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Is your car pulling to the left or perhaps right as you drive down the road? It may be time for a front end alignment. The front end alignment is perhaps more common than the rear wheel alignment simply because the steering and suspension parts are under the most stress as we turn and corner during everyday driving.

If you are tired of paying $100 every time your alignment gets out of whack, you may want to consider a DIY Alignment. The process is fairly straight forward and simple so just about any handyman can do it.  Before getting started there are a few items of consideration that are a must read.

DYI alignments are quick and dirty

For greater accuracy, it is best to let the pros align your steering system. The method that I am about to show you is used to adjust the toe which is the most common adjustment. This is basically the degree to which each wheel is turned in or out. Ideally, when your steering wheel is completely straight, you will have zero toe in or out. Each wheel has its own toe adjustment and will have to be tweaked individually.

Doing a toe adjustment is a quick way to get your car back in line without having to bring it to the shop. Since the toe adjustment is typically the one that goes out, we will only be adjusting this. The alignment shop can also adjust the caster angle and camber angle on some vehicles but not all. They use precision computerized equipment to perfectly align all 3 – toe, caster, and camber on all 4 tires.

That being said, we are technically doing a partial alignment, adjusting the most important part of the steering system on the front end. If you have just installed a new set of tires it is advisable to allow the tire shop to also do a four wheel alignment.

Is you steering system tight? Check components before getting started

Before starting your front end alignment, it is very important to ensure that you are working with a tight steering system. If you steering components are worn out, making adjustments will often yield poor results and your car or truck will quickly return to its original state of misalignment. Any slop in the steering system will allow your wheel to twist and turn in any direction that it desires while driving down the road.

As your vehicle ages, so will its steering and suspension components. Tie rod ends, ball joints, pitman arm, wheel bearings, rack and pinion bushings and a number of other worn components can cause slack in the steering system. If your vehicle is older with higher mileage, several components may be worn. A little slack here, a little slack there will result in excess play which can often be felt in the steering wheel. Do you have to turn your wheel an inch or two before the wheels respond? Odds are you have some worn steering or suspension parts. These must be fixed before proceeding.

Next time your mechanic has your car up in the air, have him check the steering and suspension system. Check it yourself by raising the vehicle and playing with the wheel. Pull it forward, backwards, side to side, push up, turn the steering wheel etc and check where each component meets while looking for a measurable amount of play. Very little  to no play should be present in all components.

Incorrectly adjusting your toe can cause more harm than good

As mentioned, this is a do it yourself project but this does not necessarily mean that this task is for everyone. If by any chance after reading these instructions you do not feel comfortable adjusting your cars toe, leave this work up to the professionals. Adjusting your toe can cause your car to pull harder to one side, causing severe wear on the inside or outside of the tires. In addition, this could also cause handling and safety concerns when driving your car.

How to adjust your alignment toe

Tools needed

  • Straight 2×4 and a level
  • Various sizes of wood shims to level the vehicle
  • Two adjustable jack stands
  • 20′ or so of nylon string. Preferably florescent in color for easy viewing
  • A micrometer
  • 2 wrenches used to loosen tie rod adjustment
  • Tie rod adjusting tool or channel locks

Park your vehicle on a level surface

To begin, it is important to park your car on a level surface. A garage floor may be a good place to perform this task or perhaps a level driveway. Choose a surface that is as level as possible before beginning this procedure. If necessary, make adjustments to the surface by adding various sizes of scrap wood under the tires. You can use a long 2×4 and a level to determine the amount of shimming necessary to allow the vehicle to rest on a level surface. In my case, no shimming was necessary as the concrete surface that I worked on was quite level.

Run a string to establish a reference point

Front end alignment reference lineWhen you car rolls down the road, the front wheels and rear wheels should be positioned precisely in line with one another. Knowing this, you are able to use the center of the rear and front wheel as a reference point when trying to establish which way and how much your toe should be adjusted.

