If you use a summer/winter tire combo on your car, you probably heard from the technician that the tires also need balancing. It’s a crucial operation as it keeps your tires from rolling efficiently and without vibration. The result of balanced tires is a smooth ride, sharp handling, prolonged tire life, lower fuel consumption, and better performance.
But now you certainly ask – what is tire balancing, and how long does it take to balance tires? And more importantly, should you splurge the cash and pay for balancing at each tire change? Today, tire technicians charge over $15 and up to $50 to balance a tire, so many people think that they could save some money and skip the procedure.
Still, although tire shops always seek to make higher profits, tire balancing is a procedure that will keep you safe on the road. Besides, it might also save you money in the long run since unbalanced tires wear unevenly and also faster. Not to mention, you won’t constantly hear your passengers complaining about weird noises and vibrations.
With that said, let’s have a closer look at tire balancing and see why it’s so important!
What Does Tire Balancing Do?
In short, tire balancing ensures the weight of the wheel and tire are evenly distributed around the circumference. Tires that are not balanced will vibrate when turning, sometimes at a particular speed (usually on the highway), which can create all sorts of issues.
Tire technicians use small weights that they put on the rim of the wheel to balance the tires. To find out where the tire has less weight, technicians use special tools that will measure the imbalance, i.e., where the wheel assembly has less weight.
These machines are quite expensive and not very straightforward to use, which is why this job is left to experienced technicians. Even small errors during the tire balance process could have big repercussions on the performance of the tires, which is why I don’t recommend doing that yourself.
How Long Does Balancing Take?
So, how long does it take to balance tires? Tire balancing isn’t a quick procedure, as it requires handling the whole tire/wheel assembly up and down several times. Thus, depending on the weight of the wheel, the technician’s experience, and how much the tire is unbalanced, it takes from 15-30 minutes to balance one tire.
So, for larger vehicles, like SUVs with 20+ inch wheels and huge tires, the tire balance procedure alone might take more than two hours! This usually irks customers that visit the shop to change the tires and expect to have a coffee, wait for 45 minutes, and go home, but there is simply no way to speed up the process.
Maybe in the future, we will have cars with sensors that will pinpoint the imbalance (highly unlikely), but until then, we’ll need to put our faith in the hands of tire technicians.
And for reference, here is how the process goes:
Step 1: Mount the tire on the balancing machine. This sounds straightforward until you remember how heavy wheels and tires are.
For example, a small 205/55R16 tire and a wheel combo would weigh between 35-45 pounds (16-20 kg), while a huge SUV-rated 275/40R20 tire would weigh anywhere between 50-70 pounds (22-32 kg)! And let’s not forget that the technician would also need to install the tire on the wheel first and then put it on the balancing machine.
Step 2: Enter the tire size and other specifications like load rating. This is pretty straightforward, but you still need to pay close attention, as choosing the wrong number could have big ramifications. Fortunately, some modern machines allow you to select the vehicle model and will only give you several tire size options.
Step 3: Start the machine to spin the wheel and measure the imbalance. Tire balancing machines have sensors that detect changes in the wheel’s weight distribution.
Step 4: Place weights on the rim where the machine pinpointed the imbalance. How much weight you put depends on how unbalanced the tire is, but modern machines will usually show you that information.
Step 5: Re-check the tire by starting the machine again. If the tire isn’t balanced properly, it will again show on the balancing machine, and you might add some more weights (or take out some).
Step 6: Remove the wheel/tire from the machine and place it on the vehicle.
Is Rotation the Same as Balancing?
Tire rotation and tire balancing are two completely different procedures. With tire rotation, you are just changing the position of the tires on your car; for example, you put the left front tire on the right side and vice versa. This helps with more even wear and prolongs the life of your tires. Moreover, it will reduce the chances of balancing issues appearing in the future.
Still, both tire rotation and tire balancing are important for maintaining your tires in top condition. I recommend rotating your tires each 5,000 to 8,000 miles (8,000 to 13,000 km). You can ask the mechanic to do that for you at each oil change, as it will be the most convenient that way.
As for balancing, you’ll want to listen to the tire technician’s recommendations. Still, tire balancing should usually be done at each tire change, like, for example, changing from summer to winter tires.
Moreover, I recommend checking the tires for imbalance after driving for 12,000 miles (19,000 km) or less if the roads are bumpy, the tires are older, and/or you drive more aggressively.
What Causes Tires to be Out of Balance?
Tires can go out of balance due to various reasons, but most of the time, it’s a combination of all of them. Let’s have a closer look:
1. Damage Due to Hitting Potholes or Curbs
The number one reason for unbalanced tires is bad roads. Your tires are constantly subjected to various loads from driving, like the weight of the vehicle, but also acceleration, braking, and cornering forces. And when you add sharp creases, big potholes, and tall curbs, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Okay, maybe your tires will still be fine, especially if they are from a reputable manufacturer, but they will definitely need to be balanced sooner if you drive on bad roads.
