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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The Basics of Road-Force Balancing
No wheel and tire assembly is ever perfect, and vibrations can happen. A road-force balance machine uses a load-roller to simulate road pressure as an efficient way to identify even the slightest inconsistencies. This, in turn, easily provides a technician with a diagnosis of those variations in the tire and wheel assembly, allowing them to make adjustments that mitigate any vibration issues.
Here’s how it all works.
Balance Sometimes Requires More Precision
Even when you buy four new wheels or four new tires, there will be small differences in their weight, stiffness, and balance. Low and high points in the wheel and tire construction are called lateral runout or radial runout. Stiff spots on the tire are referred to as force variation.
What does this mean to you? It means no two tires or wheels are exactly alike. When new tires are installed or standard balancing has not remedied an issue, a road-force balance machine can be used to counteract unresolved runouts or variations by identifying what a technician needs to properly balance your wheel and tire assembly.
How does this machine work? Once a hood closes on the road-force balancer, the wheel and tire assembly begins to spin. A second diagnostic wheel or load-roller pushes against the tire to test and record its balance as if it were on the road.
That test tells a technician where inconsistencies can be found and how to properly balance the wheel and tire assembly. Fixes can involve adding weights to the wheel, remounting the tire to find a better match, and bead massaging to push the new tire into the rim for a better fit.
Equalizing Your Custom Wheels
Today’s vehicles come with some impressive wheel sizes. Plus, you can add custom wheels for an enhanced design and look. But with bigger wheels come shorter tire sidewalls, which can be more sensitive to road vibration forces. A road-force balance can help alleviate those issues.
Find Balance at Les Schwab
Keep in mind, some vibrations cannot be resolved by any type of balancing. These include, but are not limited to, a bent rim, irregular tire wear, wheel and tire defects, and other mechanical issues with your vehicle.
However, if you’re experiencing a vibration, the pros at Les Schwab have the technology and knowhow to pinpoint the cause. Stop by or schedule a free, pre-trip safety check. Our pros will give your vehicle a quick inspection and show you all the options.