Miata Wheel Alignment

Written and conceived by Lanny Chambers

A precision 4-wheel alignment is the most important suspension upgrade you can make to a Miata. Without one, you will not get the performance your Miata can deliver. The factory "alignment" specs have entirely too much ±tolerance, and while every alignment is a compromise, the Mazda specs are biased heavily toward low tire wear on cars that are never driven hard. The large tolerance also makes the dealer's prep job less expensive.

The difference can be astonishing. Don't you want your car to behave the same way turning right as it does turning left? If performance doesn't impress you, how about safety? Fortunately, aligning a Miata properly is not difficult for a skilled technician, and is relatively cheap for the benifits gained.
 

Miq's alignment specs
While many owners have been happy with Miq Millman's specs on miata.net, I feel that while they should work well in autocross using very stiff DOT racing tires, they do not represent the best compromise for street use on street tires, particularly for a daily driver that also gets thrashed on Sundays. I started with a Miq alignment, then varied one parameter at a time until I got the balance I wanted. I don't like toe out, and I think street tires need more negative camber to work properly at comfortable, everyday pressures.
 

An alternative view
Here are my 1994 Miata's current alignment specs:

 
Rear
  Toe: 1/32 inch (0°4.5' or 0.075°) IN per side
  Camber: -1.5 degrees
 
Front
  Camber: -1.0 degrees
  Caster: 4.5 degrees
  Toe: 1/32 inch IN per side

 

The parameters are listed in the order they should be set, starting with rear toe, which may constrain the other settings but is the single most important parameter for safe, predictable handling.

The car should be aligned with the driver's seat ballasted with your weight (and your customary passenger's weight in the other seat, too, if that's how you normally drive for sport).

On 7/7/00, I went to the above specs from 1/16" rear toe per side and -0.85 deg front camber, because I wanted the front to bite a little better with less throttle lift. The improvement was subtle but noticeable, just what I hoped for.
 

Match the alignment to your needs
My personal alignment goals:

These goals were met, although the car still tends to follow road camber by drifting very gently toward the shoulder if there's much crown. Your goals may differ, but keep these points in mind:

 
Where can you get a precision alignment?
Ideally, look for a shop that maintains road racing cars. The technician should start by asking your personal goals and your weight (or offer to let you sit in the car on the rack). If you get an argument instead, keep shopping. A good shop may charge you up to $150, or even more in difficult cases. This is reasonable for the rewards you'll get. Some Miatas are harder and take longer to align than others, and an honest shop is entitled to charge more for spending the extra time. You won't be sorry.

An alert technician may notice that the suspension bolts have become stretched after several alignment procedures, and want to sell you new ones. He's not ripping you off: they do stretch, new bolt/nut sets are cheap, and will help ensure that the alignment won't slip the next time you hit a pothole. The latest bolts last a lot longer, too.
 
What about my M2? What if my Miata is lowered and has 17-inch wheels?
According to reports from owners of 1999-2001 Miatas, these specs work just as well on the M2. A lowered Miata may have different minimum limits for camber, since lowering itself induces negative camber; do the best you can. Wheel size has no effect.

What's next?
The Toyos are extraordinary tires, much more stable than the Bridgestone RE71s they replaced, with no tendency at all to follow rain grooves. I plan to try zero front toe, to see if I can improve turn in without promoting tramlining.

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