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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
If you are like me, you have your super cool lifted Xterra, and as a result, have spent more money than you'd like to admit getting alignments done. This post is just a brief explanation of the specs, and documentation of my alignment results and any commentary I have on how it drives. My goal is to help people reduce the number of times they fool around with a lifted alignment, and make people more informed when they are at the alignment shop. Having real examples of results will help interpret your print out at the shop. Post your alignment results up, and offer a review of how it drove and any tire wear issues!

The very first thing: don't bother getting an alignment if you don't put the money up front to get the proper kits and parts to keep your alignment reliable. This means not only UCAs, but also idler arm braces, center links, idler arm bushings, UCA bushings, etc. Especially with larger tires, a non-reinforced steering system won't be able to hold your tires in place reliably. The numbers will look great off the alignment rack, but they will quickly drift after you drive out of the parking lot. In my experience, the stock style center link was the major issue to a reliable alignment. Don't forget to observe the 1/2" gap at the stock bump stop for a better alignment.

Moving on, let's review the commonly accepted alignment specs for a lifted Xterra, and compare them to the stock alignment specs.

Lifted Alignment:

1) Camber: 0 degrees or as close as possible
2) Caster: Maximum caster on passenger side while maintaining zero camber. Adjust driver side caster to be slightly less while maintaining zero camber.
3) Toe In: 0.33 degrees or 0.16 inches of total toe in.

Stock Alignment:

1) Camber: 0.1 degree to 1.1 degree
2) Caster: 1.67 degrees to 2.67 degrees
3) Toe In: 0.33 degrees total toe in or 0.16 inches total toe in

The toe in specification is the exact same as the stock spec, and is independently adjusted by the tie rods. No issues at all here. Any shop should get this 100% perfectly.

To note the differences in camber and caster, understand how they are adjusted. Each UCA mount has a slot with an eccentric/offset bolt and washers. These are adjusted to move the mounting pivots forward or back. Camber and caster are inter-related...they are not independent adjustments. Camber is adjusted by moving each pivot point in and out together. Caster is created by the offset of the UCA pivots from the front to back bolt.

If you are comparing the stock specs to the lifted specs, the main difference is we like to specify zero degrees of camber for a lifted truck with bigger tires. This may be ideal for having maximum contact patch on the ground and even tire wear on wide tires, but going below the camber specification also reduces the amount of caster you can achieve due to the limitations of the bolt positions. This is why we specify maximum caster: we are prioritizing zero camber, and going with as much caster as we can...knowing it will be lower than the actual specification. Caster will impact tracking and stability...but you can reduce it some with minimal impact. It is a balancing act, and not everyone understands the mechanics of the suspension well enough to follow our instructions.

If you want to align your truck to the factory specification, you can get all numbers close to nominal, but you are allowing for the positive camber to get the increased caster. Also, note that the stock specification doesn't specify a difference from left to right. The suggested caster split from left to right will induce a slight pull to the left, which compensates for road crown to keep the truck straight on a road.

Now for my previous alignments. These were all done with 3" lift UCAs from 4x4parts.com and a 1/2" gap between the stock bump stop, but with differing steering components along the way.


First Alignment:

______________ L__ _____R
Camber _______-.3 ____0.2
Caster ________1.1_____ 1.3
Toe In ____ _______.33

Here you can see they didn't really do a great job of the camber. Left side was negative camber while right side was positive. They did get the right side caster higher than the left, and the total toe in is pretty straight forward. It drove OK, but the low caster numbers made it feel VERY tight in turns (parking lots, U-turns, etc). The reduced caster makes the tires turn pretty sharp...the best way to describe it is that it feels like it doesn't really roll through a tight turn, but like you think your tire may just flop over in a turn and break something because it seems almost perpendicular to the road. I did not notice anything as a result of the caster split from left to right. It tracked pretty straight. I just got used to doing 3 point turns in parking spaces and not turning the wheel to full lock.