Before running your string, position the front wheels in the straight forward position and the steering wheel must be completely straight. Failure to do so can cause you to throw your alignment way off.

Run a nylon string from the front of the car to the rear of the car. Make the length of the string slightly longer than the entire run of the tire.  Tie each end to a jack stand and position the line where it meets in the center of the hub. Start with one wheel (the rear wheel in this case for purpose of demonstration) and use a micrometer to measure the distance between the center hub and where it meets the string. The exact distance does not matter at this point.

Alignment reference stringLock the micrometer in this position and move to the front wheel. Adjust your jack stand and string so that the distance between the string and center hub is precisely the same as what you measured at the rear. Go back and check your rear measurement to ensure that this measurement has not changed. Once you have a string running from the front of the car to the rear, equal distance from the center hub, you are ready to check your toe.

Check your toe and make a determination

how to measure toeUse your micrometer and measure the distance from one side of the lip of your front rim to where it intersects the reference line. Take the same measurement from the opposite side of the rim lip to where it intersects the reference line. Ensure that you are measuring from the same are of the rim when you take your measurements.

Compare the two measurements. The left side of the rim lip and the right side of the rim lip should be equal distance from the reference line. What if they are not?

How to determine which way to adjust toe

measuring toe in toe outDetermining whether you need to adjust the toe in or out is quite simple. Here is what you need to know:

  • If the measurement from the front lip of the rim to the reference sting is greater than the measurement from the rear lip of the rim to the reference string then you wheel is pointed inwards. This means that you will have to toe out  to allow your wheel to point straight when the steering wheel is turned straight. 
  • If the measurement from the front lip of the rim to the reference sting is less than the measurement from the rear lip of the rim to the reference string then you wheel is pointed outward. This means that you will have to toe in to allow your wheel to point straight when the steering wheel is turned straight.

Using the toe adjustments

Chevy 1500 truck tie rod adjustmentAfter determining whether you need to toe or out, locate the tie rod adjustment under the car or truck.  They are typically located in line between the pitman arm and steering knuckle. The adjustment sleeve resembles a turnbuckle with a clamp on each end to lock it in position.

Using 2 wrenches, one to loosen and one to back the other end of the bolt, loosen the adjustment sleeve lock down clamps several turns. From here you are able to adjust your vehicles toe by turning the sleeve.

Chevy silverado tie rod adjusting sleeveTake note of the tie rod threads and determine the effects of turning the sleeve one way or the other. Some tie rod sleeves are reverse threaded while others are not. Use a tie rod adjusting tool or pair of channel locks to tighten or loosen the sleeve. If the tie rod attaches to the steering knuckle in front of the tire, turning the sleeve so that it lengthens the tie rod will cause the wheel to toe outward. Likewise, turning the sleeve so that it shortens the tie rod length will cause the wheel to toe inward. If unsure, do a little experimenting to determine the effects of turning the sleeve one way or the other.

If you have determined earlier that you need to move the toe out, turn the sleeve thereby lengthening the tie rod. If you have determined that the toe needs to be moved in, turn the sleeve so that you shorten the tie rod length.

Turn the sleeve one half a revolution at a time and then compare the distance between the rear and front lip of the rim to the reference line. When turned in the correct direction, the distance between the two will eventually become equal. At this point the wheel has been lined up. Now tighten the locking clamps down.

Repeat this procedure for the other side of the car or truck. When completed, your front end should be aligned with both front tires pointing straight forward when the wheel is completely straight. Test drive to ensure that the procedure was done correctly.



Paint finishedIn a previous article, I showed you the basic technique of doing body work. As promised, I will now show you how to finish the job using a two stage paint system sprayed on with a HVLP gun. A special thanks to my father who spent many years in the auto paint industry and assisted me with the writing of this article.

What’s the difference between single stage and two stage paint?

There are basically 2 different ways that you can paint a car. The single stage or the two stage method. Both methods can yield great results. The single stage paint technique was the only way you could paint a car prior to the 1980’s when 2 stage was introduced. With the single stage, the clear coat and base coat are mixed together and sprayed on with multiple coats. The end result often yields surface imperfections that needed to be buffed out.

