Wheel Alignment and Balancing: Shake, Rattle and Roll

Wheel alignment and tire balancing are often small adjustments with big consequences. Beyond being part of routine tire maintenance, keeping everything rolling smoothly affects steering, suspension, and ride feel. For these reasons, it’s worth learning the basics and keeping an eye out for possible issues.

Rough and tumble

Wheel alignment and tire balancing often go hand in hand, but they’re very different processes. An alignment deals with the tires’ angles and their relationship to one another. Tire balancing, however, is an adjustment to each individual tire. Both alignment and balancing need to be redone every now and then as conditions change: tires age, suspension components wear and slacken, the undercarriage gets hit, and vibrations cause parts to loosen. Just as all these components work together, they can also work against one another. A little extra play in a joint might cause a tire to wear irregularly, create a vibration that damages suspension, or more. Things can easily get out of hand!

Reinventing the wheel

The purpose of wheel balancing is to ensure the tire is equally weighted all around for a smooth ride. Even brand-new tires have small imperfections that require balancing and, over time, tire wear inevitably occurs. The most obvious early symptom of an imbalanced tire is vibration, especially at higher speeds. It’s usually felt in the floorboards or through the steering wheel. That said, there are several other possible causes for vibrations and balancing a tire wheel assembly can only do so much. For instance, balance can’t correct an out-of-round wheel.

Straighten up and drive right

Wheel balancing is simultaneously a simple and precise task. Machines designed to spin the wheels and sense any weight imbalances are used to pinpoint spots along the rim to install small wheel weights. While the occasional wheel balance is necessary, there’s a lot you can do as a driver to keep everything in check. Rotate your tires (while you’re at it, have the balance and alignment looked at), keep them properly inflated, avoid hard braking or peeling out, and keep an eye on your tread.

They say balance is important in life, and wheels are no exception. Tires do a lot to get you where you need to go, so be kind to them and they’ll take you even further.

Blair Lampe