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What is Tire Balancing?
Also known as wheel balancing, tire balancing is the process of mounting the wheel and tire assembly on a special wheel balancer machine to check the weight of the tires and whether the wheels are balanced. This machine can then correct the uneven distribution of weight in the wheels and tires, thereby eliminating excessive vibration, damage to the suspension, tire wear, and other problems.
In essence, the tires and wheels of your vehicle must be perfectly balanced or they won’t roll smoothly. And despite advanced tire manufacturing processes and advanced rubber compounds used in manufacturing tires today, it’s still likely that tires may have some imbalance.
There will be some areas of the tire with thicker or lighter materials than others. So when it happens that one side of the wheel is heavier than the other, the wheel will vibrate when it’s rotating and this might become even more pronounced at high speeds. And even though most of today’s tires are high-quality and can hold their balance, there are external forces such as hitting the curb or potholes that can cause tire imbalance.
Tire balancing can fix this problem. This technique uses a precision machine known as a wheel balancer to spin each tire and wheel and test the spots that are heavier than others. The technician conducting the tire balancing can then use a bonding cement to add some small weight to lighter areas to ensure an even distribution of weight on all the tires.
This is why tire balancing is an important part of the installation process when replacing your tires. It can help in enhancing a smooth ride and eliminating excessive vibration that’s very uncomfortable. And because it’s common for the bonding cement to fall off, especially when you hit bumps and potholes, it’s important to take your vehicle for periodic tire balancing. Most tire experts recommend that tire balancing service should be performed after every 5,000-6,000 miles or six months.
The Importance of Tire Balancing
It’s very normal and quite natural that your car tires will start losing their integrity over time. This is very obvious given that tread wear will make them lose balance. As such, your tire will begin losing balance and the appropriate distribution of weight as a result of tread wear.
With your tires losing the appropriate balance, you’ll begin experiencing vibration and shaking of the vehicle as you drive and this can be so uncomfortable and quite irritating. The best way, therefore, to deal with such issues is tire balancing. Having your tires balanced by a technician will not only put an end to the vibration and noise but will also enhance a smoother ride, fuel efficiency, and vehicle performance.
It’s also safe to say that tire balancing is a basic car maintenance service that must be periodically carried out to enhance your safety and also to keep your vehicle in good driving condition. The idea here is that modern vehicles are lighter in weight when compared to older vehicles. This means that they cannot suppress the vibration like older cars would do.
Again, the fact that many modern cars use low profile tires, which are very complicated, means that tire balancing is a critical part of ensuring that they perform optimally and prevent tire complications.
Types of Tire Balancing
There are two types of tire balancing: static and dynamic.
Static Tire Balancing
This revolves around performing the tire balancing when the wheel is at rest or static. If a wheel has a static balance, then it would rotate to the lowest possible position if mounted on a wheel balancer. But if the wheel is evenly balanced, it would continue rotating if it is mounted on the wheel balancer.
The physics behind this is that static tire balancing subjects the wheel to the vertical impact that becomes much worse at high speed. This can occur if the tire has heavy spots on one part of the tire. This can lead to tire wear and a gouging effect that may lead to scalloping or cupping on that particular part of the tire tread.
That’s not all; static tire imbalance can also cause vibrations, which can cause premature wear out on the tire. It can also lead to static friction, which can cause scrubbing around the entire circumference of the tire tread surface.
Fortunately, modern computer wheel balancers can measure the static imbalance of a spinning tire and wheel. This is known as static tire balancing or single-plane balancing and involves adding weight on the other side of the wheel. The best part of using modern wheel balancers is that it detects the exact amount of weight balance and the exact location so that the added weight is placed at the right location of the opposite wheel.
Dynamic Tire Balancing
A tire is said to have a dynamic imbalance if it has excessive weight on the inside or outside of its tread. The technician will only be able to notice dynamic imbalance if the tires and the wheels are spinning. The tires will move from side to side and this can lead to faster tire wear.
This is because the heavier spot on the tire will tend to seek the centerline of the tire. Again, the heavy spot might tend to push the wheel to one side and might cause the wheel to turn in the opposite direction.
The best solution for such tire imbalance is to counterbalance weight that’s placed on both sides of the wheel. You have to keep in mind that your wheel might have a static balance and not dynamically balanced. This can happen if the counterweight is put on one side of the wheel when it’s static but will not be balanced when it’s in motion. The best solution is, therefore, to balance the wheel statically by splitting the weight amount in half and placing equal amounts on both sides of the wheel.