Two stage paint was introduced in the 1980’s and is still popular today. The idea is to first spray what is called a base coat followed by a clear coat. The clear is spayed directly on top of the base coat almost immediately after the base is sprayed. This technique generally results in a better over all finish. One disadvantage of using a 2 stage is that the clear will eventually peel off and also if you buff too much in one area, you will burn through to the base coat.

Two stage painting – How to

Equipment and supplies required

First, you must gather the proper supplies in order to get the job done. There are a few tools that one must have access to before getting started.

  • HVLP paint gun. HLVP or High-volume, low-pressure gun can be purchased from a number of retailers including Lowe’s, Harbor Freight, or Grainger. Choose one that has a hopper size large enough for the job that you are interested in doing. If you are only painting a small panel such as a door or fender, pick one with an 8 oz or so hopper. Also, check out any available reviews before making a purchase. Some guns are poorly constructed and should be avoided. 
  • Air compressor with hose. This is also another necessity. If you already have an air compressor, ensure that it is large enough to get the job done without running out of pressure or overworking the compressor. The packaging should give you an idea of the types of jobs that it can handle. For instance, a 1 gallon compressor will likely not get the job done.
  • Face mask. Many of the chemicals used are toxic and can cause respiratory problems among other issues. When doing large jobs especially, pick up a respirator that is rated for use with chemicals.

With these three necessities, you are going to need some chemicals and other supplies. Most of these can be picked up from your local paint supplier or even car-quest. Ensure that all the chemicals that you choose are compatible with each other.

  • Paint base coat. If your vehicle is painted the original paint color, there are a couple ways that you can identify the color of the paint. The first is the VIN number located on the dashboard near the drives side. Call the dealership with this number and they can give you the paint code. The other way is to locate the information plate on your vehicle. This plate contains all types of information about your car – paint color, trim type, and other feature. This plate can be located in the door jam, under the hood, inside glove box or even in the trunk. Once you located it, have your local paint store mix a batch up for you. For a small job, a half pint to one pint will do.
  • Reducer. Your paint will be too thick to spray through a paint gun. For this reason, you must thin it out. Since these paints are oil based, mixing with water will not work. You will need a reducer which acts like a thinner, giving you the needed consistency for spraying. Once again, ensure that you choose a product that is comparable with your paint.
  • Clear coat. This is the stuff that makes your car shine and is used during the second stage of painting. Clear coat is simply a semi flexible product that causes the paint to shine and protects it from the elements for many years to come. There are several manufacturers who produce this product. Only a few ounces are required for a small job.
  • Activator. Necessary to activate the clear coat. This product acts as a harder, causing the clear coat to quickly dry to a hard shell. For a small job you will only need a few ounces. Pick an activator that will work in the desired painting temperature range.
  • Prep-sol. This product is used to assist with the removal of surface contaminates prior to paining. It is necessary and ensures that the paint properly sticks to the surface.
  • Lacquer thinner. This is used to clean your spray gun after being used. It is extremely effective at removing fresh paint and clear coat. It will even work on dried paint. Do not use this product under any circumstances near or around where you are about to paint.
  • Lint free paper towels. Before painting, the surface needs to be cleaned of all contaminates, including dust. Standard paper towels are not up for the job. A good quality towel that does not leave lint behind on the surface is a must. Scott’s shop towels are a good choice.
  • Masking tape.  A quality masking tape is a must when painting. Cheap tape can be hard to work with and difficult to remove from surfaces once you are finished. 3M makes some really great products when it comes to painting. These tapes leave a nice clean edge, which is what you want when masking off areas that you don’t want paint on.
  • Masking paper or newspaper.  You will want to mask the area around where you are working with masking paper or newspaper. If you do not paint much, newspaper will do the trick.
  • Miscellaneous.  Paper or plastic cups to mix paint, stir sticks, strainers. Most paint stores will give you these products free of charge.

