Life is a balancing act. Eat a balanced diet, balance your check book, and then there’s work life balance. No matter what it is, you need balance. If you didn’t eat a balanced diet, you’d probably get sick, if you don’t balance your checkbook, you’ll probably end up overdrawing your bank account, and if you’re overworked, you’re probably not enjoying life too much.
The same could be said for your tires. If your tires are out of balance, they’re working against each other and placing strain on the entire suspension system. What is tire balancing and how often should tires be balanced? While we can’t help with keeping your life balanced, we can share what you need to know about tire balancing, and that’s a good start.
What is Tire Balancing?
A smooth ride is a balancing act that involves the wheels and the tires to spin at higher speeds without the presence of vibrations. This can be difficult considering most tires and wheels aren’t perfectly round, even when they’re fresh out of the factory. Furthermore, the weight of tires isn’t usually distributed evenly, making them heavier in some areas than others. A tire balance combats this challenge by correcting the imbalance of weight on tire and wheel assemblies.
How Are Tires Balanced?
To balance tires, a technician will use a balancing machine that spins the tire and the assembly to measure the amount of imbalance. This tells the technician how much weight and where on the rim it is needed to counteract the insufficiency. The technician will add the proper amount of weights to the wheel to create properly balanced tires.
Signs of Unbalanced Wheels
Unbalanced tires create vibrations, excessive tire wear, and can cause damage to the suspension system. When a tire and wheel assembly are initially mounted to the vehicle’s axle, the weight of the wheel and tire assembly is evenly distributed around the axle. As you drive, the weight distribution shifts. After driving for some time, the shifts in weight change, creating imbalance. Unbalanced tires place strain on wheel bearings, have a negative effect on the suspension system, and can cause uneven tread wear and increase heat, greatly reducing the life of tires.
Common symptoms of unbalanced tires include:
- Uneven tread wear – Unbalanced tires place pressure on the area of the tire that is in constant contact with the road. As the tire spins, greater stress is placed on this section of the tire creating uneven movement known as vibrations. Because of the increased pressure, the treads wear out faster. As a result, the structural integrity of the tire is compromised. This is dangerous as it could lead to blowouts.
- Vibrations over 40 MPH felt in the steering wheel, floors, or seat – Tires are meant to distribute the weight of the vehicle evenly across the width of each tire. If the tires are unbalanced, then one side of the tire shoulders more weight than the other, causing an uneven rotation. The rotation then creates vibration throughout the body of the vehicle.
- Difficulty steering – Tires are connected to the wheels which are connected to the steering system. Where there is trouble with the wheels you can be certain to feel the effects through the steering wheel, such as vibrations. Vibrations can make steering more difficult because the system falters or is slow to respond. Similarly, poor wheel bearings, as a result of imbalanced tires, can cause the steering wheel to feel loose, increasing the risk of a collision due to lack of control.
- Damaged shocks and wheel bearings – Irregular rotation of the tires places unnecessary stress on wheel bearings and shock absorbers. Wheel bearings can eventually produce an awful noise at high speeds if not immediately addressed. Shock absorbers that have worn as a result of unbalanced tires will no longer be able to absorb the effects of a bumpy ride, making the ride much more uncomfortable.
- Poor fuel economy – Similar to driving with underinflated or flat tires, unbalanced tires cause tires to rotate unevenly, requiring more power to roll the car, thus making your engine work harder to create propulsion and burning more fuel.
When to Balance Your Wheels
- After each tire rotation
- Once a year (Note: as the tread wears down in your tires, it also affects the wheel’s balance)
- A tire is repaired from a puncture
- New tires are installed
- A weight from the rim becomes detached
What’s the Difference Between a Wheel Alignment and Wheel Balancing?
While wheel balancing creates an even distribution of weight on the wheels, an alignment corrects the angle of the tire. Both wheel alignments and balancing are essential for a smooth ride and extending the life of your tires, but their processes vary greatly. Wheel alignment requires adjusting the angles of the wheels to ensure they are perfectly in line with each other as well as perpendicular to the ground. Wheel balancing involves counterbalancing the weight of the tires so that weight is distributed evenly. Still, both services should be performed at least once per year and when new tires are purchased.