When a wheel is out of balance, at high speed it will oscillate on the axle. Unbalanced tires can make for a lot of vibration and even a dangerous ride. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools out there for getting your tires in check, including wheel balancers. Let’s take a look at how wheel balancers can help your tires and whether they really work or not.
What Are Wheel Balancers?
Before learning if wheel balancers balance tires, you’ll first need to know what they are.
Wheel balancing is an essential process for vehicles. When done correctly, the tire’s weight and components of the entire wheel assembly will spin smoothly at high speeds. You will have an equal weight distribution for both tires, ensuring that when you turn your steering wheel, it will respond smoothly without any jittery movements or slips.
Types of Wheel Balancing Methods
There are several wheel balancers to choose from, with the most traditional method being a balancing machine at a tire shop. Other methods include road force balancing, tire balancing beads, and wheel weights.
A wheel balancing machine requires the wheel to be on a spindle, and the apparatus spins the wheel to determine the heaviest point and where to place balancing beads to keep the wheels’ weights distributed equally.
Road force balancing is another method combined with tire balancing machines. Along with spinning the wheels, road force balancers measure each tire with rollers to match the differences in each tire. Points on the tire need to match and line up to where the valve stem goes to maintain equal weight and pressure along the tire, as no two tires are ever precisely the same. This method is match mounting and allows tires to match together and balance as close as possible, keeping them balanced.
Wheel weights are generally attached to the sides of your tires. As mentioned earlier, no two tires are the same, including new tires. There are always slight deviations, and placing weights on the tires’ rims helps balance those deviations, giving you a smooth ride.
Tire balancing beads are tiny pieces of tempered glass or ceramic that keep your tires from vibrating. They are dynamic and move all the time so they do not actually balance the tire at rest. In fact, if you put a wheel with beads in it on a balancing machine it will read very out of balance.
The beads spread themselves around the inside of the tire. As speeds increase and vibrations kick in, they’ll stay put where needed most, so you won’t have any issues with balance.
Balancing beads can be run inside the tire itself or inside rings that are mounted to the hub.
➔ Are balancing beads the right choice for your tires? Check out our deep dive on Tire Balancing Beads and Automatic Tire Balancers to find out.
What Is the Best Wheel Balancing Method?
So, what is the best method to use? As with anything, asking for the best way is bound to get you several different opinions, and tire balancing methods are no different. Some mechanics say weights are best, while others don’t like weights at all.
We have used both methods on many different vehicles and can confirm they both work. Our preference is to use weights on most normal cars and trucks that operate mostly on the street. For off-road vehicles that still travel the highway beads are a better option. This is because weights typically have a harder time balancing these tires, and they are more prone to changes. Mud, rocks, snow or damaged tread can cause changes in balance that the beads will adjust for on the fly.
These little tiny objects go in your tires through the valve stem. Your tire technician can help you determine how much you need. But they work via the upward and downward motions of your tires.
The beads settle lower when the tire is at rest due to gravity. When the tire begins to move, the beads distribute evenly throughout due to rotation. Then, due to their mass, the beads stay in place where needed most and move relative to the tire.
What Are Centramatic Wheel Balancers?
Centramatic is a brand of tire balancing rings. These disc-like rings work similarly to balancing beads but are easier to use and install. Instead of pouring messy beads into your tire, the beads are securely located inside the ring, which gets mounted to the wheel behind the tire. As you drive, the beads spin inside the disc, moving weight to the point on the tire that needs balancing.
Centramatic wheel balancers help to reduce vibration and also increase your tires’ lifespan. We installed these on our overland truck tires and have been pleased with the results.
Will Wheel Balancers Really Balance My Tires?
Regardless of what option you choose, they do help with the balance of your tires. Tires take the brunt of what you put your car through. Uneven road surfaces, gravel roads, speed bumps, and more, combined with everyday driving actions such as braking and speeding up, can all cause imbalances in your tires.
You don’t expect your oil to last forever without managing it. Why should you anticipate never taking care of your tires? Wheel balancers will help balance your tires, giving you a comfortable ride.
➔ Even well-maintained tires don’t last forever. How often do you need to replace your RV Tires? Find out here: How Long Do RV Tires Last? A Simple Explanation
How Do I Know If My Wheels Need Balancing?
According to Les Schwab Tires, several factors help you determine the best time for balancing your wheels, some being preventative and others being reactive.
Feeling vibration in your steering wheel or anywhere within the car could signify that your tires need balancing. Knowing you weighted your tire and now it’s no longer working is another sign that you may need balancing. Check for uneven tire wear, as this could also be a reason.
If you’re looking to get your tires balanced before it becomes an issue, do it when you get your tires rotated or when you get new tires. It’s convenient, and you won’t have to worry about scheduling a separate appointment down the road.
How Often Should Wheel Balancing Be Done?
You don’t have to balance your wheels as often as an oil change. But you should do it every time you change your tires. If you notice a vibration in your steering wheel or up down feeling in the vehicle that was not there before you may need to have the balance checked. With weights, it’s possible that they can fall off or be damaged.
Does Wheel Balancing Affect Alignment?
Contrary to popular belief, wheel balancing isn’t the same as alignment. Getting an alignment for your tires keeps the angles of the tires aligned, so they make even contact with the road. Wheel balancing keeps the weight distributed evenly throughout the tire and wheel setup.
While one does not affect the other, they both help make for a smoother ride and can prevent premature tire wear and tear. It might be time for wheel balancing if you feel a vibration from your steering wheel or floorboard. If your vehicle pulls in one direction or another, it might be time for an alignment.
Why Do My Balanced Wheels Still Shake?
If you have balanced your wheels and they still shake, there could be other problems. Some of the most common issues include wheel tire runout and force variation.
Wheel tire runout is when a tire appears to be more of an oval shape than a circular shape, causing a bumpy ride. Force variation is similar, but with this issue, the tire has more pressure from the inside in one spot, causing an uneven ride.
A disproportionate ride is where road force balancing comes into play. A load roller can detect where the tire is misshapen, and you can repair the problem. You’ll be riding smooth again in no time.
Of course, there could also be other problems. One possibility is that the wheel weights were not applied correctly. Wheel weights counterbalance the wheel and tire load; misusing them can cause the wheel to shake.
Another possibility is damage to the wheel. If there’s a crack or bend in the rim, it can cause shaking even if the weights are functional.
Finally, it’s also possible that your tires are mismatched. If you have two different tires on your car, they could be causing a vibration. If your wheels are still shaking after balancing, consider these potential causes and consult with a mechanic for further guidance.
How Long Can You Drive on Unbalanced Tires?
Most people don’t realize how vital wheel balancing is to the longevity of their tires. Unbalanced wheels can cause increased wear and tear on your tires, leading to getting new tires sooner than you planned. In addition, unbalanced wheels can impact your car’s fuel economy and cause stress on the suspension system.
While you can technically drive on unbalanced tires for two to three months, it’s not a good idea. Balancing your wheels is an essential part of keeping your car in good condition and prolonging the tires’ life. Getting new tires sooner than planned will cost more than simply getting them balanced in the first place.
Is It Worth It to Balance Your Tires?
Finding the time and tools to balance your tires is a necessary step in the right direction to give your vehicle its best life. Preventing premature wear and tear on your tires will cost you less money, stress, and time in the long run. Balancing your tires now will almost certainly pay off in the long run.
What method of tire balancing do you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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