• Dec 8th 2010 at 12:00AM
  • 97
Tire balancing and alignment can be expensive, but ofte... Tire balancing and alignment can be expensive, but often is necessary (Corbis).

During my years at the service counter costumers who purchased tires often asked me, “Do I have to have them balanced?” followed by, “Does it need an alignment too?”

I understand why consumers ask these questions. Tire balancing coupled with wheel alignment can be expensive. So let’s look at why balancing new tires and performing a wheel alignment are necessary.

Tire balancing

Despite advanced tire manufacturing processes and advanced rubber compounds used today, some weight imbalance can still be evident in new tires. Therefore they should be balanced with wheel weights to achieve smooth rolling of the tire. An imbalanced tire expresses itself as a wheel shimmy (rocking back and forth of the steering wheel while driving, usually at a specific speed).

To balance a tire, it must first be mounted in the proper rim and then inflated to the proper air pressure and a new valve stem installed. Next, the complete tire/wheel assembly is affixed to a machine that is designed to spin the tire and identify the location and severity of the imbalance. The tech must then affix the proper weight to the rim in the location designated by the machine. Finally, the wheel is spun again to ensure that the tire is properly balanced. A tire is balanced based on the mass of rubber present at the time of its first balance. As the tire rolls down the road, rubber wears off, causing the tire to become imbalanced again. For this reason, when tires are rotated on the vehicle every 5-6,000 miles or 6 months, they should be checked and rebalanced if necessary.

Wheel alignment

The average price of a newly mounted and balanced tire with a new valve stem is roughly $125 per tire. That’s $500 for the set of four. If your wheel alignment is out, you could lose that $500 in short order. That’s why you should, at the very least, check wheel alignment before venturing out on a new set of tires.

Repair Estimator

So how could you lose money by not having an alignment done? By significantly decreasing the life of your new tires. The steering and suspension of your vehicle has wear points. They are bushings, ball & socket joints, and miscellaneous mechanical links. When the steering and suspension system is new and adjusted according to factory specs, the rate at which the tires wear is minimized and the vehicle corners and handles smoothly. Over time, the steering and suspension systems are jostled and hammered (compliments of America’s highways). This produces wear in the parts listed above, causing the alignment to go out from factory specs. This results in poor cornering and handling, and a significant increase in tire wear.

There are three alignment angles that must be in line for the vehicle to handle properly and for minimal tire wear. Carmakers have built adjustment points into the steering and suspension that allow for re-alignment of the front end.

There are three alignment angles:

Camber is the angle of wheel alignment that measures the tilting in or out in reference to the top of the tire. If a car’s camber angle on a tire is too positive then the top of the tire is tilting outward. If the camber angle is too negative then the top of the tire is tilting inward. This angle is adjusted mechanically. Conditions that cause excessive camber are worn ball joints, control arm bushings, strut bearings/mounts, or excessively worn wheel bearings. These parts must be ‘tight’ (not sloppy) to insure accurate alignment of the camber angle.

Toe: The best way to explain how this angle affects wheel alignment is to look down at the tops of your feet. Imagine that you’re hovering above the hood of your car and you can see through the body of the vehicle. Your feet represent the tops of the tires. Now slowly turn your feet inward to an excessive degree. That’s what your tires look like when they’re toed-in. Now turn your feet outward excessively. That’s what your tires look like when they’re toed-out. This alignment angle is adjusted through the lengthening or shortening of a steering linkage part called a tie rod (found in both Conventional and Rack & Pinion Steering systems). Obviously when this angle is out or in too far, tires wear out quickly! This angle also affects whether your car’s steering wheel is straight. If the steering wheel is crooked, the toe’s probably way out. Excessive toe can be caused by worn tie rods, loose rack mounts, worn idler arm/s (some vehicles have two), pitman arm, drag link assembly, or a worn rack or steering box. Before you can accurately set the toe angle, you must have tight steering linkage parts.

Caster is adjusted either by mechanical adjustment or by bending a suspension part. The caster angle can be best illustrated by the bicycle of your childhood youth. Remember when you rode your bike with “no hands?” Remember how the handlebars returned to the straight-ahead position when you leaned right or left to turn a corner? This is the caster angle expressing itself. The caster angle of your car expresses itself when the steering wheel returns to the straight-ahead position after making a turn. It is also expressed when the car wants to wander right or left.

