Alignment vs. Tire Balancing: How Auto Technicians Know Which One is Necessary

auto technicians

Drivers often get confused about the differences between wheel alignment and balancing, and many wrongly assume that the two are the same. The truth is that wheel alignment and balancing are two very different processes. Some situations call for the former, and others the latter, but it’s ultimately up to automotive technicians to know which one is which!

Both of these processes have some significant differences in terms of when they are needed and which scenarios call for them—and they’re each incredibly important for anyone working in the automotive industry to remember. Here are the ways auto technicians can know when alignment or balancing is needed.

Wheel Alignment: When the Caster and the Camber Are Out of Whack

Wheel alignment is exactly as it sounds: ensuring the vehicle’s wheels are all pointing in the right direction and at the right angles. When a car’s wheels are out of alignment, the car may pull to one side to another. Drivers may also notice that the spokes of the steering wheel are stuck to one side while the car is driving straight on a level road and that the tires are wearing quickly or unevenly on the inside or outside. Wheel alignment is meant to resolve issues with three specific types of angles: the camber (angle between tire and axle), caster (angle between the two ball joints and between the pivot line from the vehicle’s front and rear), and toe (direction in which the tires are pointing relative to each other). It is recommended that car owners get their tires aligned upon replacing them with new ones, and an alignment is a good idea if the suspension and/or ball joints have recently been replaced.

Wheel alignment is meant to correct issues with the camber, caster and toe of the vehicle
Wheel alignment is meant to correct issues with the camber, caster and toe of the vehicle

Tire Balancing: If There’s Shaking, Then the Tires Are Likely Out of Balance

Tire balancing, on the other hand, refers to how mass is distributed throughout a car’s wheel. With tire balancing, various weights as well as lead and/or zinc can be applied to the rim’s inner and outer planes, though the exact weight applications can vary depending on the type of rim. If the car is shaking or vibrating at about 60 to 70 mph (approximately 97 to 113 km/h), this is a major sign that the tires are imbalanced and need to be corrected. Oftentimes, unbalanced tires are a result of them taking different shapes as they start to wear down due to various factors on the road, as well as through a build-up of ice and snow in the winter. Auto technicians should also note that blemishes to a tire’s rubber can impact its balance, which can lead to a section of the tire or rim being heavier and wobbling when in motion.

Clients should be reminded to get their tires’ balance and alignment checked annually
Clients should be reminded to get their tires’ balance and alignment checked annually

A Recap of the Exact Differences Between Them for Auto Technicians

So, to recap, if a car has significant wear on either side of its tires’ edges, wheel alignment may be necessary, whereas tire balancing is needed if the car tends to vibrate or shake between around 97 to 113 km/h. The fundamental difference between the two that auto mechanics should know is that wheel balancing ensures the correct balance of weight within wheels, while wheel alignment ensures the wheels’ angles are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to one another.

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