Second Alignment:

___________L _____R
Camber__ __0.3____ 0.1
Caster _____2.1____ 2.0
Toe In ________0.3

Here is an alignment where everything is "in the green" per the factory spec. The camber is higher than zero, but my caster got up to 2+ degrees. At least the camber is on the low side of specification, though. No real caster split. The positive camber wasn't extremely noticeable visually or by tire wear. This tracked straight, had a very smooth turning motion, and was probably the best driving alignment I had ever had. I didn't have this long enough to evaluate tire wear, but I have to imagine that if it is within the factory spec, it can't be that bad in the long run.

Third Alignment:

____________L______ R
Camber_____ -0.1 _____.1
Caster______ 1.2_____ 1.3
Toe In: ________0.31

This is the "best" alignment I got per the lifted alignment specification. The camber was very close to zero (they kept flickering between 0, and +/- 0.1). As expected, to lock in that zero camber, the caster was sacrificed. No real caster split left to right, but I never found it too necessary from previous alignments (and per FSM). Toe in is normal. This drives OK. The camber visually is dead set at zero. It still has the low caster tight turn feel, and it gets a little darty on the highway. I could definitely tell a difference between 1.2 degrees caster and 2.1.


Fourth Alignment
_________L______R
Camber: -0.1_____0.0
Caster: __3.3_____3.1
Toe:_____0.16____0.17

I did this alignment by fabricating my own camber gauge and adjusting the control arm locations myself (see page 3 of this thread) to the maximum caster position. I started with the maximum amount of caster (rear UCA mount max inwards, front UCA mount max outwards), and measured the camber and made slight adjustments to get to zero. I went to Firestone to get a toe-in alignment only. My camber gauge did great.

What I more importantly found out is that I had a LOT of room left for adjusting caster all this time, but more than a half dozen technicians at different shops couldn't get it figured out. With these results, I could reduce caster while keeping camber zero to have Caster/Toe at factory spec with camber zero. I could also adjust to negative camber, and still have factory specified caster.


All in all...the major take away here is the camber vs. caster competition as they are not independent adjustments. This confuses many technicians and makes it difficult to get the "lifted" specs done correctly. The lifted alignment specs calls for zero camber and to sacrifice caster if necessary. The stock specs call for positive camber and a lot of caster. With a lifted truck, this becomes a balancing act between maximum stability and tracking vs. maximum contact patch and wear protection of $1000+ worth of tires. Take these comments and make yourself more informed next time you have to get an alignment.
 

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Running 1/8" more BS gap let's me easily play with alignment settings. Run negative camber with high amount of caster. Toe is perfect. That 1/8" extra gap at the bumpstops is not noticable and it rides much better on the street.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Running 1/8" more BS gap let's me easily play with alignment settings. Run negative camber with high amount of caster. Toe is perfect. That 1/8" extra gap at the bumpstops is not noticable and it rides much better on the street.
Awesome info! That is good to know. Do you have lift UCAs? Any chance you have the actual print out of your alignment numbers? I am just curious how they came out.

Did you go to a chain type shop (Firestone, etc) or a specialty tire and alignment shop? How did you instruct the technician what you wanted, or were you able to work with the tech yourself?

I see a lot of questions on the alignment specs, so I thought I would make a thread to kind of explain where the "lifted alignment specs" come from and actual examples of alignment results so people can judge and determine how their alignment came out.
 

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Man I'm glad I'm not the only one dealing with this. I've had my truck for a little over 6 years and I bet I've had at least 10 alignments. Mostly because I keep messing with the front end lol.

They've all been pretty similar- a little positive camber, toe-in according to spec, and very slightly less caster on driver than passenger, or sometimes equal.

They've all driven pretty well. It still grabs ruts kind of bad. But it tracks straight and turns well. I've always gotten very slight cupping on the outsides of the front tires, probably from the positive camber, but rotating those to the back on opposite sides reverses it.

I now go to a Les Schwab with a guy that aligns all of the vehicles they lift. He doesn't agree with the specs but does it and doesn't complain.

