Tire Balance vs. Wheel Alignment: What’s the Difference?

With so many individual maintenance items to keep track of in your vehicle, it’s understandable that these various terms may become a little complicated to keep a handle on. Two of these underlooked maintenance services are wheel alignments and tire balancing. While these have similar names and maintenance intervals, it’s important to understand the difference and the importance of each to your vehicle’s health. 

What’s The Difference?

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignments consist of aligning the angles of various suspension and steering components to ensure the wheels are pointing perfectly parallel. As your suspension system absorbs the energy from the road surface and chassis, it puts up with a great deal of abuse and can subsequently become knocked out of alignment.

Car on alignment rack

This is a universal problem and needs to be corrected occasionally on all vehicles to prevent the harmful and annoying effects of misaligned wheels. Improper alignment may result in some of the following symptoms:

  • Reduced Fuel Economy
  • Vehicle pulling to one side when steering wheel is straight
  • Reduced handling capabilities
  • Vibrations or shaking from vehicle while driving
  • Rapid tire wear
  • Increased suspension wear

Tire Balancing

While wheel alignments keep the vehicle’s suspension system aligned properly and driving straight, tire balancing ensures the rotating wheel itself has even weight distribution. Even with a slight imbalance in weight around the wheel, the rotation of it will amplify the effects through the entire chassis. 

During tire balancing, a technician will use a computerized balancing machine to ensure precise measurement and perfect distribution. To correct any imbalances, tire weights will be added to the inside of the wheel barrel.

BMW tire

Even when fresh off the production line, tires come with small defects and lack a perfectly even circumference. These imbalances will only become more severe as the tires wear or develop flat spots from skids or hard braking. 

Tire balancing is a service that needs to be completed occasionally, or you risk developing annoying and unsafe symptoms that will affect the way you drive and your vehicle performs. 

Symptoms of Unbalanced Tires

  • Vibration in steering wheel or floor
  • Decreased handling capabilities
  • Uncomfortable ride
  • Reduced fuel economy
  • Uneven tire wear

When Do I Need to Complete These Services?

As you can see, the symptoms of unbalanced tires and misaligned wheels are very similar, as both have similar impacts on the way the suspension behaves and the amount of vibrations from the road. 

Both of these services are crucial to remaining safe and comfortable on the road, but when should you have each of these services carried out?

Wheel alignment is the less frequent of the two, though waiting too long will result in more severe symptoms than unbalanced tires. It’s recommended to have your wheels aligned about every 2-3 years, but having it done any time you go in for an oil change is the best way to ensure you’re never driving with improper alignment and damaging your suspension and tread. 

Getting an alignment is also important after getting any major suspension components replaced, as these new components will need to be aligned with the rest of the suspension system. You may also need an alignment following a collision or bumping a curb if it has knocked your wheels out of alignment. 

Tire balancing, on the other hand, needs to be completed more often than alignments. As a rule of thumb, you should have your tires balanced between every 4,000-6,000 miles. Similar to alignments, you may need a balancing service if your vehicle is involved in a collision. It’s also possible for the weights to break free of their adhesive and fall off, in which case you’ll need to have them replaced. 

Tire Balancing & Wheel Alignment at Sun Automotive

Whether you need an alignment, tire balancing, or a professional opinion on your vehicle’s condition, trust the qualified technicians at Sun Automotive in Eugene, Junction City, and Springfield. Our team has extensive training and experience providing these services on all makes and models! Give us a call or schedule online today to speak with our friendly and knowledgeable service advisors.