Choosing a paint location and day

Having a paint booth is not necessary when painting a small panel or in some cases an entire car. I have seen some really great outdoor jobs that are difficult to differentiate from a paint booth job. The key is to choose a good location and good weather. Pick a grassy area away from loose sand. Choose a sunny day, low humidity and low wind. The ideal painting temperature is between 50 degrees and 80 degrees F.

Surface preparation

Prepare area with prep-solOnce the surface to be painted has been sanded and all bare metal primed as described in the dent removal post, you will need to prepare the surface to for painting. First, mask off any surrounding areas that you do not want paint to get on. Use your masking tape and paper to mask off an area that is 1 to 2 feet from where you will be spraying. The more masking you do, the better, as over-spray is difficult to remove. Start by getting a clean edge with 3/4″ tape and then lay your paper down and tape this to the masking tape. The work area needs to be wiped down prior to painting. This step should take place right before you pick up the paint gun and lay the first coat. Use Prep-sol and a lint free paper towel to wipe down the work area. On a moderately warm day, this should evaporate almost instantly.

Apply the base coat

2 stage chromat paint adding full base nason reducer to paint Pour paint into hopper with strainerspraying base coat on doorFor a small panel, you should start by mixing 4 oz or so of paint up. Create a 50/50 mixture of paint and reducer. The reducer will thin out the paint so that it will easily flow from the gun to your panel. This may take some experimenting depending on the technique that you develop and the  paint gun that you choose. Pour your mixed paint into the gun hopper. Use a funnel strainer with a fine mesh screen when pouring just in case there are large contaminates in your paint such as dried bits of paint. In the mean time, fire up your air compressor and allow it to fully charge. Pull the drain plug an allow any water in the tank to escape and then let it fill back up. Water in your air lines is not good and will result in a poor paint job.

Zero in your paint gun by turning the pressure regulator down to get it within the manufactures specifications. This can vary greatly depending on the spray gun that you are using. The pressure will likely be somewhere around 25 PSI for a HLVP gun. Before spraying any paint on the vehicle, wipe the surface down with a paper towel and prep-sol. Spray a bit of paint into the air and adjust your stream. To concentrated and you will get streaks and runs. Too wide, the paint will dry before it hits the surface and will not lay properly. Hold the paint gun approximately 1 foot from the panel and use a sweeping motion to apply. While doing this, pay close attention and ensure that you are slightly overlapping your spray lines. Too much overlap or not enough overlap and you will have wet or dry streaks. Apply several coats, waiting a couple minutes between coats. When finished, the entire panel should be one consistent color. It will not shine yet but don’t worry, this step is next.

Apply the clear coat

Pouring clear coat Adding activator to clear Mirror with clear coatThe clear coat is applied in the same manner. Once the base coat is applied, clean your gun out by pouring thinner in the hopper, cap it, give it a shake and force the thinner through the gun to clean out the inside components. Do this a couple times and you are ready to apply the clear coat. Ensure that all thinner has been cleared before proceeding.

As with the paint, you will need to mix the clear coat before applying. The clear uses an activator that allows it to harden quickly. Without it, your clear will remain tacky and never dry. When shopping for an activator, take the ambient temperature into consideration. There are three different types of activator that you can purchase – High, medium and low temperature. Since we are going to be painting above 55 degrees, the mid temperature activator will be sufficient.

Mix up 4 oz or so of the clear coat according to the manufactures instructions. Pour the clear into your hopper and adjust your spray once again as described above. You will want a nice wet layer but not too wet. Use a sweeping motion to apply the clear coat while paying close attention to the wet edge. Look closely when applying to ensure that you are not putting it on too dry as this will result in a rough surface. Once the clear has been sprayed on, allow it to dry as you clean out your paint gun as described above.