What are the Signs of Unbalanced Tires?
Many car owners are aware that driving with tires that have little or no treads is dangerous especially when it comes to braking. They’re also aware that driving with underinflated or overinflated, or even cracked tires is catastrophic as the tires can blow out or increase the chances of premature wear.
However, drivers often overlook the impacts of driving on unbalanced tires, especially those that are related to the performance and safety of the vehicle. As noted earlier, your tires are said to be unbalanced if the weights of the tires are not evenly distributed around the wheels. This will unquestionably interfere with the smooth and consistent ride that you should experience when the tires are balanced.
That being said, it’s almost impossible to detect that your tires are unbalanced by carrying a visual inspection. While there are signs that are often associated with unbalanced tires, these signs can also be related to other factors. For instance, uneven tread wear is most likely caused by failing to keep your tires properly inflated but can also be an indication that the tires are unbalanced especially if the tires are wearing out just on one side.
So if you noticed one of the following issues, it could be the right time to have your tire balancing checked.
Louder Road Noises and Constant Bouncing
Unbalanced tires will not only cause the vehicle to bounce even on smooth and well-paved roads but will also lead to a couple of problems that could interfere with the operational integrity of the tires and put your safety at risk!
Unbalanced tires can also cause extremely loud road noises that may become even louder with each passing day. So if you notice weird noises coming from your tires as you drive, you might want the tires checked to find out whether or not they’re balanced or if there’s any other problem that might be causing these uncomfortable noises.
Constant Vibration of Your Vehicle
One of the main signs of unbalanced tires is the vibration in your seat, steering wheel, and floorboard. Fortunately, the part of the vehicle that vibrates can indicate whether the front or back wheels require tire balancing.
For example, your vehicle will require front tire balancing if the steering wheel is vibrating. On the other hand, the rear wheels may require tire balancing if the seats are vibrating. If you’ve had the tires balanced and rotated but you still hear these vibrations, then you could be dealing with suspension issues, worn-out brake pads, defective axle, or worn-out rotors.
Is It Dangerous to Drive with Unbalanced Tires?
Yes, it’s very dangerous to drive a vehicle that has unbalanced tires. A car with unbalanced tires will have several issues. For instance, driving with unbalanced tires will put undue pressure and stress on the wheel assembly, shocks, and bearings.
Your fuel costs will also increase and things may become even worse if you’re driving at high speeds. This is because unbalanced tires will significantly affect the performance of the vehicle, which can seriously dent your fuel efficiency.
So while you can ignore unbalanced tires, you are putting your life at risk and this is not advisable. Again, you might choose to drive with unbalanced tires but the ride won’t be as comfortable as you may want because the vibration will be unbearable.
What Causes Tire Imbalance?
One of the main causes of tire imbalance is normal driving over rough roads. We also have to note that some tire manufacturers let some minute defects slip past inspection and quality control. This could mean that one tire has more weight than the other and this could cause tire imbalance. You have to keep in mind that even a small fraction of the weight difference in your tires could cause tire imbalance.
That’s not all; there are scenarios where you could experience tire imbalance simply because the tires aren’t installed properly! This is why we often recommend that you go to an experienced tire specialist for your tire needs and services.
Tire imbalance can also be caused by reckless driving, especially when you hit a curb or potholes when driving at high speeds. Last but not least, leaving your vehicle parked for a long time could lead to tire imbalance as a result of flat spots on the tires.
What is the Difference between Tire Balancing and Wheel Alignment?
Tire balancing and wheel alignment are separate tire services that are widely confused. They’re both important in improving the life and performance of your tires. Well, let’s look at the differences.
Wheel Alignment Explained
Also known as front-end alignment or tire alignment, wheel alignment revolves around adjusting the angles of your vehicle’s wheels to the position that is recommended by the manufacturer.
As surprising as it may seem, wheel alignment has very little to do with your tires. Instead, it has more to do with your vehicle’s suspension system and the direction and angle that your wheels roll at. This means that a wheel alignment service should also include checking the tire treads for any signs of poor alignment.
Let’s briefly look at the three different ways of wheel alignment.
Toe Alignment – Toe generally refers to the angles of your tires. It is the most common misalignment and revolves around your vehicle not driving in a straight line. You’ll notice this when you take your hands off the steering wheel and the vehicle seems not to drive in a straight line and instead veers in one direction.
