Wheel Alignment? Or Wheel Balancing?

September 16th, 2015
Wheel Alignment College Station, TXAt BCS Tires and Lifts in College Station, TX, we occasionally run across customers who are confused about wheel alignments and wheel balancing. It’s pretty easy to understand why there’d be some confusion – after all, both are processes that are necessary for a car that rides, drives and handles properly, but they aren’t the same. Let’s see if we can clear up any confusion here…
 
Wheel alignment refers to the angles that the vehicle’s wheels are set at; every car or truck leaves the factory with the wheels set at specific angles to ensure proper ride, handling and drivability. The angles are toe-in/toe-out (left or right orientation compared to a straight-ahead line); camber (the tilt of the top of the wheel inward or outward) and caster (the angle of the suspension arms in relation to an imaginary vertical line behind the wheel itself). These angles are all crucial to proper drivability; an improperly-aligned wheel will cause the vehicle to constantly drift to one side, and will wear the out-of-alignment tire unevenly as the vehicle drags it along and scrubs the tread off along one edge. 
 
Wheel balancing, on the other hand, refers to the weight distribution across the wheel and tire. Imperfections in the tire itself or damage to a rim (as in a hard hit on a curb or pothole) can affect the wheel’s balance. When that happens, a wheel will wobble, hop or bounce up and down as it rolls down the road. Sometimes a minor imbalance can only be noticeable at certain speed ranges; other times, it’s very pronounced at all speeds, setting up a vibration that can be felt through the steering wheel, floorboard or seat. 
 
Wheel balancing is performed by analyzing the weight distribution of the wheel, then adding lead counterweights opposite a heavy spot to negate the imbalance. Older wheel balancing machines just set the wheel on a jig with a sight glass in the center, partially filled with liquid. The bubble in the sight glass would indicate the imbalance, much like a carpenter’s level. Newer systems use computer technology, or actually spin the tire against a rotating drum to simulate road force. Wheel balancing should be performed periodically, as the balance properties of tires can change as they wear down. As a general rule, balancing can be done with every tire rotation to ensure a good ride. 
 
While an improper wheel alignment will wear tires along one edge or the other, balance issues can cause “cupping” of the tread as the tire is worn unevenly from constant up-and-down motion. 
 
So what’s happening with your vehicle? Got the shakes? Or got a persistent pull to one side? Give us a call at BCS Tires & Lifts and let us get it taken care of! Schedule an appointment today! 
  Posted in: Tire 101