Remove the masking tape and paper

Soon after painting you will want to remove the masking tape and paper. It is a good idea to do this just minutes after the clear coat has been laid. Carefully peal back the paper and tape at a 45 degree angle, being careful not to disturb the freshly laid paint. It is important to pay close attention as one slip at this point can ruin a good paint job.

Clean off any over spray immediately with prep-sol

Use a rag and prep-sol to clean off any residual over spray. Over spray is simply the paint and clear coat that has landed in areas other than where anticipated. If you catch the over spray early, a simple wipe will remove it. Old over spray will require a bit more elbow grease.

Sand and buff to a smooth finish

The fresh paint has been laid and a few days later you run your fingers across the panel and notice it has a bit of grit in it. This is simply dust and other organic material that has landed on your clear coat before it had a chance to dry. Give your paint a couple days to dry. Take a piece of 800 or 1000 sand paper and lightly wet sand it. Afterwards, hit the area with a rubbing compound and buffing wheel. Finish the job by applying a fresh coat of wax. Remember, since this is a two stage finish, if the contaminates are in the bottom base coat, buffing will do no good as it will remove the clear coat, leaving you with a dull unprotected finish. Only surface contaminates in the clear coat can be sanded and buffed out.


Before and After. Note, rear door dent was not removed. 

Dent is car door Paint finished


A couple years ago I purchased a Stihl MS250 chainsaw to cut down a few trees around my property. I regretfully admit to allowing old gas sit in the carburetor and tank for several months while it was not used. As a result, the internal diaphragm and fuel pump has suffered, rendering it unable.

After allowing your chainsaw to sit for several months, one day you try to start it. You pull and pull and pull until you are blue in the face. The saw may kick over a time or two but does not continue to run. What you may be experiencing here is a fuel delivery problem.

Stihl MS 250 ChainsawSince there are several possibilities here, it is very important to properly diagnose the problem prior to moving forward. Understanding why your 2 stroke small engine is not running is usually a fairly simple process.

How to determine if carburetor diaphragm is bad

Cover the basics

Returning to the basic principles of the internal combustion chamber engine, when your engine refuses to run, the issue basically boils down to one of two things – fuel or fire. If you are missing one or the other, your engine will not run or run very briefly. In order to diagnose the problem, you should always start with the basics. Here are the first steps that you should take:

  1. Remove and clean or replace your air filter. Any engine needs fresh air in order to run. If your air filter is clogged, the engine will become choked out and run rich, if it runs at all. In most cases, you can simply remove the filter and blow it out good with compressed air to remove any lodged particles of saw dust or dirt. Do not wash the MS250 filter with water, only use compressed air. 
  2. If your saw has been sitting for a while, dump the old gas out and replace with fresh gasoline. For this particular model, Stihl recommends 89 octane gas mixed with 2 cycle oil in a 50:1 ratio. The most common gasoline that most use in their car is the 87 octane. Splurge a little and get the mid grade gasoline, your saw will thank you. Also, use a quality 2 cycle oil. Since I rarely ever use my saw, I mix 1/2 gallon of gasoline with 1.28 oz of oil. This is about 2.5 tablespoons. Likewise, if you are mixing a whole gallon, add 5 whole tablespoons of oil to one gallon of gas. Here is a helpful gas/oil calculator that you may want to use.  Stihl’s can be very picky when it comes to the correct fuel mixture. Don’t use that old 32:1 mixture that you have laying around.
  3. Check your fuel pickup and replace as necessary. Inside your fuel tank, you will find a black fuel hose and on the end there is a small fuel filter. These can often become clogged with dust and debris, starving the carburetor of fuel.  Use a stiff wire with a hook on the end to fish out the tube and filter. Once removed, clean it out with carburetor cleaner and compressed air. Look closely at the filter in the sunlight and inspect for contaminants inside. If the filter is ragged or there is trapped debris inside, replace with a new one. They are fairly cheap and need to be replaced every so many hours.
  4. Use the wrench that came with your saw to remove the spark plug and inspect it. If it is in fairly good shape you may just want to give it a good cleaning and check the gap. Clean with a piece of fine sandpaper to remove carbon deposits around the electrode. When finished cleaning, used carb cleaner and give it a good spray followed by a generous few puffs of compressed air to clean out anything that is lodged in there. Close the plug and gap to .020″. Next, test your spark by grounding the threads of the plug to the engine block and giving the rope a few pulls (ensure that the ignition switch is on). You of course don’t want your fingers anywhere near the spark plug as you could get a nasty shock. If you have a good spark, carefully screw the plug back in and tighten until snug. Replace the plug wire.
  5. Check the carburetor adjustments. Vibration could have thrown these out of specs. On the MS 250 there are 3 adjustment screws located on the right side of the saw near the carb. The High (h) Low (l) and the idle (la). Screw all three all the way in. Turn the Low screw out one full turn, High out 3/4 a turn and back the LA  off a turn or so. You will be able to adjust the idle speed once you get get started. At this point you just want to ensure that the idle is not turned down, cutting off the fuel supply.

