpful. Also request a thrust angle alignment so the rear tracks with the front. It is really no great mystery. The hard part is finding an alignment tech worth his salt.

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My local tire shop gives a free alignment with new tires.

Yea! all they do is set the toe in!

In my day it was called, "set the toe and let it go." By and large many newer cars only have toe adjustment available. Sure, there are strut bending machines for correcting camber but it you are bending struts to correct camber you got more serious issues. Then they designed cam-bolts for camber. On it went.

Edited by avgwarhawk (see edit history)
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I emailed you the contact info for the folks in your local AACA REGION. I believe that Fred Trusty (President) and his team would be very helpful in pointing you toward shops in your areawhere they have had good service.

Please contact them as they are based in Louisville - you might even decide to become a member, and you would certainly be among good company !!

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Guest Buick56Special

Thanks for the comments and advice. I have a factory shop manual but I couldn't find any specs in it for the front end alignment. I haven't received any emails from anyone. I'm going to put 50 pounds of air in the front tires like someone suggested and see if that makes any difference. My wife has no interest in old cars whatsoever so I probably won't be joining the AACA. If I get this problem resolved I'll let you guys know. Thanks again....

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King pins that are dry or semi frozen will cause weird steering problems. Put the car in the air and turn the wheels right and left from underneath. They should move freely and smoothly. Grab the top and bottom of the tire try and wiggle it there should little if any play. Dry king pins may cause the steering to not return good on a turn. Grease thoroughly. caster 1 1/2 N- 1/2 P degrees camber 5/8N-7/8 P degrees toe in 1 1/16-1/8 inches king pin inclination 7degrees from the 1956 Chilton's

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Some tire stores can align older cars but you need to check with them first,I took my 65 custom 500 down to one and they had someone who could so when my 65 country squire needed alignment the next year I took it to the same place. I got a call a couple hours later telling me they could only set the toe in and it would be much more for a complete alignment and their alignment guy really could not set the castor and camber so I took it to another shop who specialized in alignments,I had two shops I could take a older vehicles to but one has died and the other shop closed so I will need to be looking for a new place for alignments.

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I haven't received any emails from anyone.

Since you havent received either of the two emails I sent via our FORUM system, you may want to check and see if your set-up profile included the correct email address.

In the mean time, go to the AACA HOME PAGE, click on Regions, and scroll down to Kentucky, and you'll find contact information for the Region in Louisville. Then you can contact Fred Trusty who is president of that Region. I'm sure the members - local to your home - can give advice on shops in your hometown who are dependable and experienced in performing alignments on vehicles of your Buick's vintage.

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I think just about any shop can do an alignment if they have access to the specs, most just don't want to mess with older cars. If I send one out with all of the front end redone, it's generally not an issue. On the other hand, if it has not been touched in decades, I get the inevitable phone call "all you need are new tie rod ends, control arm bushings, a few ball joints, and a gear box". Just take some time and make sure everything is usable and safe, before taking it in. It will save you some time and money if you can change worn parts beforehand, and help avoid the inevitable phone call.

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Guest Buick56Special
you can contact Fred Trusty who is president of that Region.

I emailed Fred so hopefully I'll hear back from him. Also, I put 50 pounds of air in the front tires but that didn't make it drive any differently. Thanks again for the help....

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I just signed up because this looks like a great site. I bought a '56 Buick Special 2 door sedan a couple of months ago and there's something wrong with the steering. It's not loose, it's just the opposite. The car goes from one side of the lane to the other and I'm constantly fighting it to stay in the middle of the lane. I've tried adjusting the steering box a few times and also the center link thing with the cotter pin at each end but it didn't change it any. I found an old thread on this site with a lot of good info on it and they said to get the front end aligned. Here's the thread....

http://forums.aaca.org/f162/1956-king-pin-symptoms-325011.html

My question is will some kid at the local tire store know how to properly do a front end alignment on a car almost 60 years old? If not where should I take it? I'm in the Louisville, Ky area. Thanks in advance....

