A 3-D surface topography measurement system was constructed for the surface characterization of an area. This system consists of a personal computer, a microdisplacement stage and a surface profilometer. The microdisplacement system moves the samples laterally for successive traces and ensures the parallelism of each surface profile. The personal computer coordinates the stage movement and surface profile measurements, provides large data storage, and allows rapid data manipulation. This system provides an easy, effective way to characterize a surface, together with versatile displays to observe and record surface topography. It has been used for wear-scar characterization and paint-defect detection. A relocation fixture was incorporated with the 3-D surface-measurement system to provide a powerful tool to observe progressive changes in the surface topography during tribological tests.