What is Tire Balancing?
Tire balancing is a tune-up for your wheel-tire set. 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.
It ensures that the weight is evenly distributed over the entire circumference of the unit. The most common symptoms of unbalanced tires are uneven and faster tread wear, poor fuel economy, and vibrations in the steering wheel, floor pan, or seat that get worse at higher speeds.
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 in the seat or floor. Imbalance tires are easily corrected, but the work is precise. It’s done by attaching small weights, just fractions of ounces, to the wheel.
Daily tire wear contributes to imbalance. Normal manufacturing defects are also a cause: tires and wheels do not have exactly the same weight distribution. They will be a bit heavier in some places. Just half an ounce of weight difference is enough to cause a vibration when driving.
Why Do Tires Need Balancing?
Tires and wheels do not come from the manufacturer in perfect condition and are ready to go. Though they may seem uniform to the eye, tires and wheels often have variations in weight throughout their structure.
Normal wear and tear can also change your wheel and tire’s balance. When your wheels are not balanced, your tires will not spin smoothly. This affects the way your vehicle handles.
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.
How To Tell Which Tire Is Out of Balance?
Unlike some vehicle maintenance issues that tend to hide until the problem gets out of hand, you’ll know when it’s time to get a tire balance or at least a check-up. An imbalance in the tire will cause it to wobble and vibrate as the wheel starts to rotate.
The faster the rotation, the more intense the vibration. If you feel a vibration in the steering wheel, that’s probably related to an issue with the front tires’ balance, but a vibration that can be felt in your seat indicates an issue with the rear-tire balance.
Only a small amount of imbalance is enough to disrupt how your car feels and handles. Discover some of the signs that you need to balance your tires.
1. Strange Vibrations
The sudden appearance of vibrations is one sign that your tires don’t have the correct balance. These vibrations are noticeable in your steering wheel when you reach moderate speeds. The vibrations get worse as you drive faster, then smooth out after you reach highway speed.
2. Unusual Tread Wear
A poorly balanced tire causes unusual, patchy flat areas in a tire’s tread after time. These wear patches often have no consistency in size or shape. If you ignore the problem for too long, then your tires could end up with lost treads. Uneven wear also affects the strength and integrity of the sidewalls after a while and could result in a blowout.
3. Worn Suspension Components
The vibration from unbalanced tires reverberates through the rest of the wheel and suspension system. This eventually leads to early wear and damage to wheel bearings and shocks. It also affects your vehicle’s responsiveness and handling. Over time, you may notice more play (or looseness) in your steering or strange noises from the bearings.
4. Changes in Gas Mileage
Vibrations and unusually worn tires can cause your gas mileage to diminish, especially as your speed increases. However, check your tires for underinflation as well, as this is also a common cause of increased fuel consumption.
What You Need to Know About Tire Balancing
- Tires: When we say tires, we’re referring specifically to the rubber, not to the wheels themselves. We’ll note when the wheel is involved, but we’re only talking about the tires for most topics in this post.
- Balance: Balance refers to the tires’ ability to rotate smoothly without undesirable vibrations. Due to variations in manufacturing technologies and damage that could occur during shipping and handling, a tire can be heavier on one side or another for various reasons.
- Rotation: When we say rotations, we’re talking specifically about tire and wheel rotation. This is different from your engine’s rotations per minute (RPM), which is a mechanical system that doesn’t have anything to do with tires.
- Weights: Weights are exactly what they sound like. They are placed at specific spots around a tire to ensure that any heavy spots have a counterbalance to even them out on the other side of the tire.
Types of Tire Balancing
There are three main types of tire balancing:
- Dynamic (spin-balancing)
Static balancing involves weights being added across only one line of the tire, which is called one plane as if the tire was a disc. It is an old-school method that is the easiest to perform and is helpful in light-imbalance cases.
If tires are out of balance, each is placed on a vertical supporter with a spindle tool or a bubble balancer. The heavier side will lean lower to the ground, showing that 180° across from it is where your mechanic should place a weight.
Eventually, the weights will be only on one side of the wheel, which is good for those who don’t want them on the outside. However, if the imbalance is more complex, this method may be insufficient.
Dynamic balancing involves having the weights spread across the tire (side-to-side, up and down), which is dual plain. Mechanics use modern spinning computer balancers for this procedure. The technician places the wheel-tire assembly on a machine, which then spins at certain speeds.
During manufacturer tests, the speeds are usually from 10-15 mph to 55-60 mph. While the unit spins, the sensors of the machine measure all weight imperfections. Spin balancers don’t just show the location of the stiffer spots if the tires are out of balance. They also measure how much weight your mechanic should apply to fix the situation.
The weights are on both sides of the wheel in this case, and it also provides more precision and balance. Plus, some of the wheels have a “positive offset”, meaning most of the wheels’ surface is inboard. In such a case, the outer elements can be behind the wheel’s face, while the inner can be on the inside part.
Road Force Balancing
Road force balancing is one of the newest technologies that create road conditions simulation. The machine has a large roller that presses on the tire, applying the estimated weight of the vehicle. This method can detect if the tires are out of balance even in complicated cases.
Such machines also have different “tolerances” that fit different types of vehicles. During the process, sensors read the pressure around the circumference, detecting irregularities. If there is too much variation, the system shows the technician a message to take readings from the wheel.
The machine then determines whether the tire or the wheel is the cause of the issue. It also shows whether the two items can be re-matched to meet the chosen tolerance. If so, the system specifies the spots to work with.
The technician then lubricates the bead and turns the tire on the rim to achieve the lowest level of road force variation. The machine doesn’t always get the spots right the first time, and there are certain details the technician should know. However, this level of precision is impossible with static or dynamic balancers.
How often should tires be balanced?
Many experts argue over how often the tire balance should be checked. It is usually recommended that they be examined every 5000 to 7500 miles or every 2 years.
We advise that you use this guide as a rule of thumb, but double-check your owner’s manual and watch for any strange vibrations. If you continue to drive with unbalanced tires, they will wear out very quickly and you could also risk ruining your suspension.
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 Cost Near Me
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.
When a technician balances your tire, they use different techniques depending on whether you have alloy or steel wheels. I’ll explain those techniques in more detail in one of the following sections.
The majority of the cost of tire balancing – which shouldn’t be too much of a cost in itself – is labor. You’ll be paying per minute for the technician to lift the car, remove the wheels and balance them before reinstalling everything.
The only material the mechanic will be using is the wheel weights. Although these are technically part of the price you pay, the cost is often less than a few cents per weight negligible, so far as most businesses are concerned. You probably won’t see this cost itemized on your invoice or receipt.