When having new tires installed, at the very least have the wheel alignment checked. If it’s out, have the vehicle realigned or pay the price of another set of new tires sooner than later.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      There needs to be legislation requiring tire shops to use TORQUE STICKS when they replace the lugnuts during tire replacement. I see many shops using 250-350 psi impact wrenches and I guarantee that 99% of customers cannot break loose the lugnuts if they have a flat and need to change on the side of the road. Not only are the lugnuts almost impossible to loosen they also have a tendency to strip the threads of the lug studs and nuts as well as warping the brake rotors on many vehicles. There are torque settings for lugnuts and tire dealers should be required to adhere to these specs.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I work at a well known tire business. When installing tires, we don't diagnose mechanical issues, we just recommend other services by other businesses based on the condition of the tire. We have also gone to selling tires that only meet mfr requirements based on speed rating and load index. If you have a tire that has an inferior speed rating (speed rating indicates sidewall construction) it will cause other issues. Load index is also key. As far as valve stems being replaced with new tires, we do. They are $2 each. We are located right off the interstate and we see a lot of bad valve stems. Either from "NOT" being changed, hitting a curb and pulling on them and also, if you have ever looked at a rim without a valve stem, you will see that there hole usually has a sharp edge which can damage the valve stem. To those out there that think most tire retailers are out there to get the consumer "SOME" of us rather teach and inform the customer so they can make the appropriate decision. That's all I got to say bout that. kj71378ataoldotcom.
      • 8 Months Ago
      98% of wheel alignment problems are the result of wear. Keeping front end parts lubricated with chassis grease will make them last almost forever. Typical cost for front end lube is $2.00 plus $1.00 for the grease. Cost to replace just one balljoint ? About $300.00
      • 8 Months Ago
      Many problems can be traced to the infiltration of poor quality imported tires...so many customers request the lowest priced tire & then will moan & groan when that un-round junk tire shakes & vibrates on the road...No adjustments or balancing can fix poorly constructed radial tires. Beware of many private store brand tires, as well as the fancy chrome wheels that people seem to be attracted to....shake/rattle/bling & roll...all are a recipe for troubles.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I agree whole-heartedly with fxcruiser: if your tires show no unusual wear or have no tendency to pull left or right, then you don't need an alignment when you put on a set of new tires. If, on the other hand, your tires do exhibit unusual wear patterns or pull left or right, then you STILL probable don't need an alignment. You will probably need new ball joints and tie rod ends. Don't throw away your money based on a service person's opinion. They are in the business to take your money. Get a check up from a reputable shop. Most often, worn suspension components, not an out of alignment situation, cause bad wear on tires. Fix the problem, then get an alignment.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Do you rerally think the dealer is not as good as mounting / balancing and aligning the cars the are FACTORY TRAINED to fix??? I work at a dealer and we have one of the most precise and expensive hunter machines.I would not let any aftermarket garage with a 17yr old kid performing this work touch my car.HORRIBLE feedback people,just horrible.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Yeah, have the taxpayers put 16 million more illegal mexicans to work building your roads. We all know who frames the massive unsold home market. Who cares if fruit and vegetables rot in the field. They are already too expensive to buy. And why don't you try mowing your own #@!%^&* yard.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Gizmozyw said: "have you heard the stories about tires comming off cars because of improper installation." -- Or, discs for the brakes becoming warped because the person who did the work of putting the wheels back on tightened the lug nuts or lug bolts beyond spec or tightened them out of sequence or even both.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Ignorance is bliss, whomever says that a wheel alignment if not from the dealer is no good is a fool, in many instances, dealers have recurred to independent shops to have their wheel alignments redone, because the factory settings were incorrect, in the case of a purchase of a new tire set is only wise if not necessary, to have your suspension angles checked and adjusted, it doesn't matter if it is a new or an old car, tires will be brand new and the balancing and the wheel alignment will keep your tires properly contacted on the floor and will extend the life of the tires to manufacturers specifications along with other benefits like good handling and proper gas mileage among others.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Do you replace windshield wipers before they streak? Why do you need new valves with new tires. How many people do yiu know that ever had valve failure? Just BS to raise the price.
      • 8 Months Ago
      rklimovitz....I had the same issue on my 07 Chrysler Aspen with the 20' alm factory rims and one of them was warped and needed to be replaced - I had two differnet dealerships look at it and they kept telling me they did balaned the the tires and that was all they could do. I found a local shop that took me into the service area and showed me the process they used and that the rim was warped and that it would have to be changed - after that everything went fine and I used them from that point forward. I ended up getting almost 80k miles out of the tires, pads, and rotors by having them keep the tires balanced every 7,500 miles and an alignment at 55k. Good luck finding a dealership that knows what they are doing - I will not go back to the dealer to have my car serviced.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Firestone Lost, Court Ruled in favor of Ford and all vehicle manifacturers. Thats why now when you buy tires they only will install tires that the manifacturer reccomends and air pressure thats on the side of the door frame.
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X