Moreover, hitting a big pothole could immediately weaken one side of the tire and change the weight balance, so keep your tires glued to the road.
Unfortunately, in some circumstances, especially with low-profile tires, you might also damage the rim. This would require straightening and then applying even more weights to balance everything out.
2. Uneven Wear
Your tires can wear unevenly due to various reasons. Whichever the cause, an unevenly worn tire will lose balance, as one side would be lighter than the other. As such, unevenly worn tires need to be balanced more often.
This is especially true if you don’t rotate them regularly. Doing that at each oil change will ensure your wheels are rolling effectively but will also balance the tires while you drive and mitigate the need for adding weights.
3. Installation Errors
Although it doesn’t happen frequently, improperly installed wheels or tires will cause an unbalanced wheel. This can happen if the tire is not properly centered on the wheel or if the wheel is not properly tightened.
So, whenever you are changing your wheel due to puncture, pay close attention to how well you tighten the nuts and make sure each one is tightened with the same force.
4. Aging (Old Tires)
As the rubber material your tires are made of ages, it starts to lose its elasticity. What was once a flexible rubber compound could become as hard as plastic, meaning it would easily warp while you are driving. This naturally causes an imbalance in the tire’s weight, and you’ll need to visit the tire shop.
In this case, though, it might be better that you replace your tires altogether. Old tires will continue to warp due to the loads they are subjected to, and you might need to balance them very frequently, maybe even every 1-2 months. At that point, spending on tire balancing will only burn money from your pocket, as you’ll need to buy a new set of tires eventually.
5. Cheap Tires
Cheaper tires are usually made from low-quality materials and designed without much research and development. In other words, you are getting what you paid for.
Apart from giving you worse performance on the road, cheap tires would also need to be balanced more often. This is because these tires aren’t as structurally sound as high-quality alternatives and would warp more frequently – just like on old tires. Heck, on some of those tires, the tire technician will have issues balancing them at all!
Therefore, I strongly recommend buying tires from reputable manufacturers. This is not a smartphone you are buying – it’s a product that ensures your safety and will eventually save your life! Not to mention, you are probably driving your family in your vehicle!
Besides, cheap tires might be more expensive in the long run, as apart from paying for balancing and maintenance, you’ll also probably replace them sooner due to worse treadlife.
How Can I Tell Tires Are Out of Balance?
Unlike other issues with your car or tires, checking for imbalance is more straightforward. Here are all signs you should be aware of:
1. Vibrations While Driving at Certain Speed
If you feel strong vibrations coming through the steering wheel (front tires), or the buttocks (rear tires), it might be a sign of unbalanced tires. Usually, you’ll feel these vibrations at higher speeds, but that’s not always the case.
However, vibrations could also be a sign of suspension issues, which are more expensive to fix and usually lead to other problems in the future. Therefore, you should immediately bring your vehicle to the shop if you feel vibration so the mechanic can diagnose the issue.
2. Vehicle Pulling to the Side
Most of the time, if your vehicle pulls to one side, it means that one of the tires is underinflated. However, if you are sure that you inflated your tires properly, the issue might be due to unbalanced tires but also bad suspension components. Hence, it’s crucial to bring your vehicle to the repair shop for further diagnostics.
3. Noisy Tires
Unbalanced tires will also produce more noise, especially when driving at higher speeds. You might specifically hear a humming or a buzzing noise, regardless of the quality of the road (even on smooth tarmac).
Still, unusual noise can also be a sign of irregular wear or simply tires that are too old. Hence, you should bring them to the tire shop to diagnose the issue.
4. Uneven Tire Wear
Uneven tire wear can cause an imbalance in your tires, but the opposite is also true. Unbalanced tires will put more load on certain parts of the tread, and that area will wear faster. If you notice uneven wear on your tires, it’s always good to bring your vehicle to the tire shop for diagnostics, as other issues might also be the culprit.
For example, bad suspension components, like shocks, struts, ball joints, steering knuckles, and bushings wear, can lead to uneven tire wear. However, improperly aligned wheels can also cause uneven tire wear. Therefore, like with every issue, proper diagnostics is key.
5. Reduced Performance and Fuel Efficiency
Severely unbalanced tires will reduce the performance of your vehicle and, subsequently, increase fuel consumption. This is because unbalanced tires create more drag while turning, meaning the engine will need to work harder.
You might not notice the difference in day-to-day driving, as it will be around one mpg. However, the higher consumption will burn money from your pocket, anyway.
Now that you know how long it takes to balance tires and why that’s the case, I hope that you’ll be more understanding of repair shops.
But also, I sincerely desire that each one of you treats the tires just like every other part of the vehicle and maintain them regularly. Tires are similar to your car – the better you maintain them, the better they will perform. But properly maintained, i.e., regularly rotated and balanced tires, will also last much longer and save you money in the long run.
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.