How Do I Know If My Tires Need to Be Balanced?
Tire balancing is a tune-up for your wheel-tire set. It makes sure that weight is evenly distributed around the entire circumference of the unit. The common symptoms of out-of-balance tires are uneven and faster tread wear, poor fuel economy, and vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or the seat that gets worse at faster speeds.
When all areas of the wheel-tire unit are as equal in weight as possible, the tire will roll smoothly. This helps it wear evenly, for longest life. Balancing also contributes to ride comfort: Imbalanced tires will wobble or hop up and down, which causes vibration. If a front tire isn’t properly balanced you’ll likely feel vibration in the steering wheel. If the problem is in the rear the tremor will be noticeable in the seat or floor.
Imbalanced tires are easily corrected, but the work is precise. It’s done by attaching small weights, just fractions of ounces, to the wheel.
How Do Wheels Get Out of Balance?
Everyday wear on tires will contribute to imbalance. Normal manufacturing imperfections are also a cause: Tires and wheels don’t have precisely equal weight distribution. They’ll be slightly heavier in some spots.
Just half an ounce in weight difference is enough to cause a vibration when you’re driving.
How Tires Are Rebalanced
Rebalancing is done in a tire shop by putting the wheel-tire unit on a tire balancing machine that takes measurements to pinpoint lighter or heavier areas and making adjustments to account for these weight differences. The best time to get it done is when tires are being rotated, both for convenience and because you might have a tire out of balance on the rear of the vehicle and won’t feel it until it is moved to the front.
Here’s how it’s done:
- A tire mounted on a wheel is attached to a tire balancing machine.
- The wheel is spun while vibration measurements are taken. This tells the tech if the weight is spread evenly, how much weight to add and where on the wheel to attach it.
- If an imbalance is found, the technician may be able to rebalance and adjust the weights (adding more). But sometimes it requires the tech to also move the tire on the wheel and then rebalance. This is because a heavy spot on the wheel and on the tire can sometimes line up together, causing a greater imbalance that needs to be corrected.
Balancing Versus Alignment
Though both should be part of regular auto maintenance, balancing isn’t the same as getting an alignment. Wheel alignment corrects the angles of the tires so they travel in the same direction and make contact with the road properly. Alignment reduces uneven tire wear and extends the life of your tires. Oftentimes tire balancing and alignment are perceived to be the same thing, but are not.
When to Get Tire Balancing Done:
- You feel vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or your seat.
- You get them rotated, generally every 5,000 miles.
- At the very least every two years, once yearly if you drive rough roads.
- You get a flat and repair a tire.
- You buy any new tire(s).
- A weight that used to be on the rim falls off.
- You notice uneven tire wear.
Tire balancing and rotation are often done at the same time, but they aren’t the same service. Tire rotation is when a vehicle’s front and rear wheels are switched to even out tread wear between them. Since both require removing each wheel, it’s convenient to do them at the same time.
Vibration when underway could be caused by an imbalanced tire and wheel assembly or something else — a bent wheel, a damaged tire (which won’t be fixed by balancing), worn suspension parts or other aging components. If you feel a vibration, don’t wait to get it diagnosed. You’ll head off other problems — and enjoy a smoother ride — when your tires are well balanced.
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The Difference Between Tire Balancing and Alignment
It’s easy to get tire balancing and alignment confused. After all, they both sound like they would do the same thing. But in reality, they are very different services. In the simplest terms, tire balancing uses weights on your wheels to keep your vehicle from vibrating, while an alignment keeps all of your wheels pointing in the same direction for safety and performance. Here’s a quick look at which service you might need for your vehicle.
What is Tire Balancing?
Tire balancing ensures that the heavy spot in your tire and wheel assembly is counteracted to eliminate vibrations and provide a smooth ride. This is done by attaching small weights to the wheel. When your assembly is balanced, it can result in a smoother ride, as well as less wear on your tires, chassis, and drivetrain.
The most common symptom of an out-of-balance tire is vibration felt in the steering wheel, floorboard or seat. If left uncorrected can also lead to uneven tread wear, which means your tires could wear out faster. If a front tire isn’t properly balanced, you’ll likely feel that vibration in the steering wheel. If the problem is in the rear, you’ll feel it in the seat or floor. This vibration can change depending on the speed you’re traveling.
Check out our article How Do I Know If My Tires Need to Be Balanced.
