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tires balancing on a tightrope

Tire Balancing

We all want a smooth and comfortable ride out of our tires. You may need to have your tires balanced if you experience vibration in your steering wheel or shaking and swaying while driving. Tire balancing is a specific type of tire maintenance that makes sure your tires and wheels are working together to provide the smoothest possible ride.

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While balancing your tires, a technician uses a highly calibrated balancer and then applies wheel weights (measured in ounces) to evenly redistribute the weight of a tire and wheel assembly. This process eliminates or minimizes any vibrations to ensure a smooth ride, while also reducing wear and tear on suspension components. To get the most out of your tires, we recommend having your tires balanced every 6,000 miles.

How do I know if my tires are out of balance?

If you notice a vibration in your steering wheel, seat or floorboard while driving at highway speeds, typically 45 mph or higher, you may need to have your tires balanced. An imbalance occurs when a wheel and tire assembly’s distribution of weight (or mass) becomes uneven. Imbalances are very common because tires and wheels are not perfectly round, despite their appearance. When placed together, the wheel and tire’s absolute center of gravity almost never matches the center of the assembly. This causes vibration as the assembly spins on its center against the offset center of gravity. The vibration occurs continuously as the tire and wheel spin together on either the vehicle or the balancer.

static imbalances and dynamic imbalances

Static imbalances

Static imbalances occur when a light or heavy spot prevents the tire from rolling evenly, causing the tire and wheel to vibrate in an up-and-down motion.

Dynamic imbalances

Dynamic imbalances occur when unequal weight, on one or both sides of the tire’s lateral centerline, causes a side-to-side vibration.

Most of the time, a vibration is the result of both a static and dynamic imbalance at the same time.

Imbalances and vibrations are commonly caused by a term known as runout, which is a condition created by the slightly imperfect shape of both the wheel and the tire. Runout occurs when the wheel and tire assembly has a significantly higher point from its center than other places on the tire. A great example of this is an egg that vibrates up and down while rolling on a table, the tire and wheel also vibrate due to their imperfect circular shape. To correct this condition, the high point of the tire can be matched with the low point of the wheel.

How often do I need to balance my tires?

It is very common to have your tires balanced only after noticing a vibration in your steering wheel and balancing corrects these vibrations in most cases, but it also benefits tire tread life when performed at regular intervals. Regular balancing reduces the chance of an imbalance causing irregular or uneven tread wear. Discount Tire recommends that drivers have their tires balanced every 6,000 miles, instead of only after a problem appears.

Balancing provides significant benefits for modern vehicles, which feature more lightweight composite materials and weigh less than their predecessors. The heavier vehicles of previous years actually generated a smoother ride by dampening vibrations before it affected the driver, but today’s lighter vehicles do not have the weight to do the same. Additionally, consumer trends in today’s tire market veer toward more responsive tires with lower profiles. These stylish performance tires often feature narrower sidewalls that lack the overall mass to resist imbalances and vibrations. The plus-sized tires and wheels are popular among today’s drivers have an even greater sensitivity to imbalances.

Modern cars (and tires) are prone to imbalances, even to the point where half an ounce of uneven weight can cause a driver to feel a vibration. This added sensitivity makes regular balancing a higher priority. Visit your local Discount Tire every 6,000 miles or if you notice vibration in your steering wheel, seat or floorboard while driving at highway speeds to avoid irregular tread wear.

What is the tire balancing process?

A technician balances a wheel and tire assembly with a state-of-the-art balancing machine. This machine has a spindle that fits through the center bore of the wheel and then uses an adaptor that perfectly centers the assembly on the machine. The machine then spins the assembly at high speeds to determine its heaviest point. The machine signals the technician where to place weights that will compensate for the wheel and tire assembly’s heavy spots.

The technician will attach clip-on weights onto the lip contours of original equipment steel or alloy wheels. Older versions of these weights were made of lead, but now wheel weights are often made of environmentally friendly zinc or steel. Many aftermarket wheels have smooth faces and delicate finishes, and they may lack contoured lips on which to clip weights. To balance these wheels, a technician places adhesive weights behind the wheel face. Some styles of wheels require both clip-on and adhesive weights.

Standard balancing will likely correct steering vibrations that affect the driver, but not in every case. Many other vehicle parts can be a source of vibration as you drive down the road. Some example may include a bent wheel, an out-of-round tire, brake component wear, drivetrain wear, suspension wear or suspension alignment. To help detect some of these conditions, a technician may place a wheel and tire assembly on an advanced balancer called a road force balancer. This machine performs a traditional spin balance and also measures the tire and wheel for other issues contributing to vibration.

If you have any questions or need any assistance, stop by your local Discount Tire and we'll get you taken care of.

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