How Do I Know If My Tires Need To Be Balanced?

There’s no such thing as good vibrations when it comes to tires.

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That vibration you feel while driving down the highway could be a few things, but if you’re lucky it won’t be related to that curb you hit at Starbucks this morning. Your car could be out of alignment, you could have a damaged tire, or, more likely, your tires could be out of balance. When this happens, the little weights attached to the tire either aren’t doing their jobs properly or are just in the wrong spot. 

While it’s not the most serious problem you can have, driving on imbalanced tires can cause a host of other issues, not the least of which is accelerated wear and tear on the rubber. Most people head to a tire shop when they notice the vibrations that could be coming from an out-of-balance tire, but that’s not totally necessary if you have the right tools.

In this post, The Drive’s info editors break down tire balancing and talk about why it’s important. We’ll also get into how you can do the job at home and why you might want to. The bottom line is that, no matter how you go about dealing with tire balancing, it’s best not to ignore the problem. Your tires, and ultimately your passengers, will thank you for keeping them balanced and turning comfortably.

Most shops use computers to determine proper balancing.
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Most shops use computers to determine proper balancing.

What Is Tire Balancing? 

Tire balancing involves a good pair of shoes, a hushed crowd, and a flaming ring. That’d be fun for us to watch you try to pull off, but it’s not actually what balancing tires is all about. Your car has wheels, obviously, which have tires. In order to spin and ride smoothly, the tires need to have the vehicle’s weight evenly distributed around their circumference. This is done in a few steps by a tire shop:

  1. The mounted tire and wheel are placed on a tire balancing machine.
  2. The machine spins the wheel and measures the vibrations that come from the rotation. This gives a readout to the tire tech that tells whether or not the weight is distributed evenly, and if it’s not, how much weight to add and where.
  3. In most cases, the tire tech can just add or adjust existing weights to even out the tire imbalance, but in some cases, the tire has to be removed and remounted. Sometimes, the tire and wheel show heavy spots in the same place, so the tire has to be remounted in a different position to help balance out the weight distribution.

What Causes Tires To Go Out Of Balance?

You. It’s your fault. That’s the short answer, but the longer answer here is that normal driving over rough roads can cause the tire to go out of balance. In other cases, tires just don’t wear evenly, which can have nothing to do with the driver’s behavior at all. Sometimes, tire manufacturers let small defects slip past quality control, which can cause them to wear more in one place over another, and sometimes they’re just not installed properly. Even a tiny weight difference can make a big difference in how a vehicle feels as it rolls down the road. 

How Can You Tell When It’s Time For a Balance?

Unlike some vehicle maintenance issues that tend to hide until the problem gets out of hand, you’ll know when it’s time to get a tire balance or at least a check-up. An imbalance in the tire will cause it to wobble and vibrate as the wheel starts to rotate. The faster the rotation, the more intense the vibration. If you feel a vibration in the steering wheel, that’s probably related to an issue with the front tires’ balance, but a vibration that can be felt in your seat likely indicates an issue with rear-tire balance.

It doesn't take much to end up with an out of balance wheel and tire.
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It doesn't take much to end up with an out-of-balance wheel and tire.

Can I Balance My Tires At Home? 

You can, but it’ll take some equipment that you probably don’t have just hanging out at home. You’ll need a tire balancer, which can tell you where to place weights on the tire to balance out heavy spots. 

There is a way to balance your tires without removing them from the vehicle, but it involves an annoying process of trial and error that won’t be for everyone. For that reason, we’re going to stick with recommending a balancing device.

What You Need to Know About Tire Balancing

Tires

When we say tires, we’re referring specifically to the rubber, not to the wheels themselves. We’ll note when the wheel is involved, but for most topics in this post, we’re only talking about the tires.

Balance

Balance refers to the tires’ ability to rotate smoothly without undesirable vibrations. Due to variations in manufacturing technologies and damage that could occur during shipping and handling, a tire can be heavier on one side or another for various reasons. 

Rotation

When we say rotations, we're talking specifically about tire and wheel rotation. This is different from your engine’s rotations per minute (RPM), which is a mechanical system that doesn’t have anything to do with tires.

Weights

Weights are exactly what they sound like. They are placed at specific spots around a tire to ensure that any heavy spots have a counterbalance to even them out on the other side of the tire.

A pro can have your tire and wheel balanced in no time.
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A pro can have your tire and wheel balanced in no time.

FAQs About Balancing Tires 

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Can I Ignore An Out-Of-Balance Tire?

A. Well, you can, but you won't be comfortable or safe while doing it. An out-of-balance tire can make your car’s ride unbearable with vibrations, and it could affect safety if it’s distracting enough to take your attention off the road.

Q. So How Much Does It Cost To Balance A Tire?

A. Many tire shops offer free balancing as part of tire packages that are purchased from them, but you’ll have to pay for it in other cases. On average, plan to spend between $15 and $75, depending on your vehicle, the tires, and the shop.

Q. Ok, Then How Often Do I Need A Tire Balance?

A. You should have your tires checked at each oil change, which is generally every 5,000 to 15,000 miles, to avoid letting a problem fester that could cause wear issues or safety problems with your vehicle. This doesn’t mean you’ll need a balance every time. It just means that you should be keeping on top of what’s happening with your tires.

Q. Is Tire Balance Different Than Alignment?

A. Yes. Alignment refers to your vehicle’s wheels and how they’re positioned in relation to the road. Alignment jobs typically adjust things like camber, which is the angle at which the wheels sit on a car. 

Q. Can Tire Balance Impact Fuel Economy?

A. Tires that are out of balance can cause improper wear and may lead to the engine needing to generate more power to keep them spinning at a consistent speed.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

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Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)