Tire Balancing and Alignment

For those of you who think that tire balancing isn’t that important, consider some industry trends that may help you rethink the issue.  Perhaps the most compelling argument for precision balancing comes from an obvious fact: vehicles are being made lighter and lighter.  The heavier cars of yesterday actually helped smooth out the ride by dampening many vibrations before the driver could feel them.  The softer suspensions also had the same effect.  Another factor is tire technology.  Generally, more responsive tires with lower profiles (which send more road feedback to the driver) are being used in today’s style- and performance-oriented market.  As a result, the slightest imbalance (as little as half an ounce) can be felt in most modern vehicles.  This is significantly less than the average of ten years ago.  For those of you who have plus-sized your tires and wheels, balancing is even more critical.

Perhaps the best way to begin is to discuss the lack of balance.  When a tire is mounted onto the wheel, two slightly imperfect units are joined to form an assembly weighing forty pounds (this is the average for cars).  The chance of this assembly having absolutely precise weight distribution about its radial and lateral centers is virtually impossible.  Remember that all it takes is half an ounce of uneven weight distribution for a vibration to be felt. The balancing system directs a technician to place counter weights on the rim’s outer surface to offset the imbalance.  When the balancing system tests for virtually perfect weight distribution, the assembly is in balance and will not vibrate.  Your tires will ride smoothly and wear evenly with regard to balance.

After driving many miles, turning left and right, hitting bumps and holes you could not see or avoid, and driving down uneven road surfaces, your vehicle will eventually have uneven tread wear on the tires.  Perhaps a pothole has knocked-out your vehicle’s alignment (this creates uneven tire wear).  Well, besides rotating the tires and getting an alignment to set things right, you should also rebalance the tires.  Even if you can’t feel vibrations, they are present.  The uneven tread wear has created an imbalance that generates excessive heat and wear on your tires.  Considering the hundreds of dollars you spent on your tires, a rebalance is a wise expenditure.

Very often the wheel/tire assemblies on a vehicle may be in balance but you can still feel a vibration.  Here are some of the other causes of vibration:

  • Bent wheel
  • Tire out of round (radial or lateral runout)
  • Wheel-to-axle mounting error
  • Inconsistent tire sidewall stiffness (force variation)
  • Brake component wear or failure
  • Drive train or engine component wear or failure
  • Suspension wear or failure
  • Wheel bearing wear or failure
  • Wheel alignment is out

Robert’s Auto Repair can isolate many of these problems for you, and there is no question that determining whether the tire/wheel assemblies are good and in balance is the first place to start.  However, ultimately this may not be the source of your vibration problem.

Alignment is one of the key maintenance factors in getting the most wear and performance from your tires.  In addition, wheel alignment provides safe, predictable vehicle control as well as a smooth and comfortable ride that’s free of pulling or vibration.  Today’s modern suspensions require a precise four-wheel alignment that can only be achieved through a modern alignment system.  This applies to both front and rear wheel drive vehicles.

By now you may have concluded that poor tire wear and misalignment are closely related.  That is true, of course.  But what can be done to minimize this condition?  It turns out that many of these misalignment conditions can be easily “read”, and Robert’s Auto Repair can recommend the appropriate alignment solution.

Remember that tires take the brunt of many problems.  Simply replacing the old ones is not a solution.  Shortly after replacing your old tires, your new tires will begin to reflect the same problems if you have not made the appropriate alignment changes.

Very often a worn suspension part is the cause of an alignment problem.  On older vehicles, worn springs can lower a vehicle’s ride height, altering its geometry and creating misalignment (all alignment settings refer to ride height).  Weak springs can also contribute to uneven or “cupped” tire wear.  Another common problem is worn ball joints.  The symptoms here are erratic handling, slow steering response, and irregular tire wear.  Finally, worn tie rods can allow the tire to wander left to right, effectively changing toe as the vehicle rolls down the road.  Irregular feathering will develop on the tire tread when this is the problem.  This is not an exhaustive listing of diagnostics, but if you stay alert to these common problems, it may help you schedule an early visit to Robert’s Auto Repair and save on tire wear.

We hope this article has proved helpful and informative.  Please call Robert’s Auto Repair at 831-373-1534 to schedule an appointment with our Tire Service Center to schedule a tire balance and alignment service on your vehicle.  We will utilize our high-tech equipment to align your vehicle to factory specifications and make sure your wheels are rolling as straight as possible.

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