There's a weird issue on mine. I have UCAs but I can only lift around 2" before the camber adjustment is maxed out on the pass side. Plenty of eccentric to go on the driver but it is maxed out on passenger. Something is probably out of whack on that side from an accident it was in before I bought it.
 

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Have AC UCAs. Lifetime alignment through Firestone. Only one tech there that can do whatever I ask for on my alignment. All the other techs are idiots. Since he adjusts to whatever I feel like trying; he gets his lunch easily paid for each time he does my alignment. Otherwise I know he would be losing money. I'll see if I can find a printout.
 

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Cannot find the current one at the moment. Yeah, if I had a bad tech the caster was always in the low 2 range. Most did what they could to avoid touching the eccentric washers/bolts on the UCAs and did a crap alignment. Had the caster 3.1 & 2.8 on one good alignment. That was with 0 camber and .31 tow. That was pre AC UCAs. Just PML. I will need to get one done again soon. Looking at changing a couple things around cargo carrying wise and suspension wise.
 

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I took mine to a specialty shop after I installed a Grassroots4x4 centre link, new ball joints, a decent set of UCA bushings, HD tie-rod adjusters, IAB and new tires. It's the first good alignment I've had since the PML and then the 3" AC lift I ended up doing after that.

Honestly, don't even bother doing a 3" SL without upgrading the steering parts. You won't get a decent alignment and you will burn through tires and possibly ball joints as well without doing the steering.

Even just swapping out the centre link made a huge improvement over the stock one before the alignment. Seriously, DO NOT LIFT YOUR XTERRA WITHOUT UPGRADING THE STEERING WITH EVEN THE CHEAPEST OPTION FROM GRASSROOTS4X4....;)
 

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Yeah - The upper stop gap being too high means not enough caster for good stability.

I recommend 1/2" - 3/4" for that reason, not 1/2" period...as some rigs need that added gap. As mentioned, even an extra 1/8" can be great enough to fix it.

Essentially, a lot of CASTER is like a chopper (Motorcycle) with the front tire waay out in front of the steering - very stable for cruising, not so great at emergency avoidance/cafe racing, etc.

The compromise, for us typically, is enough to be stable/not darty...and not much more. (Too little caster is like the wheels on an office chair that trail the mounts, and wobble like mad when going fast...but can change direction in a heart beat)



As a lift drops the tires down and inward on an IFS...you need to be able to pull the TOPS of the tires back inboard/more upright to correct the CAMBER.

Too much camber, and you wear the outer tire edges. Too little, and you wear the inner edges.

A sports car might be designed to run some negative camber, so the tires are leaning in at the tops, and can roll the contact patch more flat when loading in a hard curve, etc.

IE: Handling is typically better with a little negative camber....and the more you lift, the harder you work to not have POSITIVE camber.

>:D
 

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Discussion Starter #9
...DO NOT LIFT YOUR XTERRA WITHOUT UPGRADING THE STEERING WITH EVEN THE CHEAPEST OPTION FROM GRASSROOTS4X4....;)
I agree with you there. I have the AC UCAs, grass roots center link, gusseted idler/pitman arms, idler arm brace, and bandit4x4 bushings. My alignment should be reliable enough to be good.

I also have the life time alignment with fire stone. One of the tech's I was trying to talk through and help figure the alignment out and he told me one UCA bolt was for camber and the other was for caster! hmmm.

I didn't have any specific questions regarding alignment...I know I have just seen a lot of questions on the specs, etc and asking if their numbers came out OK, so I thought I would give a bit of an explanation and ask if others had their alignment results to share and review.

I just checked my UCA bolt/washer positions and both the front and rear mount are in the middle position. I definitely have more room to get caster adjusted in.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
While searching for a DIY at home camber/caster gauge, I came across a powerpoint slide show from Hunter Engineering (IE: the company that makes the fancy laser alignment racks). It had some graphics that did a GREAT job of explaining the camber/caster relationships with respect to symmetrical control arms. It my estimation, it seems that most technicians don't understand these concepts enough to see where the numbers are currently at, and adjust them to target a custom specification.

