Tire Balancing Guide: Achieving a Smooth Ride for Your Car

By Vlad Samarin Updated November 25, 2023
When you hit the road, a smooth ride is crucial for both comfort and safety. One common culprit behind vibrations at higher speeds is unbalanced tires. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the why, when, and how of tire balancing to ensure you enjoy every journey without unnecessary disruptions.

1. When and Why Tires Need Balancing:

Tires are initially balanced at the factory, and when you invest in new tires, the repair shop takes care of balancing them after the installation on the rims. Additionally, any time tires are removed from the rims and reinstalled, as with seasonal off-rim tire swaps, the balancing is typically included in the service.

2. Signs of Unbalanced Tires:

The most prevalent symptom is a persistent vibration at highway speeds, typically between 50 and 70 mph. While other car issues can cause vibrations, tires and rims are often the main culprits, responsible for 85-90 percent of vibration complaints.

3. Vibration While Braking:

In cases where vibrations occur only during braking, it's worth exploring potential brake rotor issues. Read more: Why does the steering wheel shake or brake pedal pulsate while braking?.

4. Factors Leading to Tire Imbalance Over Time:

Tires might lose balance due to factors like uneven wear or damage from encounters with potholes and curbs. It's also not uncommon for the stick-on weights that are used to balance tires to fall off. In our experience, after a year or two of driving, average tires tend to develop slight imbalances.

5. Balancing All 4 Tires:

In the case of vibration issues, it's common practice to balance all four tires simultaneously. Exceptions arise when repairing a single tire, such as fixing a puncture.

6. Cost of Tire Balancing:

Balancing four tires can range between $60 and $140, with the process taking approximately 30-45 minutes.

7. How Mechanics Balance Tires:

Technician balancing a tire Technician balances tire on a tire balancing machine.
Mechanics employ tire balancing machines to identify weight imbalances. An assembled wheel is pumped to the specified pressure and secured on the balancing machine. The machine spins the wheel for a few seconds and stops. It calculates and shows on the screen how many ounces or grams need to be added and where to place the weights to fix the imbalance. A mechanic attaches clip-on or stick-on weights to the rim in places where indicated.

8. Limitations of Standard Balancing:

Standard balancing may not address all vibration concerns. Balancing tires on a regular tire balancing machine can only eliminate vibrations caused by weight imbalance. If a tire has flat spots or "hopping" up and down or wobbling side to side, or if the rim is bent, balancing will not eliminate the vibration completely. To check for this type of problem, request Road Force balancing.

9. Road Force Balancing:

The more advanced Road Force tire balancing allows not only checking the weight imbalance but also measuring the uniformity of the tires. The Road Force balancer can detect if the tire has flat spots or if it is out of round (hopping). In some cases, repositioning a tire on the rim using a Road Force balancer can solve some vibration issues that standard balancing cannot. In other cases, a tire or rim (if damaged or bent) may need to be replaced.

10. Flat Spots on Tires:

Extended parking, especially in cold weather, can lead to flat spots on tires, causing vibrations. Normally, tires warm up as you drive, and as a result, flat spots gradually disappear; however, in the worst cases, tires may need to be replaced. From our experience, we know that driving a car on the highway for 20-30 minutes in warm weather helps get rid of flat spots.

11. Ice Buildup as a Cause of Vibration:

Winter storms can lead to ice buildup on wheels, causing imbalance and vibrations. Rest assured, as the vibrations typically disappear as the ice melts.

12. Balancing versus Alignment:

Wheel alignment and tire balancing are two completely different services and can be done independently. Wheel alignment involves checking and adjusting the angles between the wheels and the vehicle's body or frame. Wheel alignment helps improve the handling and directional stability of the vehicle. Read more about wheel alignment.