Notice any symptoms of unbalanced tires on your car? You should immediately make an appointment with your local technician.
Unbalanced wheels aren’t usually a reason to bring the car to a complete stop and call for breakdown recovery. However, in bad cases, they make your driving experience rather uncomfortable and, if left unchecked, could lead to tire blowouts.
In this guide, I will list all symptoms to watch out for. Tires out of balance are a fairly common problem, so if it’s happening to you, don’t panic!
It’s a straightforward fix but must be done by a trained mechanic or fitter.
Let’s jump right into it!
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What Is Tire Balancing?
Tire balancing is when small weights are fastened to wheels to ensure they roll perfectly smoothly. It’s done after a tire is attached to the steel or alloy wheel and inflated to the correct pressure.
If you roll something circular (a reel of tape, for example) across the floor, you’ll notice how it often wobbles from side to side. The same thing happens to your car’s wheels when tires are unbalanced.
These “wobbles” are caused by imperceptible manufacturer defects in the metal wheel itself. For instance, if one side is slightly heavier, it’ll naturally lean in that direction.
Before reattaching a wheel and tire to a car’s hub assembly, the technician will place the wheel on a special machine, conveniently known as a tire balancer (or wheel balancer). Most of these use laser technology to measure precisely how imbalanced the combined wheel and tire are.
Computers then calculate precisely how much weight should be placed in which locations on the wheel. These tiny wheel weights, ranging from 5 g to 50 g, counteract the defects, making the tire roll smoothly.
Mechanics stick specially-made self-adhesive weights onto the wheel rim when working with alloy wheels. Steel wheel weights are simply hammered onto the outside or inside of the rim, just where it meets the tire. You should never use hammer-on balance weights on alloy wheels because they’ll do irreparable damage.
Unbalanced Tires Symptoms
Tires could be imbalanced if weights fall off (as they always do with time). A mechanic could also have forgotten to balance a wheel before replacing it on your car – it’s easy to do when you’re in a rush.
Every wheel should be balanced as part of the fitting process. Make sure you check with your tire shop.
Here’s how to tell if your tires are out of balance.
Steering Wheel Vibrating And Shaking
Will unbalanced tires cause shaking?
Yes, without a doubt.
Think back to that reel of tape rolling off and how it shakes and wobbles. That’s literally what your tire is doing if it’s imbalanced.
When it comes down to it, the four wheels are the only things holding your car up above the road. If one (or more) is vibrating, this will transfer up through the steering column, making your steering wheel vibrate. It’ll also transfer through the suspension, potentially making your entire car shake as you’re driving along.
This steering wheel vibration and shaking will get worse the faster you go. Drive as slowly as you can safely to take your car to a nearby shop.
Uneven Tire Wear
Unbalanced tire wear can show itself through your tires, especially during severe or extended cases. You’ll notice an uneven wear pattern across an axle.
This uneven wear results from that swaying motion as the wheel spins. Under normal circumstances, the weight would evenly spread across the tread. However, now it’s putting more stress on a particular part of the tire.
For unbalanced tires, look for a patchy wear pattern.
You should also check the tires’ edges – the inside and the outside. If it’s been worn smooth on one of these, you should get the wheel balancing checked. However, bear in mind that it’s more likely to be caused by your tracking being out of alignment or further suspension or steering issues.
You should quickly check your car’s tire wear as often as possible. Simply check the tire’s edges or look down underneath the car for a better view. Turning the steering wheel to full lock can help you see the wheel from as many angles as possible.
The best way to accurately check tire wear is to remove the wheels. The easiest way to do this is to take your vehicle to your local shop, where the technicians can put it on a ramp and do a thorough once-over.
Difficulty Steering (Particularly At High Speeds)
You should still be able to steer reasonably well – however, it’s likely to feel heavy and unresponsive, particularly when traveling at high speeds. Be extra cautious on freeways.
The car is more difficult to drive because the tire isn’t planted firmly on the ground. It’s wobbling, so it has less traction and takes more force to turn them, pointing the wheels in a particular direction relevant to the vehicle. The parts in contact with the road are also dragging rather than rolling.
Again, you should drive reasonably slowly to a nearby mechanic who can diagnose the problem for you.
Difficulty turning could also be caused by a failing power steering pump (or electrical system), misaligned tires, or other issues within the steering system.
Lower Fuel Economy
If you’re driving with unbalanced tires, you can expect lower fuel economy. It won’t be particularly drastic, though. The engine has to work slightly harder because the wheel’s not turning so efficiently, and thus the car’s not driving as quickly.
However, it’s not likely to reduce by more than a few percent of your average. You might not even notice it as being remarkably different. However, when combined with the other symptoms mentioned on this page, lower fuel economy could certainly be caused by out-of-balance tires.
It could also represent many other things: misfires, low engine oil, poor quality fuel, and so on.
A Note On Camber
When wheels are set to positive or negative camber, it can look incredible. Aesthetically, cars look aggressive and ready for a race. Indeed, when fitted with racing tires on race cars, negative camber is great for increased cornering grip.
On the road, though, it’s a different story. Road tires aren’t designed for negative camber and will wear down much faster.
At the same time, wheels are always balanced, assuming zero camber (with a margin for error). In fact, most road cars tend to have a slightly negative camber (less than -1°), although such a small margin makes little difference.
However, if you highly modify your car and set the camber to ridiculous angles – let’s say -5° or more – it’ll immediately mean the wheels are imbalanced. The weights have been added assuming a completely straight (or as close as makes no difference) position.
Aside from the dangerous pressure on your tires, your ride might become much more uncomfortable.
What Should I Do If My Tires Are Unbalanced?
If your tires aren’t balanced, or you suspect they’re unbalanced, take your car to a mechanic you trust. Ask them to check each wheel and, if necessary, rebalance them. Once they’re back on your vehicle, check the tracking (alignment).
The problem will most likely stem from your front axle, the wheels responsible for the steering. This is where all the weight and power processes happen (in front-wheel-drive cars), so it has a much more significant impact on your driving.
Expect to pay between $20 and $30 per wheel. The material costs to the shop will be virtually non-existent (just the wheel weights). Still, labor could take approximately 10 minutes per tire. Agree to a price before any work is carried out.
As with everything, sometimes wheel balancing can take 5 minutes – sometimes, it takes an hour. Sometimes, tires are just tricky.
The longer it’s left, the more damage it’ll lead to. Get your tires rebalanced as soon as you notice any symptoms, and you’ll nip any future problems in the bud.