Your wheels have to roll straight, parallelly pointing towards the same direction and be evenly balanced all way round to provide a smooth cruise. Services to maintain this order is known as wheel alignment and balancing.
These two distinct automotive maintenance procedures affect car cruise and handling. Astonishingly, 85% of car owners can't distinguish between wheel alignment and balancing. With this article, you’re about to cross to the knowers' side.
What's the Difference Between Wheel Alignment and Balancing?
Wheel alignment describes how your wheels sit when they are mounted on your car. It has more to do with the vehicle suspension system than the wheels itself. It is all about what angles and direction your wheels roll along. There are three variables in the mechanics of wheel alignment, namely: toe, camber and caster alignment.
Possible causes of wheel misalignment:
- negotiating a turn too sharp
- exerting too much strain on wheel or axle
- hitting too hard on a bump
Also, the stress caused by your day-to-day driving for years can eventually lead to one or more of the wheels getting out of alignment.
Wheel balancing, on the other hand, is what you do to make the car wheel balanced perfectly all way round. The goal is to avoid the weight of the wheel from being one-sided. When one side of the wheel is heavier or thinner than another, the wheel will vibrate as it rotates, causing a wobbly ride.
Even with modern designs and the technology we have today, it is impossible to acquire equal weight distribution in tyre productions. So, the process of wheel balancing is needed to fix these abnormalities each time you replace your tyres with new ones.
How Do I Know If My Car Needs an Alignment?
Unfortunately, there are no warning lights that indicate bad alignment. But as you become more observant as a driver, you'll be able to tell when your car needs wheel alignment. Here are some signs you should watch out for:
- Abnormal, uneven tyre wear in certain spots – it's beautiful how much we can learn about the condition of our cars just by observing the tyre patterns. Wear on the inside and outside edges of tyres can indicate an issue with the camber adjustment, while tyre feathering often indicates a problem with toe adjustment. Proper alignment heroically increases the life of your tyres, so if you notice any abnormal wear pattern, you should bring your car to the shop for wheel alignment.
- Steering wheel is not centred – when you are driving straight on a levelled road, your steering wheel should centre towards you because that's the default position. It would be 'near-perfectly-straight' because there is usually a small amount of disparity allowed depending on the crown of the road. With a straight and centred steering wheel, your vehicle signature (in the centre of your steering wheel) should appear level to you. If it’s off the centre by more than just a little degree in either direction, it is time to have an alignment carried out.
- Vehicle drives to one side or the other – this is noticeable while driving straight down a level road. A vehicle should drive straight ahead with very little or no effort applied on the steering wheel. Therefore, if your car veers to one side or the other, it's time to have your alignment checked and corrected.
- Steering wheel does not return to center – after negotiating a corner and the vehicle returns to a straight line, the steering wheel should return to the centre on its own. Oh yes, you still need to keep your hands on the steering wheel to help it return quicker, but if your steering wheel doesn't even attempt to return to centre, there is a problem needing check and adjustment. Have an alignment carried out as soon as possible.
- Steering wheel feels loose – when the steering of your car feels loose and unstable, and the vehicle wanders across the road or sloppy around corners, one of the causes is a poor wheel alignment. An alignment is urgently needed to restore drivability.
What Are the Signs That My Car Needs Balancing?
Here are a few signs:
- Too much vibration – it could be so severe that you'll feel them throughout the vehicle, especially when you step on the gas to go faster. Intense vibration in the steering wheel means the presence of an imbalance in the front tyres, while shaking in the backseat points to an imbalance in the rear.
- Tyre noises – if you ever get funny noises; buzzing and humming accompanied by vibration that increases as you accelerate, you have a tyre balancing problem.
- Uneven tyre wear – you should look out for uneven tyre wear - it is not just a sign but an evidence. If your tyre wears from its edges, producing a wobbly cruise, you have unbalanced tyres. Balanced tyres wear from the tread.
- New tyres – always balance new tyres after purchase before installing them. Although new tyres may look perfect and balanced, they come with minor weight variations that should be fixed before use. Regularly check the tyres if they have the right pressure always, and periodically get them balanced for a smoother driving experience.
How Fast Will Tyres Wear with Bad Alignment?
If your tyre alignment is out of spec, it's only a matter of a few months before you lose your tyres. It varies widely between vehicles, type of tyre, mileage, driving style and road conditions. One thing is certain: an out-of-alignment suspension will excessively and prematurely chew through your tyres.
Should I Balance My Tyres Before an Alignment or the Other Way Around?
Both of them are quite important and necessary for enhancing the life and performance of your tyres. Wheel balancing should be performed first and more frequently, while a wheel alignment is not needed as often.
Incorrect wheel alignment or balancing can create severe drivability and premature wear problems. As such, you should get your vehicle checked if you notice any of the above signs. Worn components are a common cause of misalignment; thus, it is advisable to repair or replace faulty parts to avoid a repeat of the situation.
By Damilare Olasinde