You can easily get confused by tire balancing and alignment. After all, they both sound like they would do the same thing and contribute to a smoother ride. But in reality, they are very different services. A tire balancing corrects the weight imbalance on your tire and wheel assemblies, while wheel alignment corrects the angles of the tires so that they come into contact with the road in just the right way.
If you are wondering, “What is wheel alignment?” Or, “What does tire balancing mean?” This is the time to dive deeper into your car care practice. Here’s a quick look at which service you might need for your vehicle.
What Is Tire Balancing?
Tire balancing, also known as wheel balancing, corrects the uneven distribution of weight on the wheels. Imbalance wheels can cause vibration, excessive tire wear, suspension damage, and other problems.
Tire balancing is a tune-up for your wheel and tire set. It ensures that the weight is evenly distributed over the entire circumference of the device. The most common symptoms of unbalanced tires are uneven and faster tread wear, poor fuel economy, and vibrations in the steering wheel, the floorboard, or seat that get worse at higher speeds.
If all areas of the wheel-tire unit weigh as much as possible, the tire rolls smoothly. This helps ensure it wears evenly for the longest life. Balancing also contributes to driving comfort: unbalanced tires wobble or jump up and down, which leads to vibrations. If a front tire is not properly balanced, you will likely feel vibrations in the steering wheel. If the problem is in the rear, the tremor will be noticeable on the seat or floor.
Imbalance tires are easily corrected, but the work is precise. To do this, small weights, only fractions of an ounce, are attached to the wheel.
Related: What is Tire Balancing?
What Are the Signs That Your Tires Needs Balancing?
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 the 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 a vibration in the steering wheel. If the problem is in the rear the tremor will be noticeable on 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 were 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.
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.
Related: What is Tire Rotation?
What Is Wheel Alignment?
Wheel alignment, also known as tire alignment, refers to an adjustment of a car’s suspension – the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels. It’s not an adjustment of the tires or wheels themselves.
An alignment is a 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 with 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.
Tire alignment keeps your car from veering to the right or left. It also can improve the handling of your vehicle and stop unusual on-the-road vibrations.
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.
Related: What is Wheel Alignment?
What Are the Signs That Your Car Needs an Alignment?
Your vehicle might need an alignment if you notice any of the following:
- The car is pulling to one side of the road.
- The tire treads are wearing out prematurely or unevenly.
- The tires are squealing.
- The steering wheel tilts off-center when you’re driving.
- The steering wheel vibrates when accelerating.
Your alignment can get knocked out of whack after being in a car accident, driving over a pothole, or running into a curb.
How Much Do Tire Balancing and Alignment Cost?
How Much Does a Tire Alignment Cost?
The cost of an alignment depends on several factors:
- The number of wheels: A front-end alignment, which involves only the two wheels on the front of the car, typically costs anywhere from $50 to $75. Four-wheel alignments cost more, usually $100 to $150.
- Type of car: Luxury cars will have more expensive tire alignments, as will models that require specialized equipment or have a design that makes the job more difficult and time-consuming.
- Extra services: Services like tire balancing or car suspension repairs, which the mechanic might need to complete before the alignment, increases the cost of the alignment.
- Local labor costs: The cost of alignment depends on your location, and it can also vary mechanic to mechanic.
How Much Does a Tire Balancing Cost?
Many tire shops offer free balancing as part of tire packages that are purchased from them, but you’ll have to pay for it in other cases. On average, plan to spend between $15 and $75, depending on your vehicle, the tires, and the shop.