It is easy for motorists to take their tires for granted when everything is working correctly. Wheels and suspension systems bear the weight of cars and trucks and must bear the brunt of rough roads, pot holes and any additional obstacles, so some wear and tear is to be expected.
Many drivers know to monitor their tire pressure, but it’s also important to check for worn treads and inspect tires for punctures or damage. Proper tire alignment and balance also is essential for a comfortable and smooth ride.
Balancing tires involves equalizing the weight of the combined tire and wheel assembly so that each tire spins smoothly on the road. Tires are mounted on the wheel assembly, and the chances of this assembly having precise weight distribution is nearly impossible without a little help. According to Discount Tire, the slightest imbalance in the tires, even as little as half an ounce, can be felt by drivers. Unequal mass can make tires wobble, causing noticeable vibrations.
Mechanics will test tire balance by putting it on a balancing machine. The machine will spin the tire and determine the tire’s heaviest point. Counteracting weights will be placed on the tire hubs to create a more uniform balance of weight. Lead weights are often used, but some are being phased out for other metals, such as zinc, because of the medical and environmental implications of lead.
Tires that are not balanced will not only cause vibration, they also can lead to uneven wear.
Tire alignment is another way to reduce wear on tires and help avoid steering and “pulling” problems. Bridgestone Tires defines tire alignment as an adjustment of the vehicle’s suspension, or the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels.
When tires are not properly aligned, drivers may notice uneven tread wear. Misaligned tires also may cause the vehicle to pull to the left or right. Drivers who notice their steering wheel is off-center or vibrating when they are driving may need to adjust their tires’ alignment.
Camber, or the inward or outward angle of the tire when viewed from the front of the vehicle, will be adjusted. In addition, “toe,” or the extent to which the tires turn inward or outward when viewed from above, will be adjusted. Caster angle also helps balance steering, stability and cornering. Caster is the angle of your steering axis when viewed from the side of your vehicle.
When tires are balanced correctly and aligned, vehicles will offer a smooth ride with little to no vibrations. Having tires serviced can maximize their performance and lifespan.