Hello Lebowski,

Welcome to AACA. This is great site. There's also a BCA (Buick Club of America) forum on this same site.

Go to the forum home page and scroll down

http://forums.aaca.org/f162/

Good Luck !

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Congrats on your purchase. Looks like a well preserved car. But lets go back to the tires. Those tires in your picture look like bias ply tires to me. Bias ply tires do result in greater "wander" . Especially if the steering gear has been tightened too much. The best thing to do is start by verifying if you do have radicals or bias ply tires. If radicals, can you verify the date of manufacture?

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Guest Buick56Special
Congrats on your purchase. Looks like a well preserved car. But lets go back to the tires. Those tires in your picture look like bias ply tires to me. Bias ply tires do result in greater "wander" . Especially if the steering gear has been tightened too much. The best thing to do is start by verifying if you do have radicals or bias ply tires. If radicals, can you verify the date of manufacture?

They are radials which were purchased new when the car was restored in 1996-97. They don't have any cracks or other signs of age on them so I'm going to stick with them because I don't want to spend $1000 on a set of radial wide whitewalls right now. (Does anyone here have a decent used set of 15" WWW for sale?) Here's what it looked like during the frame-on resto in 1996-97....

post-105427-14314291352_thumb.jpg

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Unfortunately, compared to "past times", exterior cosmetic conditions might not accurately reflect the INTERNAL issues with modern tires. Tires as old as yours are certainly out of the "warrantiable" 6 year specification (even if they were in a warehouse all of that time, unmounted).

Other than "specs", knowing where and HOW to do possible needed adjustments are possibly more of an issue than just having "the specs". I also suspect that many repair shops want "normal" alignments rather than an older car their techs (possibly born after the car was built) know little about (other than setting toe-in). By observation, almost all McPherson strut assemblies I've seen have a short slot for their lower attachment point. On the top, slotting the adjustment holes can be an option. But UNLESS the car has seen some collision damage, caster and camber should be "in/close to specs". If not, then it's "body shop time". No doubt, the "strut bending" orientation is left over from the Ford Twin I-beam days? Of a new "flat rate" method? Neither of which would apply to your car.

As for steering gear adjustments, it can be an issue IF the adjustment is too tight, as mentioned. I don't recall as much as 1" free play, though, even at the perimeter of a 20" steering wheel, that can be "a lot", even if its 1/2" in either direction from "center). Even if "the top adjuster" on the gear box is adjusted to spec AND steering wander might still exist, then it could well be the "other adjustment" on the input side of the steering box . . . what GM calls the "adjuster plug" . . . Twhich also has a thrust-type adjustment. IF the pitman arm is held stationary, when the steering wheel turns, the steering shaft can more "up or down" a little. It's the adjuster plug adjustment which keeps THIS adjustment in spec and also where the upper shaft seal can be located. Might take a specialized wrench to make that adjustment though, rather than a normal wrench.

To double-check the steering gear adjustment, from my own experiences, do the "normal" adjustment to get it where when you try to lightly turn the steering wheel (when the vehicle is stationary), you have minimal free play as the tire wants to turn (from linkage input), but also freely returns to center when driving (after executing a turn). Once "there", if there is still wandering, the input side of the gear adjustment could be where the next point of concern might be . . . providing all of the under-car linkage is in good condition. DO NOT forget about correct front wheel bearing adjustment being "in-spec" as a final part of the steering linkage system!

Also be aware that you can't compare "steering tightness" to current-production vehicles, but a better comparison would be to a well-maintained '60s era vehicle. By observation, they should all drive down the road straight, smooth, and non-wandering. Nor should an older car take a great deal more effort to drive, either, as they didn't "when new", by observation. Or perhaps "steering tightness" could more accurately described by "steering response".

Where an alignment tech can "be worth his salt" is in product knowledge and knowing how it all works together. What is secondary is the type of equipment they might use, by observation, whether a basic bubble camber/caster gauge or an electronic "head" which clamps onto the wheel or tire. Plus how far something can be "tweaked" to get the desired results. These people still exist, just not quite in the numbers as in past times, when such "older cars" were more common. The tech's age can be a variable situation, though.

