Tire balancing and tire alignment both contribute to a comfier, smoother ride. But are they the same thing? This article has the answers.

Tire balancing refers to the process of correcting a vehicle’s weight imbalance, using a tire balancing machine. Tire alignment entails correcting the suspension system, which connects the vehicle to its tire and wheel system. When timely done, they can help to prevent premature wear and tear.

In this article, we will walk you through the basics of tire balancing and alignment. We will cover different aspects such as what causes tires to be imbalanced, signs that your tires are imbalanced, causes of misalignment as well, signs that your vehicle has misalignment issues. And by the time you finish going through this article, you will have a clear understanding of tire balancing and alignment.

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Tire Balancing Vs Alignment

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Tire Balancing vs. Alignment: Overview

Whenever you take your car for service, your auto technician may tell you that your tires need balancing or they are misaligned.

But what exactly do tire alignment and balancing mean? Are they the same thing? As much as both lead to a smoother, comfier ride, they mean two different things.

Tire balancing is designed to correct a vehicle’s weight imbalance while tire alignment is designed to the tire’s angles.

About Tire Balancing

Also known as wheel balancing, tire balancing helps to correct uneven weight distribution on the tires.

If your tires are imbalanced, they may lead to excessive vibration, premature wear and tear as well as damage to your vehicle’s suspension.

When performing tire balancing, your auto technician will mount your tires and wheels on a tire balancing machine. Once mounted on this machine, it will spin the tire to measure the level of imbalance.

From there, the technician will then install the optimal tire weights, thus achieving a well-balanced wheel and tire assembly.

What Can Cause Tires to Be Imbalanced

So, what can cause your tires to be imbalanced? Well, your tires can get out of balance due to various factors.

But, manufacturing imperfections are among the leading causes of tire misbalancing. As you may probably know, wheels and tires don’t have equal weight distribution.

For instance, the wheel may be heavier in some parts while the tire may be lighter in a certain area. These weight differences are enough to cause your tires to be imbalanced.

Signs that Your Tires Need Balancing

A slight tire imbalance is enough to negatively affect your driving experience. Here are some of the warning signs that your tires are out of balance:

Excessive Vibrations

If your vehicle has suddenly started producing strange or excessive vibrations, then it’s highly likely your tires are out of balance.

In the beginning, these vibrations may sound or feel normal. But as the situation worsens, they will become excessive.

These vibrations will affect your vehicle’s entire cabin, the front seats, rear sets as well as floorboards.

However, it’s worth mentioning that problems in the wheel assembly or a damaged tire can also cause these vibrations. Therefore, ensure you take your vehicle for service as soon as you start noticing them.

Uneven Tread Wear

If your tires are properly balanced, then they will wear out uniformly. On the other hand, if you notice that your tires are worn out unevenly, then it’s likely they are out of balance.

Driving a vehicle whose tires are worn out unevenly comes with the risk of dealing with a flat tire. And this can be highly inconvenient, especially if you are rushing somewhere.

Unfortunately, there’s no remedy for unevenly worn tires. While rotating them can provide a short-term fix, you will eventually need to replace them.

Steering Issues

Tires provide the main point of contact between your vehicle and the ground. So, if the tires have an issue, they will affect your vehicle’s handling and response.

And this is also the case with unbalanced tires. They will delay your vehicle’s response, making it hard to steer.

Also, unbalanced tires will make it hard to steer your vehicle in the right direction. And considering that you cannot steer your vehicle properly, you face the risk of being involved in a car crash.

Poor Fuel Economy

Imbalanced tires have a higher rolling resistance than perfectly balanced tires. And the higher the rolling resistance, the more the energy your vehicle will expend, keep them rolling.

So, if your vehicle has suddenly started consuming more fuel than normal, then you should check your tires.

However, under-inflation can also lead to higher fuel consumption. But, if your tires have the right air pressure, then the misbalancing may be the cause of the increased fuel consumption.

About Wheel Alignment

Tire alignment or wheel alignment refers to how your tires sit when mounted to your vehicle.