Caster Alignment – This refers to the angle of the steering pivot as seen from the side of the vehicle. It’s not easy to see the vehicle’s caster misalignment. However, you can notice it if one of your wheels is too far forward or back in your wheel. This means that one tire will be rubbing along the wheel, particularly if you go over a large bump.
Camber Alignment – This is the angle of your wheel when viewing it from the front of your vehicle. As such, a camber misalignment is when your wheel leans to the side of either direction.
One of the main causes of wheel misalignment is taking too sharp turns. This can place excessive strain on a wheel or axle, thereby making the alignment shift. Hitting potholes and bumps with force can also cause wheel misalignment. Lastly, the normal stresses and strains of daily driving can also cause wheel misalignment.
In essence, wheel misalignment is a relatively normal occurrence, although it’s quite rare. This is why most vehicle manufacturers recommend that wheel alignment should be checked every 10,000 miles. You can also consider having a wheel alignment if your vehicle was recently involved in a collision or if it’s pulling to one side.
Tire Balancing Explained
While wheel alignment is all about the direction, angle, and how wheels sit, tire balancing is to ensure that the tires are perfectly balanced and their weights evenly distributed so that they can ride smoothly.
You have to keep in mind that it’s almost impossible for tire manufacturers to always keep the tires perfectly balanced even with the modern design and technological advances in tire manufacturing. This means that there will always be areas with the tires that are thicker or thinner than the others and this can lead to tire imbalance.
And because tire imbalance can cause vibrations and affect the performance of the vehicle, you should go for tire balancing service at least after every 5,000 miles. During the tire balancing service, the technician will use a computerized or calibrated wheel balancer to test both the static and dynamic tire balance so that unbalanced tires can be adjusted to give the vehicle proper tire balance.
How is Tire Balancing and Wheel Alignment Beneficial to Your Car?
The most noticeable benefits of a wheel alignment include fuel efficiency, vehicle handling, and tire life. You should consider checking your wheel alignment after every 10,000 miles or at least once a year. Remember, using a car with alignment issues means that you are shortening the tire’s life while also damaging critical suspension and steering components, which cost you thousands of dollars to rectify.
On the other hand, tire balancing is essential in preventing premature tire tread wear. It’s also essential in offering a smooth ride while ensuring your safety as well as those of other road users. It’s, therefore, important to have your tires balanced after every 5,000 or 6,000 miles to help in extending the lifespan of your tires while improving the performance of your vehicle.
Here is a quick look at how tire balancing and wheel alignment compare.
What is the Cost of Tire Balancing?
The average cost of tire balancing in the United States is $40 but may range from $15 to $75 depending on your location and the warranty that’s offered at the tire balancing center. This means that you should be on the lookout for any coupon that’s available for tire balancing service.
For example, Pep Boys can offer tire balancing services for as low as $14.99 if you have a lifetime warranty from them. Again, some tire shops offer tire balancing services for free if you purchased the tires from them.
The table below offers a glimpse of tire balancing costs from various tire service centers in the country.
Can I Carry Out Tire Balancing at Home?
It’s possible to carry out the tire balancing service at home but you’ll need to have some equipment and, of course, be familiar with the mechanical parts of the car. The most important thing is the wheel balancer that tells the imbalance on the tires and where to place the weights on the tire to balance both sides.
While many people may attempt to balance their tires without removing them from the vehicle, it generally involves the annoying process of trial and error and may not offer accurate tire balancing. For this reason, you should only attempt tire balancing at home if you have a wheel balancer and know how to use it. This video shows you how to balance your tires at home.
How to Use a Wheel Balancer
Before the tire is balanced, it should be properly mounted on the wheel balancer. You have to keep in mind that improperly mounting a wheel on a wheel balancer can also cause tire imbalance. This is because the wheel balancer won’t offer accurate readings. So the best way to mount a wheel on a wheel balancer is by using the method that’s specified by the manufacturer.
You can choose between the two methods: hub-centric mounting and Lug-centric mounting.
Hub-centric mounting is when the hole at the center of the wheel balancer is used to locate the wheel on the axle or wheel hub. You can determine whether or not the wheel is hub-centric if the wheel can snugly fit the hub when the lugs are removed.
Lug-centric mounting is when the lug nuts are used to center the wheel on the wheel balancer. A wheel is said to be lug-centric if you can move the wheel from side to side or up and down. Keep in mind that a lug-centric wheel uses the taper on the lug nuts to center the wheel.
