To do tire balancing, small weights are added to the wheel, whereas for wheel alignment the wheel angles are changed back to factory settings. Both are done to improve handling, to increase fuel economy and to reduce tire tread wear. Tire balancing decreases tire vibration, while wheel alignment prevents the car from pulling in the wrong direction.
Are you still in doubt about the differences between balancing tires and wheel alignment? Do not worry, we have got you covered! Let us dig in and find out.
Balancing Tires vs Wheel Alignment: Quick Comparison
We’ll be covering a lot of details on both the balancing tires and wheel alignment. But let’s take a look at the fundamental differences below:
|Tire balancing is the act of adding small weights to the tire and wheel assembly to remove imbalances.
|Wheel alignment is the act of altering the angles of the components of your suspension system and your wheel steering to factory setting.
|Reducing tire vibration and improve tire lifespan and increasing your fuel economy
|Improve handling, tire lifespan and fuel economy.
|Tire balancing machine
|Wheel alignment machine
|Time Needed to Perform
|Between 45 minutes to 2 hours.
|Less than an hour
|Frequency of Performing
|Every 5,000 to 6,000 miles
|Every 6,000 miles.
|Symptoms of Problems
|Uneven tire wear, steering wheel vibration
|Steering wheel not being centered and car pulling on one side when driving, uneven tire wear. Squealing tires.
|Cost of Performing
|Around $15 to $50 per tire
|Between $50 and $168
|Process to Do
|Put the cleaned wheel assembly on a balancer. The balancer will tell where to add how much weight to balance the tire.
|Adjust the camber, toe and caster angles of each wheel. A wheel alignment machine will signal when the target angles are met.
|Effects on Handling
|Proper tire balancing will decrease the vibrations of the steering wheel at high speeds. This slightly improves handling, but wheel alignment has a bigger impact.
|Proper wheel alignment will prevent the car from pulling in one direction, significantly improving control of your car.
|Effects on Tire Wear
|Tire balancing will stop tires from bouncing when driving, reducing tire wear.
|Wheel alignment stops the tire from dragging on the road. This prevents the tire from wearing unevenly.
|Consequences of Failure
|Vibration, uneven tire wear, poor handling, additional load on suspension.
|Uneven tire wear, poor handling, reduced tire life.
Still confused about tire balancing and wheel alignment? Don’t you worry. Our detailed sections have all the answers you’re looking for.
Balancing Tires vs Wheel Alignment: In-depth Comparison
Tire balancing is a process by which the unbalances of a tire-wheel assembly are removed through adding small lead weights. Wheel alignment, in contrast, is a process where the caster, camber and toe angles of the wheel are readjusted to factory settings.
The primary purpose of balancing tires is to remove the imbalances of the tire and wheel assembly. On the other hand, the primary purpose of wheel alignment is to correct the toe, caster and camber angles of the wheels.
Tire balancing is done to improve the smoothness of the drive and reduce wear of the tire. Moreover, it has the added benefit of reducing load on the suspension and the drivetrain, through reducing vibration.
Wheel alignment, in contrast, corrects the different angles of the wheel. The toe angle is the angle at which the wheels are pointed. Camber angle is the vertical angle made by the wheels when you stand in front of your car. The caster angle is the angle made by the wheel with the steering pivot when viewing from the side of the car.
The toe, camber and caster angles are illustrated here:
Source: Ozzy Tires
These angles are corrected so the wheels are facing the right way. It improves the handling of your car. Wheel alignment also improves the lifespan of your tires. If your wheels are aligned correctly, the tires will wear much more uniformly.
Tire balancing requires a wheel balancing machine, also called a balancer. In contrast, Wheel alignment requires a wheel alignment machine.
Wheel balancing machines can be classified into 3 categories:
- Bubble balancer: A bubble balancer is a low cost, low accuracy machine. It relies on a spirit level. This is a bubble balancer:
- Static balancer: A static balancer uses sensors. Also called a computer balance This is a static wheel balancer:
Source: Hines Industries
- Dynamic balancer: It is comparatively expensive but it lets you know the locations where the weights are to be placed. This a dynamic wheel balancer:
Unlike tire balancing, wheel alignment can be done by hand, but that is a very tedious process. Wheel alignment machines are used to attain better results in a shorter time. Wheel alignment machines can be classified into 3 categories:
- CCD Alignment Machine: It utilizes multiple CCD cameras to track the wheel angles. This is a CCD alignment machine:
- 3D Alignment Machine: It is similar to CCD alignment machine, but more advanced and accurate. This is a 3D alignment machine.
- Laser Alignment Machine: A laser wheel alignment machine, as the name suggests, uses lasers to align the wheels. The wheel angles have to be adjusted manually.
Time Needed to Perform
Tire balancing usually takes 45 minutes to 2 hours on average. Whereas, wheel alignment can take about an hour, depending on the type of car and skill of the mechanic.
The time needed to perform them may depend on many factors. The time needed to balance your tires will depend on how new your tires are. Tire balancing will also take longer if your tire received damage, for example, from a pothole.
Similarly, if your car is all wheel drive, wheel alignment will take longer. For a 2 wheel drive, less time will be needed to align wheels..
Frequency of Performing
Tire balancing should be done every 5,000 to 6,000 miles, or every 2 years. Wheel Alignment, on the other hand, should be conducted every 6,000 miles, or every 2 to 3 years.
If you notice symptoms of unbalanced tires as mentioned in the next section, then you should add balancing weights to your tires early. Likewise, you should check the alignment of your wheels if you notice symptoms of wrong wheel alignment mentioned in the next section.
You should do tire balancing on your new tires when you are replacing older ones. Tire balancing may also be conducted when you are getting your tires rotated. Wheel alignment may be performed every time you get an oil change, as a precautionary measure.
