Wheel Alignment vs. Wheel Balancing
Your wheels have to roll straight, point in the same direction, and be evenly balanced all the way around in order for your car to drive as it should and provide a smooth ride to your destination. These services are known as “wheel balancing” and “wheel alignment”.
Originally published in 2017 and updated in 2020 to reflect technical and industry changes, we explain the major difference between wheel alignment and balancing on our blog.
Wheel alignment is the term for how your wheels sit when mounted to your car and wheel balancing is what’s done to perfectly balance the weight of a tire and wheel assembly so that it travels evenly.
Wheel Alignment Explained:
Surprisingly, wheel alignment has very little to do with your wheels and more to do with your car’s suspension system. It’s about what direction and angle your wheels roll along at.
There are three different ways your wheel is aligned in your car:
- Toe refers to the angle of your tires in relation to one another. This is perhaps the most common form of misalignment. If your car inexplicably pulls one direction or refuses to drive in a straight line when you take your hands off the wheel, you more than likely have at least one wheel with toe misalignment.
- Camber refers to the angle of your wheel if you were to view it from the front of your vehicle. If your wheel leans to the side in either direction, your vehicle is said to have misaligned the camber. Some tuners even intentionally skew their car’s camber to get a particular look (even though it really doesn’t have any benefits in terms of tire longevity).
- Caster is the angle of the steering pivot as seen from the side of the vehicle. It may be hard to notice your vehicle’s caster alignment being off, but the easiest way to tell is if one of your wheels is too far forward or back in your wheel well, leading to rubbing along the well if you go over too large of a bump.
What can cause a wheel to come out of alignment?
Several different things. Taking a turn too sharp and placing too much strain on a wheel or axle can cause the alignment to shift. Hitting a bump too hard can even tweak a wheel out whack. Even just the stress and strain of driving day after day for years can eventually lead to one or more of our wheels falling out of alignment. It’s actually a fairly normal occurrence, even though it isn’t all that common.
Wheel Balance Explained:
As we mentioned above, alignment is about direction, angle, and how your wheels sit when mounted to your car. However, your wheels themselves also have to be perfectly balanced or they won’t roll smoothly. Even with all of the modern design and manufacturing technology we have available to us today, it’s actually impossible to make a wheel or tire that’s perfectly balanced all of the way around. There will always be some areas with thicker materials and others that are thinner and lighter. When one side of a wheel is heavier or lighter than another, the wheel will vibrate as it rotates. The faster you go, the more pronounced this vibration becomes.
Wheel balancing fixes this issue. The technique uses precision machinery to spin each tire and wheel combo to test to see what spots on a wheel are heavier than others. From there, the technician conducting the balancing service uses bonding cement to attach small lead weights to the lightest area of your wheel. Sometimes these weights are grouped in one spot while in others there may be weights in a couple of different spots. Every wheel is different, even the four different wheels on the same car.
Whenever you have your tires replaced, your technician should inform you that they will conduct a wheel balancing service as a part of the installation process. This is extremely important, as unbalanced wheels will ride poorly and add a lot of uncomfortable vibration. It’s also not uncommon for these small weights to fall off, either as the bonding cement wears out or when you hit a large bump. If your technician does not mention a tire balancing service, ask about it. Most of the time, balancing is included with your tire installation service, but you should still make sure.
About Christian Brothers Automotive
Christian Brothers Automotive is your number one stop for all of your wheel and tire service needs. From alignment checks to balancing and rotation, we make sure your car rolls smoothly and safely to get you where you need to go. Each of our technicians can help you with any wheel problems you’re having and makes sure that your car is safe, secure, and ready to handle the miles you need to travel.
Whether you need your alignment checked or your wheels rebalanced, call your local Christian Brothers Automotive and schedule an appointment today.