To get the most caster possible, you want to adjust the rear UCA mount/cam bolt inboard as far as it will go, and the front UCA mount/cam bolt outboard as far as it will go.

Note the camber of the tire with this maximum caster angle. If it is positive, bring the front UCA mount/cam bolt in until you reduce caster and camber to the point where camber is zero. If it is negative, bring the rear UCA mount/cam bolt outward until you reduce caster and increase camber to zero.

You should be done after that. Toe in will change with camber/caster adjustments...but the toe adjustment doesn't change the camber or caster. So once you set the control arms, adjust the toe, and you are done.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
***Uploading remaining power point slides***
 

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I will more than likely have them try to set it up like this next time. Want the lower caster to me for a couple reasons.

L. R
Camber -.1 -- -.1

Caster 1.8 -- 2.1

Toe .33
 

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Has anyone successfully done an alignment at home? I'll be doing the PML soon and doubt the inbreds around here will get it right. I've done it on other vehicles before with good results but never on my Xterra.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Has anyone successfully done an alignment at home? I'll be doing the PML soon and doubt the inbreds around here will get it right. I've done it on other vehicles before with good results but never on my Xterra.
I have done home grown alignments for the toe in.

I used jack stands and string to put up a box around the vehicle ~16" off the ground. I made sure the string was parallel on each side to the frame rail by measuring the distance from the front and rear edges of my rock slider/step rail. I then measured from the string to the rim lip on the front side and back side of each front tire, and adjust the tie rod accordingly. You want the string to rim distance to be slightly larger on the front side as opposed to the rear edge. It turned out fine, but was a very tedious process. you have to bounce the suspension a few times or roll it forward and back to re-settle and re-measure, though. If you don't, you can adjust the tie rod, and it will just shift the ball joints without moving the tire, which of course is what you are measuring.

I am currently looking to home-fabricate a gauge for camber. There are a few of them out there, but are generally ~$200. There are some incredibly simple DIY gauges if you do a google search on them.

It really depends what level of accuracy you want. You can use a digital level/angle finder on a steel frame to get a better accuracy...or a simple bubble level and "eyeball" it to zero camber.
 

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Has anyone successfully done an alignment at home? I'll be doing the PML soon and doubt the inbreds around here will get it right. I've done it on other vehicles before with good results but never on my Xterra.
I was taught to do alignments with a tape measure and a level. If you want to make some homemade alignment plates(goes under front wheels), take two plates of steel (smooth is preferable), and put some heavy duty grease in between them so the tires can move when making adjustments...it doesn't do perfect, but it works, if this isn't an option, after each adjustment you can drive/roll the car backwards a few feet, the forward to make it true, pain in the butt, but works too ...then make as much castor as possible(adjusting the front UCA/cam bolts forward and rear backwards) while you take a 16-18" level and use bungies to hold it to the wheels(make sure they are either touching the outer lip, or have the exact same gap in between the rim edges) for the camber, make it perfectly plumb(straight up and down/0 degrees camber) with as much castor as possible while maintaining the 0 camber. Then pick a spot on your tires to measure from front and rear, outer tread blocks are perfect for this, but make sure you're measuring from the same spot on both tires, and measure the difference, the front should have roughly 1/8" less on the measurement than the rear. Did that for my 94 Pathy(although I had shims bot cam bolts), and the guys at Big O couldn't believe I got it dead on at home.

Darin
01 Xterra SE 4x4
COMING SOON:
Intake mod, timing belt, hoses, belts
Wish list:
PML, EFan conversion, shocks, 32" tires, and eventually UCA'S
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
Excellent description XterraD4u! A few things to add:

Instead of steel plates, I have read that getting a few 1 square foot linoleum floor tiles works for the slip plates. Cheaper than steel plates and will still slide on grease. I have also just used cardboard on my smooth concrete garage floor, and that work decently, especially if you have some dust or dirt on the floor lol!