How can you Mount Hub-Centric Wheels on a Wheel Balancer?
Now that you know the difference between hub-centric wheels and lug-centric wheels, you should know how to mount each on the wheel balancer. The foremost thing is to ensure that the adapters and the wheels are clean and undamaged. This means that you should remove any form of debris including rocks that might be in the tire before starting the tire balancing process.
You can mount a hub-centric wheel on the wheel balancer using a centering cone. Install the centering cone from the inside or back of the wheel if you have stamped steel wheels. The idea here is that the wheels were originally stamped from the inside or back of the wheel. Here is how you should arrange the adapters when they’re being installed on the shaft:
- The spring. Keep in mind that modern wheel balancers have built-in springs.
- Use a centering cone that fits the wheel hub.
- The tire and wheel assembly.
- The retainer drum or cup. This is a protective ring that’s used to protect the wheel finish.
- The wing nut. Modern wheel balancers are designed with a quick wing nut to help in bypassing the shaft threads. This is essential in faster tightening.
After this arrangement, the wheel should be tightened on the shaft. The spring will automatically keep pressure on the centering cone to ensure that it’s centered properly. You can consider spinning the tire in the opposite direction and view it from the shaft end. This is essential in promoting the best centering.
How can you Mount Lug-Centric Wheels on a Wheel Balancer?
You can mount lug-centric wheels on a wheel balancer using a lug-centering adapter plate. Consider using a universal adapter plate that has a couple of lug stud swing arms. You can attach the arms in different places depending on the number of lug holes in the wheel.
If your wheel has six lugs, you can use three arms of the adapter plate. If the wheels have eight lugs, use four arms of the adapter. These arms are installed and tightened on the adapter. The adapter should then be held against the mounting flange on the wheel balancer by installing the screws. You can then use special lug nuts to hold the wheel against the adapter plate without over-tightening them.
How to Program a Wheel Balancer
Now that the wheels and tires have been mounted on the wheel balancer, three things must be programmed into the wheel balancer:
- The diameter of the wheel
- The width of the rim, which should be measured by a rim width caliper
- The distance of the rim from the backing plate flange to the rim edge and should be measured by sliding out the distance scale out of the bead edge or rim edge.
You should spin the wheel for a couple of seconds. The wheel will stop and the wheel balancer will display the results on its screen. This should show the weight amounts of the tires and how these weights are located on the wheels. This is essential in showing you the exact position to install the balancing weights on the opposite tires.
The wheel balancer should be spun again after the weights have been installed. This is to check for the accuracy of the weights. If the wheel is perfectly balanced and ready to be installed back on the vehicle, the wheel balancer will display “ok” or “zero” on the screen.
How Long Does Tire Balancing Take?
You’ve probably been wondering how long it takes to have your tires balanced. Well, tire balancing can take about 40 minutes to 2 hours. This will depend on a couple of factors such as your driving habits, the conditions of your tires, and the weather condition and terrain that your car usually travels in.
Again, balancing new tires may take a shorter period than balancing tires that have been used for long periods on rough terrains. You should also consider other checks and waiting periods at the tire balancing center.
How Does Tire Balancing Beads Work?
Tire balancing beads are essentially free-floating weights that can be used to rectify tire imbalance. They’re an important part of tire balancing as they can be distributed to correct the equilibrium state of the tires. The beads can gather and form “heavy spots” when the tires aren’t in motion.
As such, beads can significantly affect the accurate measurement of the weights of the tires and this is why the tires should be in motion while mounted on a wheel balancer. Again, the wheel balancer will perfectly balance the tires depending on how the beads are placed.
How can I Tell if the Tire Shop Did a Bad Balancing Job?
Tire shops can sometimes go wrong when balancing your tires. Well, under such a scenario, the issues of vibration and the rough ride will be evident a few days after tire balancing. The right thing to do when such a thing happens is to contact the tire shop and let them know about the situation so that they can do tire rebalancing.
To this end, we have to strongly emphasize that tire balancing is a critical part of your car maintenance service and shouldn’t be ignored. When your tires are unbalanced, it will affect your car’s handling, performance, fuel efficiency, and may increase tire tread wear.
The best thing to do is to have your tires balanced after every 5,000 or 6,000 miles or when you hear vibrations on your car. Tire balancing will cost you not more than $50, so having it done on your vehicle shouldn’t be a problem.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding