Wheel balancing can feel like one of those minor jobs, so you’re tempted to ignore your wobbling tire. It’s not that important – right?
Wheel balancing keeps your tires in good condition and helps keep you safe on the road. It’s also very cheap; you’ll be glad to hear.
In this guide, you’ll learn what wheel balancing is and how much you should expect to pay.
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What Is Wheel Balancing?
Wheel balancing is the process of adding weights to a wheel and tire assembly. By doing so, it rolls more smoothly.
Tire shops and technicians balance wheels dynamically (while moving), not statically (while stationary). This is much more realistic, accurate, and safe.
Although you might have never thought about it, this is crucial.
Without wheel balancing, the combined wheel and tire would rock from side to side while rolling. This puts pressure on certain patches as it rotates, creating an uneven wear pattern.
It’ll also start vibrating and shaking through the steering wheel.
Manufacturing millions of geometrically perfect wheels is impossible. They’d be so expensive that nobody would be able to afford them.
Even if the metal wheels could be made flawlessly, the tires must be built to the same standards. They must not impact the center of mass even slightly when filled with air pressure.
This is simply not possible.
Instead, we compromise. That’s why a mechanic balances the wheels before being fitted to a car.
What’s The Cost To Balance Wheels?
The cost of balancing wheels should be minimal. Although each shop will set its own rates, $15 or $20 per wheel is a reasonable estimate.
For the four wheels on your car, wheel balancing will come to between $60 and $80. You may even pay less.
Get quotes from a range of nearby tire shops and mechanics. The cheapest won’t always be the best, though – go with someone you trust.
In some shops, the cost of mounting and balancing tires will be included with tire purchases.
Finally, if you come across a reliable mechanic (or an old, trusted friend), they might check the balance for free. You might only pay if they find the wheels are imbalanced and need adjusting.
Don’t expect this from everyone, of course. But there are benefits of forming a close relationship with your local shop.
Why Does Wheel Balancing Cost This Much?
Wheel balancing is one of the cheapest jobs that you can do on your car.
It takes mechanics around 30 minutes to get your car into the shop, remove and balance all four wheels, refit them, and torque the nuts.
Almost the entire price is made up of the shop’s labor rate. The material cost (the wheel weights) will be almost negligible.
In most places, you won’t specifically pay ‘per hour’. Rather, the mechanics will set a flat rate based on the average time it takes to balance a wheel.
How Are Wheels Balanced?
Wheels are balanced using a creatively-named machine called a wheel balancer (or a tire balancer).
The combined wheel and tire (inflated to the correct psi) are mounted on an appropriately-sized conical hub bearing on the machine’s drive spindle. It’s then locked in place with a wing nut.
The mechanic will calibrate the wheel balancer, setting the tire size and offset.
They’ll then cover the wheel with the guard, automatically triggering the start of the process. The machine spins the tire, using lasers to monitor how it moves under rotation.
After a few seconds, the power shuts off to the mounting spindle. The mechanic uses a manual brake to bring the wheel to a stop.
The tire balancer now displays how much weight needs to be attached to the inside and the outside of the wheel.
The mechanic attaches wheel weights (of incremental value, from 5g to 50g) to their respective sides.
This process is repeated until the readings show a negligible weight difference. In other words, weight is evenly distributed across the wheel and tire assembly.
Many technicians will continue balancing until the machine shows 0g on each side. However, a 5g tolerance is generally taken as acceptable.
At this point, the wheel is removed from the machine and mounted back on your car. The vehicle is then lowered, and the wheel nuts are torqued.
Balancing Steel Wheels And Alloy Wheels
The specific process of adding weights varies between steel and alloy wheels. This is due to the sensitive nature of the alloy wheels.
For steel wheels, mechanics hammer the weights onto the lip, where the inside of the tire meets the outside of the wheel.
This works fine for steel wheels. However, it shouldn’t be done on alloy wheels because this process damages the expensive metal.
Instead, technicians use a different method for alloy wheels. They’ll use a spray to clean up the inside of the rims. These get fouled up from dirty water, brake dust, etc.
They then apply a different kind of wheel weight. These have a sticky back and attach directly to the rims.
Do You Need To Balance All The Wheels?
You do need to balance all the wheels. Any of them could wobble while rolling, creating an uncomfortable ride and dangerous tire wear.
Sometimes, a wheel and tire assembly can be 100g or more out of balance before balancing. Considering the 5g tolerance, this is quite severe. Don’t risk it for the sake of pennies!
If you’re particularly strapped for cash, prioritize the fronts. These tires are under the most stress (steering and front-wheel-drive power transfer).
But that doesn’t mean the rears aren’t also crucial! In almost every case, you should get all four tires balanced.
It’s also a good idea (although not necessary) to get the spare wheel balanced.
This is more important for 4x4s and trucks, where the spare can be the same size and specification as the others. If it hasn’t been used since its last balance, don’t worry about it (but check the air pressure before using it!).
It might cost a little more to balance all the wheels, yes. But it’s far less pricey than a new set of tires or even wrecking your car in an accident caused by a blowout!
Can You Drive Without Balancing Wheels?
Wheel balancing should be checked and adjusted on a regular basis. Once a year should be enough, although your owner’s manual might recommend a different timeframe.
Some mechanics will include it in a service or as part of a tire rotation. In this case, great! Take that offer.
If you notice any signs of imbalanced wheels, go to a tire shop and have them balanced. The cost should be very low compared to most automotive jobs.
Do You Need To Balance Wheels When You Get New Tires?
You can technically drive without doing so, but most shops will (rightly) refuse to let you.
The reason? It’s dangerous and stupid from both a safety and a financial perspective. With imbalanced wheels, someone would be back in the shop within a few weeks, requiring new tires.
Tires and wheels all come with manufacturer defects, even if they’re brand new. Occasionally, you’ll come across the odd one or two that are naturally perfectly balanced. This is the exception, not the norm.
When you get new tires, mechanics will either include the balancing cost in their quote or charge an extra ‘fit and balance’ fee.
Ask for confirmation about any hidden fees before you commit to any work.
Can I Balance My Own Wheels At Home To Save Money?
No – you can’t balance your own wheels at home. Never even consider it unless you have a professional-grade tire balancer.
It’s not safe, and the methods don’t meet the strict standards of a professional wheel balancer machine. As a result, the money you save will be wasted on new tires.
Don’t believe the various articles online. Just because something’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s a good idea!
Wheel balancing on a tire balancer isn’t the most complicated procedure in the world. However, it’s still best left to the experts!
Conclusion: Is The Wheel Balancing Cost Worth It?
Yes! The wheel balancing cost is absolutely worth it!
Never skip over crucial safety aspects, especially when it comes to the brakes and tires. Wheel balancing is a must.
As soon as you notice any signs of unbalanced wheels, go straight to your local tire shop.
In the grand scheme of things, the price of wheel balancing is relatively low, but it goes a long way to keep you safe!