Alignment helps to keep your vehicle from veering to the left or right during straight-line tracking.

Also, alignment plays a vital role in your vehicle’s handling. If it’s not properly aligned, then you may experience handling issues.

Signs That Your Tires Need Alignment

You will need an actual inspection to confirm if your tires are misaligned. However, there are certain signs that can point to wheel or tire misalignment.

Your Vehicle Pulls Sideways

One of the most common signs of a misaligned car is when it pulls either to the left or right whenever you are driving.

While it’s normal for your vehicle to pull slightly to the right or left, excessive pulling is a clear indicator that your tires are misaligned.

The Steering Wheel Doesn’t Stay Straight

Your vehicle’s steering wheel was designed to stay straight, whenever you are driving on a straight road.

And one of the easiest ways of determining this is by checking the logo on the steering wheel. It should be centered. If the logo is not centered when driving straight, then there’s a high chance you have a misalignment problem.

Steering Wheel Vibrations

Whenever you are accelerating, your steering wheel may vibrate slightly. However, these vibrations shouldn’t be excessive to a point that you can feel them.

If your steering wheel is vibrating excessively, you may be dealing with misaligned wheels.

And if you don’t address this issue right away, these vibrations will gradually increase, to a point where you will find it hard to get a firm grip on the steering wheel.

Irregular Tire Wear

Tire wear is one of the easiest ways of diagnosing whether a vehicle has alignment issues. Normally, your vehicle’s tires should have uniform wear on the outside and inside.

Even without taking your vehicle to the mechanic, you can undertake a quick inspection and check the uniformity of your vehicle’s tire wear.

If the tires have abnormal wear, this may be a sign that the vehicle may be having alignment issues.  For instance, the tires may be worn more on the outside than the inside or vice versa.

What Can Cause Tire Misalignment

Tire misalignment can occur due to various reasons. And it’s not always easy to pinpoint the exact reason. Some of the factors that can lead to tire misalignment include:

Heavy Impact

Sudden jarring or heavy impact can lead to tire misalignment. Driving over the curb, hitting a pothole or other serious impacts can lead to negative long-term effects on your car.

And while the damage may appear minimal from the outside, there’s a high chance that the suspension may have slightly shifted.

So, if you’ve recently hit a pothole, curb, car or pole, it will be highly advisable to take your service to the auto shop and ask them to check the alignment.

Wear and Tear

If you have a high mileage vehicle or your car is one of the older versions, then the misalignment may have been caused by worn-out parts.

Worn suspension springs, wheel bearings, and other essential parts of your vehicle’s suspension system can also contribute to wheel misalignment.

Again, you should take your vehicle to the auto shop for inspection. If the worn parts are the cause of the misalignment, then you should have them replaced right away.

Failure to replace them will worsen the situation. Worse still, you may end up being involved in an accident due to such misalignment.

Modifications

You may sometimes decide to modify certain parts of your vehicle’s body to attain a certain look.

But, if you decide to take this step, you should also make sure you also modify the suspension system to ensure it’s in sync with the body.

Modifying the body and forgetting about the suspension system may lead to tire misalignment since you’ve already altered certain aspects of your vehicle’s specifications.

Delayed Re-alignment

Your vehicle’s tires may also be misaligned due to delayed re-alignment. Just like an oil change, your vehicle also needs regular re-alignment.

But unlike oil change, you don’t have to take your vehicle for re-alignment every now and then.

Having your car aligned at least every two to three years should be enough to keep it rolling smoothly. But if you can afford it, then you should go for yearly alignment.

Wrapping It Up

Tire balancing and alignment offer great benefits to your car. The most important benefit of taking your vehicle for tire balancing is that it will prevent premature wear and tear. On average, you should have your tires balanced after every 5,000 miles or so Alignment, on the other hand, will enhance your vehicle’s handling, steering response, tire life and fuel efficiency. Just like tire balancing, alignment should also be done every 5,000 miles. Ideally, tire balancing and alignment should be done at the same time.

About THE AUTHOR

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

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