Both tire balancing and wheel alignment should be performed after an accident where the wheels are damaged.
Your tire-wheel assemblies need balancing if you notice that the following symptoms are present:
- Your steering wheel shakes at high speeds.
- Uneven tread wear
- Your treads are wearing off fast.
- You hear loud thumping sounds when driving at high speeds.
In contrast, your wheel alignment needs to be corrected if you notice the following symptoms:
- Uneven and rapid tire wear.
- Poor handling, the car tends to pull left or right.
- A squealing noise from the tires.
- You hear a noise when steering
- Steering wheel tends to become off centered when driving straight.
It is a good idea to check both the balance of your tires and the alignment of your wheels at the same time..
Cost of Performing
You will need to spend $15 to around $50 for balancing each tire-wheel assembly on average. Whereas, the cost is anywhere between 50$ to 168$ for wheel alignment.
The cost of tire balancing and wheel alignment, both, vary widely from workshop to workshop. The cost may also vary depending on the type of specialized equipment the shop is using.
The price of tire balancing may also depend on the tire and the vehicle. On the other hand, the price of wheel alignment may depend on car types.
European made cars tend to have a more complex steering system with a more sophisticated suspension. So cars with a European origin generally tend to cost more when getting aligned. More expensive cars may also end up costing you more.
Some shops even do the tire balancing of your new tires for free, if you purchase your tires from them. Oftentimes repair shops hand out free warranties when they do your tire balancing and wheel alignment.
Process to Do
The process of doing wheel alignment is more cumbersome than tire balancing. They are both usually done in shops due to the need for expensive equipment. But it is possible to do both of them at your home with little cost.
You may use an inexpensive bubble wheel balancer to balance your tires. Here is a detailed video on how to get your tires balanced using a bubble balancing machine:
If you want to do wheel alignment without a machine, I suggest you watch this video: How to do an alignment on a car at home using only a tape-measure!!! (And Alignment Basics)
Effects on Handling
Proper wheel alignment improves the handling more than proper tire balancing.
A bad wheel alignment will pull your car in one direction which can be solved with a proper wheel alignment. Proper tire balancing, in contrast, will reduce tire wobbling and bouncing at high speed.
When your tires are not balanced, they wobble and bounce at high speeds. This makes them unstable and reduces handling. If the front tires are unbalanced, the steering wheel will vibrate when driving. If rear tires are unbalanced, you will feel the shaking in the seat or the floor.
Wheel alignment can improve handling more, as poor wheel alignment can severely reduce handling. If your car tends to pull in one direction, you can fix that through wheel alignment.
Effects on tire wear
Both improper wheel alignment and unbalanced tires can cause additional tire wear. But the ways in which they cause tire wear are different.
Tire balancing reduces cupping on your tires.
Cupping is a pattern of uneven tire wear. It happens when your tire bounces up and down when driving, making flat spots develop on the tire tread that look like cups.
On the contrary, poor wheel alignment causes tire wear in the following ways:
- Toe wear: Toe wear is caused when the toe angle is incorrect. It can cause both feathering or saw tooth patterns of wear.
- Feathering occurs when the tire wears out diagonally. One side of the tire will feel smooth, while the other side will feel sharp.
- If you run your hand on the tire and the tread feels like a saw tooth, that is also a symptom of toe wear. Wheel alignment will reduce toe wear of your tires.
- Camber wear: Tire wear can occur on one side of the tire more than the other side due to wrong camber angle as shown here: Fixing the camber angle will stop camber wear.
- Caster wear: Incorrect caster angle does not directly cause tire wear. But at extreme levels it could exacerbate tire wear. Feathering will take place due to a combination of too much positive caster with incorrect toe angle.
Consequences of Failure
The consequences of failure to perform tire balancing and wheel alignment include uneven tire wear and poor handling. They can also reduce the lifespan of the tires.
Additionally, unbalanced tires can cause vibration of the steering wheel. Whereas, misaligned wheels tend to off center the steering wheel, making it difficult to drive straight.
Just half an ounce of weight difference in any tire can cause considerable vibrations. Similarly, a small change in wheel angles can considerably reduce handling of your car.
Which is better wheel alignment or wheel balancing?
Wheel alignment is better if you are having handling issues while both are necessary if your tires are wearing unevenly.
Wheel alignment has a bigger impact on the control of your vehicle. If the wheels are not aligned correctly, the car tends to pull in one direction. If tires are not balanced and the wheels are incorrectly aligned, the tire tread will wear out faster and non uniformly.
Should I balance my tires before an alignment?
No, you do not have to balance your tires before alignment as they do not affect each other. You may get your tire-wheel assemblies balanced either before or after performing wheel alignment. These are two completely different services.
Do all 4 tires need to be balanced?
Yes, all 4 tires need to be balanced, as it is difficult to determine which tire is causing the vibrations. If you leave any tire-wheel assembly unbalanced, your tires on those assemblies will also wear faster and unevenly.
Is wheel balancing necessary for new tires?
Yes, wheel balancing is necessary for new tires to reduce vibration and uneven tread wear. New tires may develop imbalances due to manufacturing imperfections and storage conditions. Shops may provide wheel balancing free of cost when you purchase a new tire from them.
Does changing tire size affect alignment?
Yes, changing the tire size will affect your wheel alignment. Changing out your manufacturer recommended tires with ones of a different size will change the wheel angles. This also stretches your suspensions. Always realign your wheels when changing your tire size.
Now you know about Balancing Tires vs Wheel Alignment. Perform both tire balancing and wheel alignment after regular intervals to be safe on the road. Remember to get your new tires balanced before use. Check wheel alignment if you see uneven tread wear.
That is it for today. All the best and goodbye!