Wheel Balancing Improves Your Ride

by Don Elliott on February 8, 2012

Drivers often misdiagnose vibration in the steering wheel as a wheel alignment problem. More often than not, steering wheel wobbling can be attributed to a wheel balancing problem. What’s the difference?

Wheel alignment is a series of adjustments that square up the tires and wheels in relation to the road surface and front to rear. Wheel balancing is an adjustment to the tire and wheel assembly itself, making sure that the mass of the wheel is evenly distributed around the center point of rotation. Out of balance by as little as half an ounce can cause vibration and accelerated wear on the tire.

Slight irregularities in both the tire and wheel mean one side of the wheel assembly is heavier than another side. Repair shops use either a static or dynamic wheel-balancing machine to determine the light spots on the wheel. Weights are added to the wheel rim until the wheel assembly is balanced around the perimeter.

An older technique for wheel balancing is the static balancing machine, or bubble balancer. These non-rotating devices use an oil-filled glass gauge with an air bubble that is centered when the wheel is balanced. The technician applies removable weights to the edge of the wheel until the bubble moves to the center of the glass gauge.

More common in today’s well-equipped tire and service shops is dynamic wheel balancing. The wheel assembly is “spin balanced” to find the exact location causing the imbalance. Typically, weights are applied to the outer rim of the wheel until balance is obtained. More sophisticated equipment measures imbalance on the inside and outside of the wheel assembly. On the most sophisticated dynamic wheel balancing machines, computer-measuring devices track first the out of balance problem, and then confirm proper balance after the weights have been applied, including a computer printout confirming the work. High performance tires and wheels should be balanced on these most sophisticated balancers. Tires and wheels are matched by strategically mounting the tire on the wheel so the least amount of weight is required.

For years, wheel weights have been made of lead. The harmful effects of lead on the environment have caused several states to ban their use, leading to a variety of non-lead weights made of zinc or steel. Typically, wheel weights have been clipped on to the inner or outer edge of the wheel. More recently, adhesive wheel weights have become more common.

Unfortunately, wheels don’t stay in balance forever. Tread wear, wheel damage, and weights that fall off require that wheels should be balanced periodically. Retail tire shops and auto repair shops suggest wheel balancing services should be completed every time you rotate the tires or approximately every 5,000 miles. Keep up to date with your wheel balancing to ensure you maintain a good used car value.

Google+ Comments

Previous post:

Next post: