Your tires are the connection between the road and your vehicle, and are very important for vehicle safety and fuel efficiency. Because the wheels are constantly being shifted as you make turns on the road, uneven wear and tear must be corrected periodically. From a financial standpoint, this can be a difficult decision for you, but it’s important to trust your repair center to provide a long-term plan for wheel care that will save you money down the road.
Why Both Balancing And Alignment Are Needed
Tires look perfectly round and symmetrical when they are new, but they actually have minute imperfections in both shape and weight distribution. In many cases, the tread can be as much as one-eighth of an inch thicker on one side than the other. As tire treads wear down, this mass distribution imbalance can become even more pronounced. Tires are initially balanced when they are mounted on your vehicle, but periodic re-balancing is necessary.
A tire alignment is not the same thing as tire balancing. Tire alignment involves correcting the forward-facing position of the tires The wheels normally point forward so that the front of the tires roll exactly in the direction you want to drive. Over time, the wheels can rotate slightly to the right or left. This results in a swaying sensation or a side-pull when driving. Periodic tire alignment is necessary in order to prevent more severe damage to the vehicle and loss of control by the driver.
Wheels that are out of alignment can actually work against each other. This increases wear and tear on the suspension, axle, or wheel mounts. It also decreases fuel mileage because more and more energy is being wasted through friction and heat buildup. Signs of misaligned tires include wheel vibration, pulling to the right or left, uneven tire wear, and a crooked steering wheel. The latter refers to a steering wheel that is slightly turned to the side even when the car is rolling straight down the highway. Repair specialists look at three things when examining tire alignment. These are camber, caster, and toe. Camber refers to the wheel angle, and caster refers to the wheel pivot angle. Toe is the angle of the tires themselves in relation to the rest of the vehicle. If any of these are out of alignment, repair is necessary. Proper alignment increases fuel mileage, reduces uneven tire wear, and improves overall handling of the vehicle.
New tires have small metal attachments, usually three of them, clamped to the rim. These are placed by the installer at strategic locations to balance out any imperfections in the tire’s mass distribution. The tire is mounted on a spinning machine to check for vibration. The small plates are moved along the perimeter of the rim until the spin is steady. As tires become worn down and the tread becomes uneven, the vehicle may begin to vibrate, especially at speeds in excess of 50 mph. This is the most common sign of tire imbalance. Balancing the tires is inexpensive and should be performed immediately if one or more of the metal weights has moved or has fallen off.