Understanding Wheel Balancing
Damage to a vehicle’s wheel or tire can require corrective wheel balancing. Common causes include damage to the tire rubber, the rim, or any other portion of the wheel. As a result, the weight of the wheel is not evenly distributed, causing the imbalance. Fortunately, wheel balancing is a relatively simple process for a certified mechanic to fix.
If a vehicle needs wheel balancing, the uneven weight distribution is usually observed by the driver. The vehicle will sometimes bump or shake when in operation to the point where the imbalance can be physically felt. The steering wheel will not feel steady when gripped; rather it will vibrate in an uneven manner.
Sometimes, an audible sound can be observed as the wheel “hops” along the road. Wheel imbalance is often confused with improper alignment. The telltale sign of a vehicle in need of wheel balancing is that it shakes. If a vehicle’s wheels are properly balanced, the car should operate smoothly and comfortably. An imbalance is usually most noticeable when a vehicle is operated at high speeds, such as on the highway. A vehicle that shakes at high speeds should be evaluated by a mechanic as soon as possible.
It is not recommended to operate a vehicle in need of wheel balancing for an extended period of time. An imbalanced wheel is susceptible to extra stress, thus damaging the tire’s treads. This increases the likelihood of getting a flat tire; an inconvenience to repair or replace. Fuel economy is also reduced, causing the vehicle to operate less efficiently.
An imbalance can be caused by typical wear and tear. It can also be caused by winter weather; the accumulation of dirt and grit within the wheel well can cause the disparity in weight distribution. A damaged or dented rim is another common cause of wheel imbalance. Rims can easily be dented when a vehicle hits a pothole or a curb. Operating a vehicle on rough roads commonly results in rim damage, thus increasing the frequency that wheel balancing is needed. In some cases, wheel balancing is necessary on an annual basis to allow for optimal performance. Wheel balancing is recommended every 5,000 miles as part of typical, routine maintenance. Wheel balancing should be done approximately as often as tire rotation. It is also recommended that wheel balancing be done whenever a tire is replaced or repaired.
Fixing the problem
Wheel balancing is a relatively simple process for auto mechanics. First, the area of the tire or the rim that is causing the imbalance must be properly identified. This diagnostic process is done using computerized equipment that scans the wheels and a wheel balancing machine. The tires and wheels spin as a digital analysis takes place, identifying where the weight of the tire or wheel is skewed. Once this information has been determined, technicians are able to determine where small, metal devices known as wheel weights need to be applied to restore balance. Wheel weights weigh mere ounces, yet they powerfully and effectively restore a vehicle’s wheel balance, correcting it for years at a time if done properly.