You can bungee the level to the tire and space it off the rim like you described, but there are also several ideas for a simple home made camber gauge which uses that same basic concept:







This one is cheap and would be easy to use on the auto locking 4WD hub:



A lot of people substitute a metal bar and use a magnetic digital level/angle finder...and they use longer bolts to act as a "stand off" so you can hold it against the rim without worrying about the tire side wall bulge.

My next project will be something like a combination of this:



and



I could weld up some steel tube in a "T" and use some bolts to act as a stand off to brace on the rim lip. If I make the bottom leg of the T longer, I can use that for toe in.

The hardest part is making the device precise enough to have reliable measurements...so maybe I am over analyzing this (probably).
 

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Finally got a couple little things I needed so I could do a fresh alignment. I did mention I like camber. It serves it's purpose offroad for me as much as it does on road.






Pic so you can see I am still roughly 1.5" rake.



 

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Finally got a couple little things I needed so I could do a fresh alignment. I did mention I like camber. It serves it's purpose offroad for me as much as it does on road.






Pic so you can see I am still roughly 1.5" rake.



Looks SEXY with the old legos....man I wish I had my old ones from my 94 pathy...that and I wish you could swap lsd packs...lol. I also like that you gave a little negative camber, that helps when you load down the rear or with maneuvering while towing...do you have the UCA's?
Edit: nevermind...lol

Darin
01 Xterra SE 4x4
COMING SOON:
Intake mod, timing belt, hoses, belts
Wish list:
PML, EFan conversion, shocks, 32" tires, and eventually UCA'S
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
I just finished up my home made alignment gauge for lifted alignments! Here are the results and how I did it!


First, we fabricate! I used 2 tubes of steel from Lowe's. I used 1 inch square tube that was 1/8" wall thickness and 4 feet long. I cut the tubes to make a 1 foot section and a 3 foot section. I welded the tubes into a T using a 90 degree magnet jig and some clamps to maintain the angles. I carefully measured and drilled 3 holes 1/4" in diameter. Two holes go along the 3 foot section. One hole goes on the top of the 1 foot section. I used 4" long 1/4" machine screws, and fastened them to the jig with wing nuts. Make two of the T-jigs.



Now you can rest the long tube on the bottom lip/flat surface of your rim by the tips of the bolts. The bolts serve as a stand to space the frame and clear the 4WD hub. Shift it around so the bottom tube is level. The top bolt on the tube should rest nicely against the top lip/flat surface. Use a small bungee to hold the frame in place on the rim.



I used a magnetic level to stick to the vertical tube of the frame to measure camber. You can also lay the frame down on the ground next to the vehicle tire (bolt tips down), and press the ZERO button on the level. This will measure the angle relative to the ground, and help account for a surface that is not perfectly flat.



Starting with the fact that we want maximum caster: I adjusted the rear UCA mount all the way inwards and the front UCA mount all the way outwards. This offset is the most caster possible for that ride height.



I then measured the camber with my gauge. I was already reading close to 0 degrees at the maximum caster position. That was easy!

If your camber was too POSITIVE...then you adjust the front UCA mount inwards some to bring the top of the tire in...until you hit zero camber (or whatever your target is).

If your camber was NEGATIVE...then you adjust the rear UCA mount outwards to push the top of the tire out...until you hit zero camber (or whatever your target is).

With two of these T jigs...you can measure toe in. Use a tape measure to find the distance at the front tips and rear tips of the square tube. You need only very SMALL adjustments to the tie rod here. You also need some sort of slip plate...otherwise when you adjust the tie rod, it just shifts the ball joints around without moving the tire. Without slip plates, it takes some patience, and trial and error to resettle the suspension and re-check your toe in after adjustments.

It honestly wasn't worth it for me...I ended up taking it to Firestone to have them do the toe in only, since that is independent of Camber/Caster.




RESULTS!

Per my gauge, I should have maximum caster and zero camber (perhaps slightly negative).

