Unbalanced tires are a common issue that most of us regularly deal with.
So, why does it happen, and is there any way to prevent that? The short answer is NO.
One of the biggest reasons for unbalanced wheels is the excessive tire wear and tear due to driving. You can’t stop that, but there are ways to slow it down and get the most out of your tires.
Read on to learn more about that.
Signs of Unbalanced Tires
Before discussing the specific reasons behind unbalanced wheels, it’s better to discuss the signs that tell you that your tires need balancing.
If you are an experienced driver, you’ll know that it’s best to get your wheels balanced every 12,000 miles even if there are no issues.
However, it’s highly possible that you might need to get it done a bit sooner as the actual time depends on several factors including the terrain, your driving, and the quality of the tires.
Here are a few tell-tale signs of an unbalanced wheel. If you notice any of them suddenly, your wheels should be the first things that you should check.
- Intense vibrations, especially at higher speeds
- Uneven tire wear
- Strange sounds coming from the tires while driving. It will be more prominent as you increase the speed
- A sudden increase in fuel consumption without any apparent problem in the engine
As you can see, the most common signs affect your driving experience and become more intense as you increase the speed.
The general rule of thumb is that if you notice a link between your speed and the unusual sounds or vibrations or any other issue, then it’s probably your wheels.
You should get them checked first.
What Causes Tires to be Out of Balance?
There are a plethora of reasons why your wheels might go unbalanced.
Some of them are unavoidable and the best you can do is to prepare for them and minimize their effect.
Nevertheless, just like how you can’t avoid changing tires after a certain time period, you can’t avoid getting your wheels balanced.
Here are the 3 main reasons why you need to visit a wheel balancing expert every 12,000 miles.
1. Wear and Tear on Tires
Believe it or not, the tires go through a lot.
Your tires, along with other components in that vicinity absorb a lot of impact from potholes, lane dividers, or a plethora of other imperfections on the road.
In all that, the tires deteriorate and permanently deform in a lot of places.
These deformations from the wear and tear can damage the angular moment of the wheels, which is responsible for rotating the tires along their axis.
With time, the deviations in the angular momentum become significant enough to cause you problems, especially when you are at higher speeds.
2. Loss of Wheel Weight
Ever wondered why the tire shop attached those small metal components on the wheels? It’s to ensure that all your tires are 100% balanced.
No matter how accurate all the processes were. There are bound to be imperfections in the components that make up your wheel.
These imperfections don’t create any problems but may potentially be dangerous at higher speeds.
Furthermore, the damage on the road your wheel sustains can also become significant with time.
We regularly change the tires but changing wheels is very rare.
The small weights make up for all those inconsistencies by manually balancing the moments on the tire.
In some cases, the wheel weights may become loose or get damaged by debris or anything else.
If you lose them, your tire will naturally create problems for you until you replace that weight to balance your wheels once again.
3. Broken Steel Belt or a Flat Spot
As stated before, permanent defects in the tire can cause a lot of problems on the road, especially when you are driving fast.
Flat spots, when permanent, don’t only cause vibrations on the wheel. They make your car dangerous to drive.
Similarly, any damage to the steel belt will also have the same effect.
In both cases, the best course of action is to replace your tires and you’ll be good to go.
Tire Balancing vs Wheel Alignment
This is very confusing.
Especially for new drivers as the general signs of both issues are the same.
Both wheel alignment and balancing issues are common problems and cause vibrations while driving. You’ll also see uneven tire wear.
This overlap in signs may lead some people to target the wrong issue.
What needs to be done in both cases is very different, so you should know what wheel alignment and tire balancing are.
In the simplest words, wheel alignment ensures that all the tires are facing the same direction.
Contact forces between the ground and your tires are responsible for moving your car forward.
With the right alignment, all these contact forces are applied in a straight line forward or backward for the best performance.
One giveaway sign of alignment issues is your car going towards one side if you leave the steering wheel. You can conduct a quick test.
Simply leave your steering wheel for a few seconds on a straight road. If the car remains moving in a straight path, your wheel alignment is perfect.
Tire balancing, on the other hand, is responsible for ensuring that the wheels rotate properly without any wobbling.
It’s related to the spin of the wheels, which in turn affects your overall driving experience.
Because of this overall, a lot of tire experts recommend ruling out alignment issues before moving forward with tire balancing.
Driving on Unbalanced Tires: Is It Dangerous?
Yes, driving on unbalanced wheels is not dangerous per se.
However, it can potentially cause significant damage to your tires, wheel, bearing, and other suspension components.
Repairing all that becomes necessary down the line may cost a fortune.
So, it’s better to avoid all that and get your wheels balanced at the first sign of the problem and maintain your car at a fraction of the cost.
The Cost of Wheel Balancing
Getting your wheels balanced at the tire shop is not that expensive.
The rates vary according to your location and tire size but generally, it’ll cost you around $15 per tire.
The entire process takes as long as an hour, and you’ll be good to go.
Can I Balance my Tires at Home?
No. Tire balancing tires require specific machines and you can’t have them at home.
There are some ways to do so without them, but you’ll probably make things a lot harder for yourselves.
Visiting a tire shop is still the best bet and luckily it doesn’t cost a lot nor does it take too much time.
Final Thoughts on How Tires Become Unbalanced
Unbalanced wheels are a common problem that isn’t too hard to fix or diagnose.
They happen because of regular tire use and are generally unavoidable.
However, a lot of people ignore them and that can cause significant damage to the tires and the suspension system.
The best way to avoid all that is to ensure that you remain vigilant and quickly schedule a visit to your tire shop whenever you see some signs of unbalanced wheels.