You have surely heard of the "wheel balancing" expression if you are a car owner. Maybe someone told you that it is not mandatory. Someone else possibly suggested that it is actually the same as wheel alignment. Now you sit and guess who is right and wrong and how to do things correctly.
Let us help you and bring a little clarity on this subject. Before going into the details, however, you need to know one important thing. Wheel balancing is a procedure that helps optimize your tires' performance and longevity. So if you have such a goal, periodic wheel balancing is more than welcome.
As a general definition, wheel balancing offers increased safety for your car in traffic. This "procedure" is a method to keep the "health of your car" in perfect condition. I like to combine this procedure with that of wheel alignment and tire rotation. This trio, done regularly, ensures a silky driving performance and considerably preserves the good condition of your tires.
In the same context, you must know from the start that wheel balancing is NOT the same as wheel alignment. The purpose, as well as the principle of activity, differ between them. Now that we have demystified the most popular beliefs, let's move on to a more detailed discussion.
What does Wheel Balancing actually mean?
By balancing the wheels, car experts make sure that the weight between tires and rims is distributed as evenly as possible. Of course, a perfect distribution does not exist. But it is welcome that the weight be as equal as possible between the different weight points of the tires about the wheels.
While many car owners do not consider this balancing necessary, the lack of uniform weight distribution impacts the performance of the tire over time. For this reason, I see this procedure as relevant as tire rotation and wheel alignment. 1
The issue with incorrect weight distribution can appear for several reasons. 2 of them refer to the fact that manufacturers add non-uniform rubber in the production of tires, making them non-uniform in weight. This may be the result of a manufacturing error. The other factor refers to rim manufacturers who, for some reason, can apply more stainless steel on a certain portion of the rim than on another. Consequently, the weight is uneven and must be corrected for optimal performance.
The correction is necessarily done at a service center by a technician initiated in the field. The solution to this problem consists of identifying the heavier and lighter parts of the wheels including tires. In the lighter places, therefore, the technician adds small weights to correct the overall weight of the wheel. When the entire surface of the wheel coincides in weight, the technician necessarily subjects the wheel to a vibration test. It should not vibrate at all, which means an even weight distribution.
Following this procedure, tire life increases. Besides this benefit, correct and even tire weight increases the car's overall performance, which is a nice bonus for car enthusiasts.
How do you get to know that your wheels need balance?
Now that you know more about wheel balancing, let's see if there are signs that tell you that you need to visit a technician. Taking into account the undesirable consequences of wheel misbalance, I recommend that you visit the technician as soon as possible when these signs are detected.
The first suggestive aspect of a potential wheel misbalance is the vibration you feel through the steering wheel. As a rule, the vibration is not very noticeable at low speeds. But once you accelerate, the vibrations become more and more expressive.
At the same time, I suggest you pay attention to the fuel consumption of your car. If the wheels are subject to a lack of adequate balance, the car consumes more effort to ensure maximally efficient traction. But because of the effort, it becomes less fuel-efficient. 2
A wheel misbalance can lead to an uneven driving experience, even in the absence of steering wheel vibrations. The stability of the car seems to become compromised.
A no less important aspect is the premature deterioration of the wheel bearings. So, a regular inspection of them is always welcome to prevent serious damage.
All these signs can occur simultaneously or at different times from each other. Also, you should know that these indications can also suggest other problems, not necessarily related to wheel balancing. For this reason, don't rush to jump to conclusions once they appear. Take the car to the service, and let it be inspected by an auto expert who will confirm if these symptoms are the result of unbalanced wheels. Alternatively, they may be a consequence of wheel misalignment or other technical faults. Below you have an illustration of how tires wear differently depending on the issue they have. Check it out. 3
What causes tires to get unbalanced?
I have recently talked a bit about how the wheels end up getting unbalanced. Let's see what other reasons there could be. Many times, the issue appears during the tire mounting process on the wheels. Technically, it is almost impossible to ensure a uniform weight distribution on the entire circumference of the wheel, even if there are no manufacturers' faults. So the lack of balance is, practically, a quite common phenomenon and somehow, within the limits of the normal.
At the same time, it often happens that even if the wheels have been balanced according to all the rigors, they tend to lose their balance over time, as a natural consequence of their mechanical activity. This phenomenon, again, is a normal one. Some factors actually, can influence the wheels' unbalance. For example, cars that go mainly on bad roads with many potholes are much more prone to wheel balance issues.
With all that in mind, you have to take things calmly and understand that wheel misbalance is a phenomenon as natural as possible and even unavoidable. As you can see, the best thing you can do for your 4-wheel friend is to service it regularly.
I hope things have become clearer for you now. Although it is not one of the most severe damages that can affect a car, wheel imbalance is a silent thread for it. Traditionally, I will end the post with some questions and answers, so that you can strengthen the information in your consciousness as well as possible and not forget the necessity of periodic balancing of the wheels.
What symptoms speak about a potential need for wheel balancing?
Always be alert to the following criteria that suggest a potential problem with wheel balance:
- tire treads get worn much faster than usual;
- the vehicle inefficiently consumes fuel;
- the steering wheel vibrates more and more when the car accelerates.
What does the technician do to fix the problem?
After identifying the problem, the technician will add some weights to the parts of the wheels where weight-poor distribution is detected. In most cases, this procedure is more than enough. In certain cases, the technician may find it necessary to rotate the tires. Also, he may check the locking wheel lugs, which may also require correction.
Is it possible to drive the car if the wheels are not properly balanced?
Technically, yes. It's just that the experience will not be very pleasant. First of all, you will compromise the technical condition of the car. Secondly, driving will be difficult. In the circumstances of improper wheel balance, the steering wheel becomes "capricious". It is not as responsive as it should be and its handling becomes severely compromising. In the same context, the balance issue entails problems with the vehicle's traction, its breaking, as well as its acceleration properties.
How often should you perform wheel balancing?
You would do your car a big favor if you balanced its wheels at least once a year. Some specialists recommend being guided by the distance traveled by your car and making sure of the correct wheel balance every +/- 15,000 miles. In the same context, make sure of the proper wheel balance each time you change the tires of the car and after their rotation.