Every time you buy a new set of tires or wheels at Les Schwab, we will balance the assembly. We also offer lifetime rebalancing, because as your tires wear, your balance can change. This is all part of our Best Tire Value Promise.
What is an Alignment?
An alignment is the process of adjusting the angles of your vehicle’s wheels so they are all working together on straightaways and corners. Everyday driving can cause your wheels to get slightly out of sync from one another. Especially if you hit a few curbs or potholes.
When one or more of your wheels isn’t pointing in the same direction, your tires are essentially scuffing on the road as you drive. This can lead to faster tire wear, pulling to one side or the other, a steering wheel that’s off-center, and loss of fuel economy.
Les Schwab Tip: If you notice one or more of your tires wearing more quickly than the others, your vehicle could be out of alignment.
If you can, it’s a good idea to get your alignment checked twice per year. We suggest early spring and early fall. If you can only do it once per year, stick with early spring.
See our article When to Get Your Car Alignment Checked for more.
Stop by Les Schwab if you feel your vehicle pulling to the right or left on a straight and level road, your steering wheel is off-center, or if you see uneven tire wear. If your vehicle needs to be aligned, we’ll show you your options and help you get safely back on the road.
Les Schwab Tire Balancing and Alignment
Your Local Les Schwab is here to check your alignment and get your wheel-tire assembly balanced so that your vehicle performs the way it was designed. While we’re at it, we can check other important safety components to keep you and your family safe.
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Les Schwab Tech Tip: Quick Guide to Properly Inflated Tires
Having the right air pressure in your tires is vital. After all, it’s the air in your tires that supports the weight of your vehicle, not the tires themselves. Underinflation or over-inflation can damage your tires and wear them out faster. Plus, the wrong PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch) can affect fuel efficiency and stopping distance. Here’s a quick guide to understanding tire pressure, and where to find the recommended tire inflation pressure for your vehicle.
Where to Find Your Recommended PSI
Remember your first real bike? On the side of each tire was a recommended PSI. That’s the number you used when inflating the tires. That’s not exactly how PSI works on your car or truck. The recommended tire pressure for your vehicle is located in your owner’s manual or on the driver’s side door sticker. In some cases, it will list the PSI for both the front and back tires when cold for the original equipment or equivalent tires. (For example, first thing in the morning before the vehicle has been driven.) You may find the PSI for your spare as well.
Les Schwab Tip: Deviating from the original tire size that came with your vehicle can affect the recommended PSI. If you have questions, stop by your local Les Schwab.
What does the cold PSI on the side of your tire indicate? That is the maximum pressure the tire is designed to safely hold, which may be different from your vehicle’s recommended tire pressure.
As of September 1, 2007, all light motor vehicles (cars and trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating under ten thousand pounds) were mandated to come equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). Most of these vehicles are equipped with a system that will alert you when one or more tires aren’t properly inflated. For more information, please see our Guide to Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems.
Check Your Tire Pressure Monthly
Your tire pressure will fluctuate as you drive. Weather, elevation, and how the vehicle is being driven can all be factors. Therefore, the best time to check and inflate your tires is in the morning, before you’ve traveled more than a few miles.
On average, tires will lose one pound of pressure per month. Plus, summer and winter months can play havoc with your tire’s recommended tire pressure. Summertime heat can increase the PSI while cold weather can lower it. You can see why monthly checks are a good idea.
Anytime you’re out and about, pull into your local Les Schwab. We’ll check your tire’s air pressure for free and get all of your tires to their proper inflation.
For more information, please check out our article How to Make Your Tires Last Longer.
Tires inflated to the correct air pressure will improve fuel efficiency year-round. When your tires are under-inflated, your car works harder to move forward. Just 10 PSI lower than recommended can reduce your MPG by up to 2 percent, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report.
A crash causation survey done by the NHTSA found that improper tire inflation is, in part, the cause for 9% of crashes. When a tire is under or over-inflated, it can affect the handling, stopping, and impact crash-avoidance systems in some of today’s new vehicles.
What About Towing?
Some truck and other vehicle manufacturers recommend higher tire pressure when a truck is loaded down or towing a trailer. It’s always a good idea to stop by your local Les Schwab before over-inflating your tires when towing anything. See Trailer and Tire Do’s and Don’ts for answers to some common questions.
Les Schwab Knows Your PSI
Pull into your local Les Schwab and we’ll check your tire pressure, add air when needed to achieve the recommended tire pressure, and help you get safely back on the road.
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