Please keep us advised,

NTX5467

Edited by NTX5467 (see edit history)
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Tires that old will likely deteriorate quickly when in use. Steel belts break. Tread grooves separate. I don't know what you spent for this vehicle and am not looking to find out. But ask yourself if its worth risking a crash cause of old tires? Buy tires in pairs if need be, but front end alignment and other adjustments will never mask even one bad tire.

Happy New Year, and best of luck. Also this years Buick Club National Meet is in Springfield Missouri. Would like to meet you and see your car.

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The 1 inch of free play is at the outer extreme of the Steering wheel. I'm pretty sure if you try to take it to less than that you will get binding if it's a manual steering car. I adjusted my 48 Plymouth when I put the replacement box in and much under 1 inch it would start to bind and not recenter. I adjusted up my 36 Chrysler as well and it was happy with the same adjustment. That was with new king pins and bushings as well as all new tie rod ends.

I don't think anyone else has mentioned it but I would also make sure the box has grease (oil) in it. A dry box will bind as well.

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Guest Buick56Special
I emailed Fred so hopefully I'll hear back from him.

Fred called me this afternoon and we had a nice chat for half an hour. He recommended a couple of places in Louisville where I could get an alignment. He said they only accept new members into their chapter of the AACA in October which I thought was a little weird. He said to contact him in August or September so I could fill out an application. They have a limit of 275 members so I guess they can pick and choose among the applicants. Are all chapters like that?

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Perhaps the administration of that group, considering the size and all, might put that "acceptance month" in place to ease bookkeeping issues of processing memberships and such? I'm sure there is a valid reason that might not be readily apparent. Although there might be some logistical issues with a group that large (and the resultantly large group for monthly meetings!), I somewhat it's a way for them to be selective in who joins and who doesn't, as new members. Still, it can be a good network to associate with, just as BCA membership can also be.

Enjoy!

NTX5467

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Fred called me this afternoon and we had a nice chat for half an hour. He recommended a couple of places in Louisville where I could get an alignment. He said they only accept new members into their chapter of the AACA in October which I thought was a little weird. He said to contact him in August or September so I could fill out an application. They have a limit of 275 members so I guess they can pick and choose among the applicants. Are all chapters like that?

NO, Most Regions are not limiting the number of members, but a few have grown quite large, and as NXT5467 noted : it can be a good network to associate with, just as BCA membership can also be.

get back with me anytime, as well

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Guest Buick56Special

I checked out the BCA website and there are no chapters in Louisville or anywhere in Kentucky for that matter. The closest ones are over 100 miles away in the Indianapolis and Nashville areas....

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Guest Buick56Special

I had the front end aligned today at one of the shops recommended by Fred Trusty, the president of the Louisville chapter of the AACA. The tech said the toe-in was off so both front tires were pointing outwards which explains why it was so hard to steer. He also tightened up the screw on one end of the center link four turns because he said it was way too loose and he also heavily greased everything up front which I'm sure helped too. It made a big difference so now I can steer it with one finger instead of two hands. We took it for a spin when he was done which is when he explained to me all that he had done to it. I had brought five Motor Life magazines from the '50s with me to read while I was waiting so I gave them to him when we got back to the shop as a token of my appreciation. Even though I was there over two hours I was only charged $85 which is their labor charge for one hour so I think giving him the magazines saved me a few bucks. I'm very glad that the problem has been resolved and thanks again to all those who offered advice and positive comments....

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Congratulations Again! Now you can really enjoy that nice car. A ton of tow-out is what it sounds like, plus a 'tweak' of the center link.

Not bad, and now you have a few connections in your area.

Skinned Knuckles has a listing of shows, events etc. I've many times found some event I'd never heard of from this list. The Skinned Knucles

magazine has a lot to offer, you might try a year's subscription, and see if you find events and local car clubs listed.

Best of luck, and I hope your weather stays dry and reasonably warm so you can enjoy your car.

GLong

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