Well, it finally happened. Despite careful handling, we managed to bend (and ruin) the delicate aluminum frame of our Tenhulzen 4-wheel alignment rack.
It's such a shame too, as it was such a cleverly engineered piece of kit. But in truth, the flimsy construction of the Tenhulzen frame and camber gauge were making the alignment process more annoying than it should be. Plus the whole setup was so fragile that I couldn't take it to the track without risking it getting damaged. Time to try something else then. So during the winter, I shelled out $425 and ordered the B-G Racing String Alignment Kit.
How Does it Work?
The concept behind using the B-G Racing String Alignment Kit is simple. Assemble the the two racks according to the instructions, open the hood and trunk of your car, and hang each rack off of the front and rear bumper. The two racks act as frames that help you line up the two high-visibility strings so that they are parallel to the centerline of your car.
Once it's set up, you use the strings a reference point and measure the toe at each wheel. Just take an ordinary straightedge and measure the distance between the string and the leading edge of one of your wheels. Then compare it to the distance between the string and the trailing edge of one of your wheels. The difference between the two measurements is your toe. If you get a larger measurement at the front, you have toe in. If the measurement in the back is larger, you have toe out.
The advantage to using a string-based alignment kit like this is that you can get toe measurements on each of your wheels independently, so you won't have to worry about the steering wheel ending up crooked, or the car crabbing because the rear wheels aren't perfectly aligned with the car's centerline. The advantage to use a car-mounted kit like the B-G Racing kit is that you can jack and roll the car with the rack still attached, which makes the whole alignment process of measuring, adjusting, and re-measuring go much faster.
First Impressions: It's Smarter than it Looks
At first glance, the B-G String Alignment Kit looks almost identical to the Smartstrings string alignment rack, a popular DIY alignment kit amongst club racers in the US. But look closely and you will find some noteworthy advantages in B-G Racing's design:
- The three-way junctions that hold the frame together have metal shims inside. These shims provide a little bit of added resistance that you can make fine adjustments to the rack while the adjustment knobs are tightened halfway.
- The 3-way junctions have a knob that lets you adjust the angle of the vertical bars. This is helpful for older cars where the hood extends out further than the front bumper, as it allows you to rest rest the rack against the relatively sturdy bumper instead of the delicate leading edge of the hood.
- The strings are wound in a convenient reel instead of just being wrapped around a spool. You can even lock the handle and use it as a weight to help keep the strings taut. The other end of the string has a small spring that keeps tension on the string, again to make sure that you get the most accurate measurement possible.
- The round alignment bars(where you hook the strings) are held in place with a set screw with a plastic knob. This makes it easier to keep the bar where it needs to be, and reduces the risk that you'll accidentally knock it out of place.
- There is a rubber-coated flat protrusion on the other side of the hook that goes on your car. This is great for cars that do not have a lip on the radiator support or trunk that you can hook on to.
- They include three different lengths of square tubing so you can make the rack as big, tall, or wide as you need to. There are even extra junctions included in this kit so you can combine bars together, just in case your car is particularly large.
It's also worth noting that the widest part of the rack (the round alignment bar) is narrow enough that it will fit through a standard residential garage door. This is very important for those of us who do most of their work at home.
While these little design features are seemingly insignificant, they are actually a big deal. 4-wheel alignments involve a tedious process of setting up the rack, measuring, adjusting, re-setting the rack, and re-measuring. This can go on for hours, depending on your experience level and how many mistakes you make along the way. Having these features will make the whole process easier and reduce the number of errors, in turn making the whole effort much, much faster.
Whoever designed the B-G Racing Kit understands that car enthusiasts are rough on their equipment. This thing is heavy duty. With an emphasis on heavy. The box containing this alignment kit weighed almost 40 lbs (18kg) - Literally twice the weight of the Tenhulzen 4-wheel alignment kit and several pounds heavier than the last Smartstrings set I worked with.
Once you have it open it's easy to see why. The racks are made out of zinc-plated steel square tubing that feels incredibly dense for what it is. The junctions are of a similar construction and weigh several pounds each, while the round crossbars are made of solid steel. All of the knobs are made of a durable plastic, and the screws within them appear to be Class 8.8 or better. In spite of the fact that they are precision instruments, it feels like you could throw the racks down a flight of stairs without putting a scratch on them. Let's be clear - I do not recommend that you actually do this. It just FEELS like you could.
While weight is normally a bad thing in the world of motorsports, the confidence-inspiring durability more than makes up for the few extra pounds. I would happily load this up into the back of my tow rig without worrying about it getting bent or damaged on the way to the track.
