Tires are perhaps the most unloved part of any vehicle. Think about it – we all buy cars with our hearts, but most of us don’t feel anything when buying tires. And paying for things we don’t want, but need, seems to annoy us very much.
Why am I saying all of this in an article about unbalanced tires? My point is that people don’t care about tires. In my career working in a tire shop, most of the vehicles I’ve encountered had tires that were too worn out, and drivers also didn’t report other obvious issues with the tires.
Of course, we advised the technicians to always check for problems, especially for unbalanced tires. And there is a very good reason for that – unbalanced tires can be unsafe and downright dangerous at higher speeds.
Hence, as a driver, it’s paramount to know all the symptoms of unbalanced tires and how you can spot them. It’s also important to know how to take care of your tires and ask your tire technician to rotate and balance the tires regularly. This is something that most drivers don’t do because they only use one set of all-season tires, but regardless, it’s a useful habit to visit the tire shop once every year.
With that said, let’s have a look at the most common symptoms of unbalanced tires and what you can do to mitigate them.
- Why should I balance the tires and wheels?
- How to balance the tires?
- Most Common Symptoms of Unbalanced Tires
- Last Words
Why should I balance the tires and wheels?
Tires and wheels aren’t perfect, even from the factory. This is true for their round shape, but also the weight – some parts have more material than others.
Thus, every wheel/tire combo needs balancing, or it wouldn’t roll smoothly. And wheels that don’t roll smoothly can lead to all sorts of issues. In particular, the tire’s contact patch with the road needs to be as even and constant as possible to ensure stability and comfort, and an unbalanced tire or wheel isn’t able to provide that.
How to balance the tires?
Tire balancing is done by putting weights on certain spots on the rim, which balance the uneven weight of the tire or wheel on the other end.
Tire technicians use special machines and tools to balance your tires, and generally, this is not something you can do yourself. The professional machines used are also expensive and advanced and not worth it if you aren’t a professional tire technician.
These machines measure the vibrations coming out of a properly pressurized tire and help the mechanic pinpoint the areas where they need to put the weights.
Fortunately, tire shops don’t charge much for balancing and can do it pretty quickly.
Most Common Symptoms of Unbalanced Tires
1. Vibrations at higher speeds
The most common symptom of unbalanced tires is vibrations. Most of the time, they will be hard to spot, as vibrations are always present when you are driving down the road due to the small irregularities on paved roads. Besides, the driver usually won’t feel the rear wheels vibrating.
However, the vibrations produced by unbalanced tires can become more powerful at higher speeds, usually at 60mph+. They can be so powerful that your whole vehicle might start wobbling and become unstable.
When that happens, you can easily locate the source – if one of the front tires is unbalanced, you will usually feel the vibrations through the steering wheel. Meanwhile, you can feel the rear wheels vibrating through the seat.
Regardless of which tire is unbalanced, it’s crucial to take care of the issue quickly, as the vibrations can damage some of the suspension components, steering rack, or axles.
2. Worn suspension components
The last sentence naturally brings me to worn suspension components. Most of the time, things like shocks, struts, ball joints, steering knuckles, and bushings wear out due to excessive use and age. However, bad roads with many potholes can also lead to premature wear, as can unbalanced tires.
For this to happen, you really should be delaying balancing your tires for a long time. This can lead to very expensive repairs down the line – suspension components are anything but cheap. Not to forget, car mechanics charge excessively for replacing these components, so be a smart human and balance your tires on time.
3. Shaking and unresponsive steering wheel
If one of the front tires is unbalanced, your steering wheel might start shaking but also lose responsiveness. In other words, the wheels won’t react quickly to the steering input, and as a whole, turning won’t feel linear.
This might not feel like a big issue to you, but having responsive tires is crucial for safety, as it helps the driver better control the vehicle. Therefore, it’s definitely linked to safety, meaning you should immediately take care of your unbalanced tires!
4. The vehicle pulls to one side
Another symptom that’s also related to the steering is your vehicle pulling to one side. Most of the time, the culprit of this issue is an underinflated tire on one side of the vehicle or misaligned wheels.
However, if you made sure that your tires were inflated properly and the wheels aligned, then it might be that one of the wheels is unbalanced. If that’s the case, visit the nearest tire shop and ask them to check whether your wheels are properly balanced. If the issue persists, it’s recommended to check some of the suspension components for wear or damage.
5. Uneven tread wear
One of the most common symptoms of unbalanced wheels is uneven tread wear. Remember at the beginning of the article where I said that unbalanced tires lead to an uneven contact patch with the road? Well, apart from issues with stability and comfort, this might significantly shorten the lifespan of the tire.
Uneven tread wear most often appears as feathering, i.e., when one side of the tire is smoother than the other one. However, in the case of unbalanced tires, it can also appear as patch wear, i.e., balder or flat spots along the tread pattern. This happens due to the excessive vibrations, which cause uneven contact with the road and wear some parts of the tread faster.
You can check the wear using the industry-standard tread wear indicators, which are narrow rubber bars that sit recessed in the grooves of the tire. The closer these bars are to the tread, the more wear that part has experienced.
You could also use a tread depth gauge, which can tell you exactly how deep is every groove on the tread pattern. It’s an inexpensive gadget and small gadget that can save you money down the line by telling you about misaligned wheels or unbalanced tires early.
6. Higher road noise
Apart from more vibrations entering the cabin, excessive road noise can also be a symptom of unbalanced tires. However, overly worn tires can also cause higher noise, so make sure you check the tread depth before suspecting the balance.
7. Worse fuel economy
Although not very common, unbalanced tires can lead to worse gas mileage. The difference will be small and probably hard to notice, so look for all the other symptoms I mentioned. Regardless, fixing the issue quickly will result in money saved in the long run because fuel is not exactly cheap.
Driving with unbalanced tires is bad in almost every aspect – it not only worsens the performance of your car but also makes every ride less comfortable and more dangerous.
Moreover, not taking action can result in more expensive repairs down the line, as unbalanced tires accelerate the wear on suspension components, which are costly.
Not to mention, the tires themselves will wear faster, and tire manufacturers refuse to replace tires under warranty if they aren’t balanced correctly.
Therefore, like with every other part in your car, it’s crucial to tackle the issue on time. You will spend some money to fix it, sure, but the overall expenses will be much lower 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.