Now, you have a fresh source of fuel, adjusted carburetor, clear airways, and a good spark. Try starting it. There is a good chance that your saw will run properly. I would say about 50% of the time one of the above 5 is the issue. Still no luck? Continue reading.

How to remove the Zama carburetor

Once you have completed all tasks above and your saw is still not working, its time to start taking things apart. With spark, fuel, air and compression, your problem most likely will be in the carburetor. Here are the steps required for removal.

  1. Remove the access cover to reveal the air filter. Remove the filter. 
  2. Disconnect the kill switch wire from the kill-choke lever and snap the right side of the lever out of its socket. This is require to remove the choke linkage as the carb comes out.
  3. Snap out the linkage from the accelerator lever. I believe you will have to pull the accelerator trigger and use a screwdriver to pop it out.
  4. Remove the 2 8mm bolts holding the carb in.
  5. Remove the fuel line by gently pulling it from the nipple.
  6. Work the entire unit out carefully while removing the choke lever simultaneously.
  7. Plug the fuel supply line to prevent gas from leaking out.

Inspect fuel line

A common problem with this particular model is a cracked or rotted fuel line. This would cause a fuel delivery problem, making it an important factor to eliminate. Removing the fuel line is quite simple. As before, you will want to fish the fuel filter out and remove it. From here, simply pull the fuel line out from the top. This is of course done with the carb taken off. Dry the line off and bend several different directions while looking for signs of aging. Replace the line if any issues are present.

How can I tell if diaphragm or pump is bad?

The only way to tell for sure is to do a pressure test which involves pressurizing the fuel inlet nipple and watching for a drop in pressure. At this point, it is best to rebuild or replace your carb. The kit will come with everything that you need to complete this task including the pump and diaphragm.

Cleaning your carburetor

MS250 Zama CarbNow that you have made it this far, you have 2 choices. You can purchase a rebuild kit for $10 on ebay, clean it up good, put it back together and hope that you removed the obstruction or you can take the easy route and but an new carb. These are available on Ebay for $20 to $30.

The $20 ones are usually the Chinese knock offs while the $30 are typically the real Zama. Being the tightwad that I am, I decided to save $20 and risk it by rebuilding the carb.

Most 2 stroke carbs are the same and I already wrote a post on rebuilding a small engine carburetor.  There are basically 2 screws on the diaphragm side and 1 screw on the fuel pump side. Remove these, taking note of which order the gasket, diaphragm and plastic pump goes. Follow the cleaning instructions in my other post.

Once everything is clean, replaced, and back together, assemble your saw in reverse order. She should crank right up if you followed all instructions. If not, you may have a compression issue, which will need to be checked with a compression gauge. Don’t forget to adjust your idle screw by turning it clockwise until the chain stops spinning while idling.

How does the linkage go on the MS250

So you took your saw apart and can’t figure out how to get the linkage back on correctly. This happens to me all the time. One way to solve this is by taking a picture as you take it apart. Luckily for you, I have done this for you.

Ms250 choke linkage


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