The print out of my alignment reads:

Camber: -0.1 L_____0.0 R
Caster: 3.3 L_____3.1 R
Toe: 0.16 L_____0.17 R

Conclusion: This gauge was very accurate with 0.0 and -0.1 read by the laser alignment rack. Given that the numbers have a tendency to shift a degree +/-...the digital level and T jig worked great.

The best method for a lifted alignment is to start with a maximum caster split at the UCA mounts, and adjust a single mount to get the camber you are aiming for (zero or negative).

The fact that my caster is high compared to factory specification, indicates that I could have more negative camber and still be at nominal caster per the FSM...or I could raise the lift some more and still have room for an alignment.
 

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I just finished up my home made alignment gauge for lifted alignments! Here are the results and how I did it!


First, we fabricate! I used 2 tubes of steel from Lowe's. I used 1 inch square tube that was 1/8" wall thickness and 4 feet long. I cut the tubes to make a 1 foot section and a 3 foot section. I welded the tubes into a T using a 90 degree magnet jig and some clamps to maintain the angles. I carefully measured and drilled 3 holes 1/4" in diameter. Two holes go along the 3 foot section. One hole goes on the top of the 1 foot section. I used 4" long 1/4" machine screws, and fastened them to the jig with wing nuts. Make two of the T-jigs.



Now you can rest the long tube on the bottom lip/flat surface of your rim by the tips of the bolts. The bolts serve as a stand to space the frame and clear the 4WD hub. Shift it around so the bottom tube is level. The top bolt on the tube should rest nicely against the top lip/flat surface. Use a small bungee to hold the frame in place on the rim.



I used a magnetic level to stick to the vertical tube of the frame to measure camber. You can also lay the frame down on the ground next to the vehicle tire (bolt tips down), and press the ZERO button on the level. This will measure the angle relative to the ground, and help account for a surface that is not perfectly flat.



Starting with the fact that we want maximum caster: I adjusted the rear UCA mount inwards and the front UCA mount outwards. This offset is the most caster possible for that ride height.



I then measured the camber with my gauge. I was already reading close to 0 degrees degrees at the maximum caster position. That was easy!

If your camber was too POSITIVE...then you adjust the front UCA mount inwards some to bring the top of the tire in...until you hit zero camber (or whatever your target is).

If your camber was NEGATIVE...then you adjust the rear UCA mount outwards to push the top of the tire out...until you hit zero camber (or whatever your target is).

With two of these T jigs...you can measure toe in. Use a tape measure to find the distance at the front tips and rear tips of the square tube. You need only very SMALL adjustments to the tie rod here. You also need some sort of slip plate...otherwise when you adjust the tie rod, it just shifts the ball joints around without moving the tire. Without slip plates, it takes some patience, and trial and error to resettle the suspension and re-check your toe in after adjustments.

It honestly wasn't worth it for me...I ended up taking it to Firestone to have them do the toe in only, since that is independent of Camber/Caster.




RESULTS!

Per my gauge, I should have maximum caster and zero camber (perhaps slightly negative).

The print out of my alignment reads:

Camber: -0.1 L_____0.0 R
Caster: 3.3 L_____3.1 R
Toe: 0.16 L_____0.17 R

Conclusion: This gauge was very accurate with 0.0 and -0.1 read by the laser alignment rack. Given that the numbers have a tendency to shift a degree +/-...the digital level and T jig worked great.

The best method for a lifted alignment is to start with a maximum caster split at the UCA mounts, and adjust a single mount to get the camber you are aiming for (zero or negative).

The fact that my caster is high compared to factory specification, indicates that I could have more negative camber and still be at nominal caster per the FSM...or I could raise the lift some more and still have room for an alignment.
Very nicely done...now if I'm not mistaken the caster is slightly less on the passenger, and it should be the other way around to account for road slope...unless I'm reading it backwards...lol...but that way it tracks straight on most roads

Darin
01 Xterra SE 4x4
COMING SOON:
Intake mod, timing belt, hoses, belts
Wish list:
PML, EFan conversion, shocks, 32" tires, and eventually UCA'S
 
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