Wheel alignments and wheel balancing are routine vehicle adjustments that help prolong the life of your tyres. Both adjustments do different things and are equally essential measures that help ensure a smooth and safe drive.
Unfortunately, unless you happen to own some very expensive equipment, you won’t be doing wheel alignments or wheel balances yourself. You will need a specialist to complete these adjustments for you.
Let’s look a little closer at wheel alignments and wheel balancing and see how they differ, why they need to be completed, and how often you should have the adjustments done.
What’s the difference between wheel balancing and wheel alignment?
Wheel alignment and wheel balancing are quite different procedures, though sometimes, the causes and symptoms of unbalanced wheels and out-of-alignment suspension can be the same.
Let’s first look at wheel alignment.
The alignment we’re talking about in a wheel alignment relates to the vehicle’s suspension, rather than to the wheels themselves. In a wheel alignment (also known as a tyre alignment), a mechanic will check the vehicle’s suspension, which in turn, connects to the wheels.
When alignment is out, there’s more strain on your vehicle’s suspension due to increased resistance between your wheels and your car. Tyres may wear out sooner and fuel economy diminishes.
Symptoms of out of alignment suspension include:
- Your steering wheel vibrates or pulls to one side
- Your car shakes or you have a bumpy ride
- Your vehicle feels off centre and pulls slightly to the left or right
- You have uneven tread wear on your tyres.
Having correctly aligned wheels enables your car to roll forward smoothly, without individual tyres pulling outwards, or pushing inwards towards the vehicle.
What causes wheels to be out of alignment?
There are a number of causes for wheel misalignment. These include:
- Suspension parts wearing out over time (ball joints, bearings)
- Being involved in a vehicle collision
- Hitting the curb or other debris on the road
- Driving over a pothole.
What happens during wheel alignment?
An auto technician will check that the angles of the tyres are tracking correctly – all pointing in the same direction- and that all four tyres are making contact with the road evenly.
Vehicle manufacturers have specific recommendations when it comes to wheel alignments which vary according to vehicle model, make and year. An auto technician will take into account the recommended measurements, and make adjustments to ensure all wheels are parallel to each other, and perpendicular to the ground.
In particular, they will take note of the camber, toe and caster.
The camber is the inward and outward angle of a tyre, viewed from the front of the vehicle. Excess positive or negative camber (inward or outward tilt) shows that a wheel alignment is required.
The toe is the inward or outward angle of the tyre when viewed from above (like looking down at your toes). Again, too much of an angle in either direction means you need a wheel alignment.
The caster is the angle of your steering axis viewed from the side. Positive caster means the steering axis tilts towards the driver, and negative caster means it tilts toward the vehicle’s front. Either requires adjustment via a wheel alignment.
Also known as a tyre balance, a wheel balance is a process whereby the wheels are adjusted so that they are as evenly balanced on the road as possible. The reason for this is that even a slight imbalance can cause problems when driving at high speeds, and can lead to premature wear on tyres in certain places.
Symptoms of unbalanced wheels include:
- Your steering wheel, seat or floor vibrates
- You notice uneven tyre tread wear, or your tread is wearing down prematurely
- You notice your fuel economy is worse than it should be.
What causes tyre imbalance?
There are a number of causes for unbalanced tyres. These include:
- Everyday wear and tear on your tyres
- Imperfections in the tyre at manufacture
- Damage to tyres, such as the loss of wheel weights
- Incorrect tyre pressure of some wheels and not others, resulting in imbalance
- Worn out tyres.
What happens in a wheel balance?
A specialist will use a machine called a wheel balancer to ensure the weight across the wheels is distributed as evenly as possible, and that the wheels rotate smoothly. Any small differences in weight can cause vibration at high speeds, so the tool will ensure that the wheels are evenly balanced.
Jim’s mobile tyre shop vans are all equipped with state of the art computerised wheel balancers.
Is a wheel alignment and rebalance worth the spend?
Yes. Not only is having your wheels correctly aligned and balanced worth spending money on, but these are essential measures that help ensure you have a comfortable and safe drive on the roads.
In addition, investing in wheel alignments and wheel balances helps prolong the life of your tyres so you don’t need to fork out for new ones before you should need to.
How often should I get wheel alignments and/or balances?
A wheel alignment check is recommended every 10,000 kms, or twice a year (whichever comes first).
You may need a wheel alignment sooner than these intervals if you notice any of the symptoms we listed earlier, especially if you have experienced a driving event, like a sudden or sharp impact, that has sent your wheels out of alignment. So if you drive over a pothole or hit the curb, and things feel off when you drive, take your car along to your mechanic for a wheel alignment check and possible service.
It’s also a good idea to get a wheel alignment after having new tyres fitted, as it will ensure everything is working properly and give you the best chance at getting the most out of those new tyres.
Wheel balancing should occur at the same intervals – every 10,000 kms, or twice a year (whichever comes first).
You should also get your wheels balanced when you:
- Have new tyres fitted
- Have a tyre repaired
- Have your tyres rotated.
It’s worth checking with the auto service centre you use if a wheel alignment and/or wheel balance is included in your car service. If not, request it if you have any concerns.
Can Jim’s Mobile Tyres perform wheel alignment and wheel balancing?
The technicians from our mobile tyre shop are able to perform wheel balances. All our vans are equipped with state of the art computerised wheel balancers, so you can request a wheel balancing service on its own, or we can conduct a wheel balance in conjunction with a new tyre fitting, a tyre repair, or a tyre rotation.
Our prices for wheel balancing are competitive, so contact us today for a free quote.
Currently, we’re not able to perform wheel alignments, however we can advise you if your wheels need an alignment, in which case, you can book the adjustment with your preferred auto service centre.