Tire Balancing Vs Wheel Alignment
If you have ever driven a brand new car for a test drive, you could tell how smooth that ride was. Maybe that tempted you to buy one. But the smooth ride of your vehicle could change over time if regular maintenance is overlooked. Two of the factors that determine the comfort level of the drive are tire balance (also called wheel balance) and wheel alignment. These terms could be confusing especially if you are new to owning a vehicle. Let's take a deep dive to explain the importance of these terms and their maintenance.
Tires appear physically round and perfect but as you add mileage to them, tiny imperfections begin to develop. These imperfections are both in the shape and weight distribution of the tire. A single tire could have a tread depth difference of one-eighth of an inch from the side of the tire to another. This in turn results in the weight difference. As the tread wears down further the combined weight imbalance of the tire and wheel would become more pronounced. Imbalance in the weight distribution creates vibrations while driving. Sometimes such vibrations could be felt at the steering wheel or at the vehicle flooring when the car is driven at a speed higher than 50mph. These vibrations could further lead to excessive tire wear, suspension damages, and loose attachments in the mechanics of the vehicle.
It is recommended to get your tire balanced every 5k miles. This helps to extend the tire’s lifespan and improve its performance. During this process, the wheel with the tire is mounted on a spinning machine that detects any minute weight imbalance. The machine locates the imbalanced spots and the technician installs small counterweights to achieve a properly balanced tire and wheel assembly.
Even when you are changing to brand new tires, it is required to do tire balancing. This is because even with all the modern manufacturing techniques we have today, it is practically impossible to manufacture a new tire and wheel assembly perfectly balanced.
Wheel alignment (also known as tire alignment) has little to do with the tires or wheels but more with the vehicle’s suspension system that connects the vehicle to its wheels. Wheel alignment benefits include improved vehicle handling, fuel efficiency, and tire life.
Signs that your vehicle needs an alignment fix:
- Uneven and premature tire wear.
- Tire squealing.
- The car pulls to one side when you take your hands off the steering wheel.
- Vibration in the steering wheel while driving.
- The steering wheel tilts off-center while driving.
It is recommended to get both tire balancing and wheel alignment done at the same sitting every 5k miles. The wheel alignment can also get off after an accident, driving into a curb, or driving over a pothole.
Every vehicle has its own standard alignment settings that are recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. There are three ways the wheel is aligned:
Toe angle refers to the angle of the tires in relation to one another when viewed from the top view. This is the most common form of misalignment. If your tire refuses to travel in a straight line when you take your hands off the steering wheel then at least one of the wheels have toe misalignment.
Camber angle is the measure of the centerline of the wheel/tire relative to the road surface when viewed from the front. Camber angle more than the recommended setting in either positive or negative direction can greatly affect the handling dynamics of the car.
Caster angle is the measure of how far behind or forward the steering axis is to the vertical axis when viewed from the side. It is not easy to notice your vehicle’s caster angle being off. Improper caster angle makes it difficult to maintain the straight line travel of the vehicle.