Difference between Wheel Alignment & Tire Balancing

Wheel alignment and tire balancing often go hand in hand, but they’re very different processes. Over time, your vehicle’s tires become uneven, the suspension components wear and slacken, the undercarriage gets hit, and vibrations can loosen parts. To keep these symptoms from becoming serious issues, you need to take your car in for regular wheel alignments and tire balancing. 

Let’s compare these two processes to help you determine which service you need and when. 

What is a wheel alignment?

A wheel alignment evaluates and corrects the angles of your vehicle’s wheels in relationship to the road and each other. If the wheels aren’t parallel, your tires will tend to scuff instead of gripping the road as you drive, speeding up tire wear, de-centring the steering wheel, and reducing your vehicle’s fuel economy. 

If your steering wheel is making noise or feels off-centre, your tires are squealing, or the tread wear is uneven, your car may need a wheel alignment. 

Your owner’s manual will recommend how often to get a wheel alignment, but the typical interval is at least once a year, or whenever you change your tires for the season. 

How it’s done 

With the vehicle raised, a technician will use an alignment machine to inspect the angle of each wheel. They will then adjust the camber, caster, and toe of each wheel according to the inspection results. 

What is tire balancing? 

The purpose of tire balancing is to check that the weight of each tire is equally distributed. Having balanced tires ensures a smooth ride, improved traction and steering control, and extended tire life. 

The most common symptom of tire imbalance is vibration in the floorboards or steering wheel, especially at higher speeds. That said, there are several other things that can cause vibrations, and balancing a tire wheel assembly can only do so much. For instance, tire balancing can’t correct a misshapen wheel. 

Other common symptoms of unbalanced tires include cupped wear patterns, poor fuel economy, and feeling your vehicle pull to one side. If you notice these symptoms, have a professional balance your tires. 

Some of the symptoms of poor wheel alignment and tire imbalance overlap, but a professional will know which service you need. 

Get your tires balanced whenever you change them for the season (once or twice per year). Your owner’s manual will say if your vehicle needs more frequent tire balances. 

How it’s done 

A technician will use a tire balancing machine to spin your car’s tires and wheel assembly to sense any weight imbalances. Based on the measurements the machine produces, the technician will attach small weights made of malleable metals (such as copper or zinc) to the tires to balance them out. 

To have your wheels aligned or tires balanced by a professional, take your vehicle to a NAPA AUTOPRO service centre

Tire & wheel maintenance 

Keep up with your tire maintenance by doing the following every month: check the air pressure of each tire and look for any punctures or excessive wear. In addition, you should rotate your tires every six months. To further protect your tires and your suspension, avoid driving over potholes, braking abruptly, and accelerating too quickly whenever possible. 

Balance is important in all aspects of life, and your car’s tires are no exception. Your tires and wheels do a lot to get you where you need to go, so take proper care of them with regular maintenance and they’ll go the distance. 

For any questions about wheel alignment, tire balancing, or tire and wheel maintenance, talk to the experts at your nearest NAPA AUTOPRO service centre

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