ATVs and side-by-sides live hard lives crawling over rocks, hauling loads and crossing trails that no other man-made vehicle would dare. One of the most basic services these vehicles call for is the inspection of the front wheel toe-in.
The Suzuki Eiger LT-F-400F calls for this to be checked initially after 100 miles or one month of use, and every 600 miles or three months for the rest of its operational life. Be it a Yamaha Banshee, 50cc mini-quad or Kawasaki Mule, this is a periodic maintenance item that is essentially the same no matter the scale of machine.
Toe-in specifically refers to the amount the front wheels are pigeon-toed. At axle level, the center of the front tires are closer in the front than in the back. Most ATVs and side-by-sides call for the front wheels to be slightly pigeon-toed to parallel.
Keeping the toe-in alignment in specification and adjusted correctly is important for performance, safety and tire wear. If the front end of the vehicle is in a toe-out position, duck footed, the tires will wear rapidly and the vehicle will be inherently unstable.
In addition, if the toe-in adjustment is in specification but it has been improperly adjusted, it may put excess strain on the steering components.
Make sure to inspect the tie rod ends, wheel bearings and suspension components for wear or damage as the toe-in is inspected. With the wheel off the ground, check for any free play and visually inspect the tie rods as they are commonly found to be bent.
The first step in checking the toe-in is to check the tire pressure. Make sure it is set correctly in all four tires. The air pressure in the front tires should be as close to the same as possible. Place the vehicle on a level surface and position the steering straight ahead.
Be sure to check with the appropriate service manual to see if there are any extra specifics for the vehicle. Some ATVs, for example, call for the vehicle to be weighted, simulating a rider.
Make a chalk mark on the front center of each front tire at the height of the front axle. If available, set up a toe gauge so that the pointers line up with the chalk marks.
Measure the distance between the front chalk marks. Record this measurement as A.
Rotate the front wheels 180° so the marks remain at axle height, but are now facing to the rear. Record the distance between the marks on the backside of the tires as B.
Subtract the front measurement A from the rear measurement B to calculate the toe-in. If the number is negative, you have a toe-out condition. Compare your toe-in figure with the factory specification found in the vehicle’s service manual.
To adjust the toe-in, loosen the lock nuts on the tie-rods. The outer tie rod lock nuts often have left-hand threads. Turn the tie rods with a wrench at the flats to change the toe-in. Be sure to evenly adjust the left and right tie rods for proper alignment.
Check with the service manual to see if there are any specifications for the length of the tie rods or the amount of threads that should be showing.
If the tie rod adjustment procedure is not followed according to the OEM specifications, while the proper toe-in may be achieved, the vehicle may not steer correctly and it could be at risk of breaking a tie rod.
When the adjustment is correct, hold the tie rod flats and tighten the lock nuts to specification against each side of the tie rod. Take a slow test ride to make sure the steering functions correctly before returning the vehicle to regular use.