Tire Balance Basics For Drivers

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Any time you buy new tires, the shop will mount them to the rims, fill them and then put them on a balance machine before they install them on the car. The balance machine ensures that the combined weight of the rim and tire is evenly distributed around the wheel. The tire and rim will spin on the balance machine so that the sensors on the machine can detect any sort of wobble. This is then adjusted with the placement of small anchor weights on the rim itself. Sometimes, those weights fall off, leaving the tire unbalanced and in need of adjustment. Here are some things every driver should understand about unbalanced tires.

What Causes Unbalanced Tires?

The small weights used to balance a tire are hammered onto the rim during the balancing process. While the process is effective, the weights can fall off for many reasons. For example, balance issues can occur as a result of hitting potholes or other traffic obstructions. The impact can knock weights off the rim. In addition, poorly inflated tires can actually force a weight off the rim as well.

What Are Symptoms of Unbalanced Tires?

There are many symptoms of unbalanced tires. Here are a few to watch for:

Front End Vibration

One of the first things that most drivers notice when the tires are out of alignment is vibration passing through the front end of the car. What you feel will spread from the wheel into the chassis, which will then distribute the vibration throughout the front of the car. The worse the balance issue is, the more vibration you're likely to feel in the car. In fact, with severe balance problems, you may even find that the car vibrates enough that it is uncomfortable to drive.

What many people don't recognize is that the type of vibration you feel will tell you a lot about the source of the balance problem. For example, when the vibration is most pronounced in the steering wheel, that's a sign that the balance issue is most likely in a front tire. If, on the other hand, you feel vibration more in the seats, that's a sign that the balance issue is in the rear tires.

Fuel Economy Issues

When your tires are out of balance, it can actually cause the car to consume more fuel than it normally would. If you are noticing more frequent trips to the gas station in conjunction with other symptoms of balance problems, it's likely to be the culprit. Without proper balance, the tires won't turn the way that they should. That leads to inefficient travel, which can increase your fuel consumption since the engine needs to work harder to compensate for that rotational difference.

Problematic Tire Wear Patterns

The way that your tires wear can directly affect how the car handles. The spinning action of an unbalanced tire can actually put extra pressure on certain parts of the tire instead of keeping the pressure evenly distributed. The uneven pressure distribution will lead to uneven wear patterns on the tire tread. This can cause additional vibration, wobbling, and similar problems. In addition, the uneven wear can make your tire more prone to blowout or other damage.

How Can You Reduce The Risk of Unbalanced Tires?

If you are using traditional wheel weights, you can reduce the risk of unbalanced tires by having them checked on a regular basis. Ask that they be inspected during every oil change to help you spot problems before they cause other symptoms. As another alternative, talk with an auto repair tech at a shop like Jensen Tire & Auto about placing balance beads or sand inside the tire during mounting.