The Difference Between Wheel Balancing and Wheel Alignment
March 22, 2019 at 9:32 AM
A common misconception that people have about tyre maintenance is that wheel balancing and wheel alignment are two terms for the same service. Although they sound similar, there is a significant difference between their functions to ensure optimum performance from your car tyres.
Wheel balancing focuses on the distribution of weight around the wheel, whereas wheel alignment assesses the position of the wheels in relation to the road and each other.
When a wheel is originally fitted to a vehicle it should be perfectly balanced. Over time, wheels lost balance causing the distribution of weight and contact patch (the part of the tyre in contact with the road) to vary.
Wheel balancing is designed to set the weight to distribute equally again and ensure the tyre rotates evenly. To achieve this, small balancing weights are added to the rim to counter weight inconsistencies.
Imagine a weight is added to one side of a set of balancing scales - they will now be heavily unbalanced. However, if you start to add lighter items to the other side, the scales will begin to even out until the original weight is completely counter balanced; unless you add too many smaller items, causing the scales to tip the other way.
This simplified example describes a similar process to the way wheel balancing works. If there's an imbalance on one side of the wheel, weights are added to the opposite side until equal distribution is achieved.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY WHEELS NEED BALANCING?
Incorrectly balanced wheels often cause the steering wheel to vibrate at certain speeds - usually at high speeds on a dual carriageway or motorway above 50mph - which often suggests your front wheels are unbalanced.
Similarly, you might feel vibrations in the floor or seats which is typically associated with unbalanced rear wheels.
Balance issues can also cause accelerated wear of your tyres, steering components and suspension which could prove costly in the long run.
It's recommended that wheel balancing is checked during a service (which should be conducted annually) and every time the tyres are changed.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WHEEL BALANCING?
If your wheels are perfectly balanced you can expect to receive a safer driving experience with fewer vibrations through the car.
You'll have a more comfortable and smoother ride behind the steering wheel with better handling as well as longer lasting tyres and improved fuel economy.
At Dowleys, we offer a free wheel balance check. You can either drop into our workshop or phone 01993 842345 to book an appointment. We're open 8:30 - 5:30, Monday to Friday and 9:00 - 12:00 every Saturday.
Wheel alignment, also known as tracking, checks the direction and angle of the wheels to ensure they're perpendicular to the road and parallel to each other. You can choose a 2 wheel alignment (front axle) or 4 wheel alignment (front and rear axles).
During an assessment, the technician will inspect the camber, toe and caster. Camber refers to the tilt of the tyre (inward or outward); toe describes the direction the tyres point in relation to each other; and caster is the angle of the steering pivot as seen from the side of the vehicle.
After the wheels have been assessed, adjustments can be made to the tie rods and control arms to correct alignment to the optimum position as per the manufacturer's recommendation.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I NEED WHEEL ALIGNMENT?
The condition of the roads in the UK is one of the main reasons for misaligned wheels. Driving over potholes or harsh speed bumps as well as directly impacting the kerb can alter the positioning of the tyres.
If you notice your vehicle has started to pull or drift to one side while on a straight road, it is highly likely that the tyres have become misaligned. Similarly, the steering wheel may be off-centre when you're driving straight.
Incorrect wheel alignment can also cause uneven tyre wear, increased fuel consumption, and you could experience uneven braking. It's recommended that wheel alignment is conducted at least once a year, especially if your vehicle is fitted with any Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS) such as Adaptive Cruise Control or Lane Keep Assist.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WHEEL ALIGNMENT?
To get the maximum benefit from a wheel alignment service, you should always opt for 4 wheel alignment. Unlike a 2 wheel alignment, which simply performs tracking on the front wheels, a 4 wheel alignment will ensure all tyres have been checked and reset to manufacturer settings to provide optimum performance levels.
Fixing misaligned wheels will prevent your car or van from pulling to one side so you can drive on a straight road without having to struggle with your steering wheel which also increases the vehicle's safety.
As mentioned, incorrectly aligned wheels result in accelerated tyre wear and increased fuel consumption. By changing them less frequently you will save money in the long run and reduce fuel consumption as a result of reduced rolling resistance.
Correctly aligned tyres will reduce the risk of other parts wearing prematurely (e.g. suspension) helping you to save further money on potentially costly repairs.