Wheel alignment and wheel balancing are maintenance procedures for your vehicle, but how is one different from the other? Looking at the ‘symptoms’ exhibited by your vehicle, how would you know which procedure to go for? This WheelZine article tells you all about it.
Telling One from the Other
►Recurring vibrations in certain parts of the vehicle at high speeds, indicates the need for wheel balancing.
► A car that keeps pulling to one side when driven on a flat, straight road, indicates the need for wheel alignment.
Many people tend to get confused between the terms ‘wheel balancing’ and ‘wheel alignment’ and end up using them interchangeably, in spite of being proud owners of vehicles themselves! In fact, the two terms sound fairly similar, making it all the more difficult to tell the difference between the two. However, for better handling, safety, and longer tire life, it is necessary that you know when your car requires a wheel balancing and/or wheel alignment procedure.
Note that both these procedures are an essential part of tire maintenance and help in increasing the performance and life of your tires.
Difference Between Wheel Alignment and Wheel Balancing
Let us draw a comparison between the two procedures on the basis of a few important parameters.
1. The Procedure Itself
Wheel alignment, or tire alignment, refers to the process of adjusting the position or alignment of the tires according to the manufacturer’s specification. It is carried out by changing the positioning of steering and suspension components, such as inner and outer tie rod ends. When we talk of angles, we mostly consider the three major angles―caster, camber, and toe.
Caster : The angle formed by the steering axis with the true vertical.
Camber : The inward or outward tilt of the tire, when viewed from the front of the vehicle.
Toe : When viewed from above, the toe defines whether the front tires are closer in or farther away when compared to the rear tires. The distance between the left and right tires, should have the same value for the two sets of front and rear tires.
Before checking a tire for alignment issues, it is strictly recommended that the vehicle is checked for damaged or worn-out parts and if found, must be repaired or replaced. When you take your vehicle for wheel alignment, the professional adjusts the position of the tires to meet the specifications defined by the vehicle manufacturer.
Wheel balancing refers to the process of inspecting the wheels for the presence of imbalance in the weight distribution of a rotating wheel, and then placing a lead weight on the other side to compensate the difference in weight of the two sides. The tire is mounted on a balancing machine which spins the tire at a speed of 100 to 500 rpm to determine the heavy spots.
2. The Purpose
The purpose of wheel alignment is to position the wheels of the vehicle such that they are parallel to one another and perpendicular to the road. This prevents uneven wearing of tires, and increases their life.
The purpose of wheel balancing is to prevent unnecessary vibrations while driving at high speeds. Correcting the problem of out-of-balance tires can go a long way in increasing the life of your tires, and gives you a smooth and comfortable driving experience.
3. The Symptoms
- The car is always pulling towards one side
- Car wanders even on a straight level road
- Uneven and rapid wear of tires
- Individual treads are higher on one side
- Unusual vibration of the steering wheel at certain speeds
- Vibrations experienced on the seats and the floorboard
- Cupped wear or distinct “bald spots” visible on tires
4. How Often to Get it Done
You should get your wheels aligned at least once every year. Also, you should opt for the procedure every time you get a new set of tires, in addition to looking out for the obvious indicators or symptoms stated above. However, it is recommended that you get your tires examined at regular intervals for early signs of misalignment, or after every 10,000 miles.
It’s a norm to conduct the procedure of wheel balancing whenever one opts for wheel alignment, though it is not strictly recommended. However, you should go for the procedure whenever you notice unusual vibrations in parts of your vehicle. Also, it is mandatory to balance new tires after installation.
5. Average Cost
The average cost of wheel alignment ranges between USD 60 and USD 100, when done by an experienced professional.
The average cost of balancing is around USD 10 to USD 15 per wheel.
Causes of Misaligned and Out-of-balance Tires
- Strong impact to parts of the axle when the vehicle hits a deep pothole
- Tires of different sizes on the same axle
- Tires of different circumference (one more inflated than the other) on the same axle
- Worn out or replaced suspension parts
Causes of Out-of-Balance Tires
- One side of the tire being heavier than the others
- Tire not re-installed in the prior position after removal
- Attachment of accessories to the wheel, such as a wheel cover
- Slight shift in the position of the lead weight used for balancing
- Belt separation and other manufacturing defects
Vibrations felt on the steering wheel are a result of out-of-balance front wheels, whereas vibrations on the seat is usually a result of a problem in the rear wheels.
A point worth mentioning is that the problem of misaligned or out-of-balance tires, if not rectified on time, can lead to early wear out of tires. Besides that, it can also lead to other transmission and suspension related issues. Further, it can result in a drop in mileage, and hampered handling and safety of the car. All this can translate to substantial losses over time, not to mention the increased risk faced by the driver.