I should mention that you do need to provide your own straightedge to use this kit. You can use pretty much any metal straightedge where the zero marker goes right up to the edge of the tool. I taped a small line level to mine to make sure that I'm holding it level when I'm taking my measurements.
Some Assembly Required. Some Instructions Provided.
Like most alignment kits, the B-G Racing Alignment Kit comes tightly packed in a small box, and the buyer is responsible for the assembly process. This revealed the one weak point in the entire kit: The manual.
The author of the manual seems to have prioritized brevity over comprehension, and it really shows during the assembly process. The assembly instructions are just a series of caption-less photos sandwiched between a few tips on using the kit and an abstract diagram on the theory behind string alignments. And the sole diagram of the fully assembled rack looks like this:
Yes, I understand that you can technically use tubes C, D, or E in any of these places. But this doesn't give you clues as to where you should start or which bars work best for which location. It took a fair bit of trial and error to get the racks assembled the first time. Then I found out I had it assembled incorrectly so had to do it again. Then two more times after that.
The whole process was so intense that I learned enough to write my own assembly manual for this kit. Here it is, by the way, in case you buy one of these and get stuck like I did:
All of that said, credit where credit is due - B-G Racing's customer service is excellent. Upon assembling the kit incorrectly for the third time in one night, yours truly posted this frustrated post on Instagram. To my surprise, B-G Racing responded (within hours, no less), acknowledging the feedback and promising to publish a video that shows the details of the assembly process in the near future. It's great to see that level of customer service for a product like this.
Awesome Once Assembled
The good news is that all of that hard work is worth it. Once assembled, the B-G Racing kit becomes the most user-friendly 4-wheel alignment setup that you can buy for under $1000 US.
Like with all string alignment kits, there is some setup to do before you can start taking measurements. You do need to adjust the height of the alignment bars so they line up with your wheel centers, hang the strings off of the reel, and make sure the strings are spaced evenly on both sides of the car.
The clever yellow string reels and their sprung twine makes this a cinch. There's no untangling string, no tying knots, and no worrying about string tension. Just slip the loop in one of the grooves of the alignment bars, unlock the reel, walk over to the other end of the car, and wrap the remaining string around the other bar. Lock the reel back in place and it becomes a weight that keeps the string taut.
One of the annoying attributes of most string alignment kits is that they are super delicate: Snag a string on your shoe or bump into a rack, and it will throw the strings so far out of alignment that you need to set them up again. Not so with this kit. The little metal shims in the junctions hold all of the bars exactly where you put them, so the occasional light knock won't interrupt your work. You could even roll the car with the racks still attached and expect the strings to stay exactly where you put them. This is a huge time saver, especially when you are working on a car that requires multiple rounds of adjustments to get a good alignment.
I took this kit out for a test alignment earlier, and it took less than half the time to set up compared to when I was using my old Tenhulzen kit. This says something as the Tenhulzen setup is already one of the more user-friendly 4-wheel alignment kits available on the market. The B-G Racing kit is very impressive indeed.
Overall Impressions & Verdict
In theory, you don't need a $425 alignment kit to do a string alignment. But in practice, the time-saving features in the B-G Racing String Alignment Kit make it worth every penny.
The team at B-G seems to have figured out how to make the annoying, repetitive process that is a 4-wheel alignment as fast and easy as possible. Sure, if you have all the time in the world, you can run some fishing line across four jack stands and get similar results. But this kit will let you achieve the same results in a tiny fraction of the time.
If you are an avid track day driver, an active autocrosser, a club racer, or are an enthusiast that likes doing your own alignments, I recommend this kit as a long-term investment. It's small and easy enough that you can set it up and use it in a one-car garage, and it's durable enough that you can take it to the track. The $425 price tag may seem like a lot, but realistically, it'll pay for itself after your 2nd alignment (remember, race alignments are EXPENSIVE).
Because of its convenience and durability, I would rate this above both the Smartstrings or the Tenhulzen 4-wheel alignment kit. Yes, the Tenhulzen set comes with a camber/caster gauge and has more functions. But B-G Racing's kit is so much more sturdy that you're better off getting a separate camber gauge anyway.
The only things that let this kit down are the confusing manual and the fact that it doesn't come with any measurement tools. If B-G improves their instruction manual and starts including a set of cheap metal straightedges, I would give this kit a 10/10.
StudioVRM and Roger Maeda are not affiliated with any of the products or manufacturers mentioned here. All products were bought out of Roger's pocket at full price. He also recommends that you park your car on a flat, level surface, not on a cracked concrete driveway like he did in some of these pictures.