Wheel Alignment vs. Tire Balance: Understanding the Difference as an Auto Body Repair Technician

Not all tire issues are created equal. Tire balancing and wheel alignments are both procedures that stabilize vehicles, enabling a safe and smooth driving experience. However, what many people don’t know is that these procedures are totally different. If you’re considering a career as an auto repair technician, you’ll be assessing vehicles for damage, as well as identifying and making the necessary repairs. After an accident, vehicles often develop issues with their tire balance or wheel alignment. 

Read on to discover how to tell the difference between tire balance and wheel alignment issues, what causes them, and how to perform these procedures on vehicles. 

The Difference Between Tire Balancing and Wheel Alignment Explained for those in Auto Body Technician Careers

In order to effectively perform repairs during your career as an auto body repair technician, it’s important to understand the difference between performing a tire balance and a wheel alignment. A tire balance is an adjustment which corrects weight imbalances in a vehicle’s wheels. When weight isn’t distributed evenly throughout a vehicle’s wheels, this can lead to vibration or shaking at high speeds, suspension damage, uneven tire wear, and other issues. 

A wheel alignment is a procedure that corrects the angles of a vehicle’s wheels

Unlike a tire balance, which is performed directly on the tires, a wheel alignment is a procedure that adjusts a vehicle’s suspension. In a wheel alignment, three different angles of the wheels are adjusted. The first is the camber—the inward or outward angle between the axle and the tire, which is visible from the front of a vehicle. Next is the caster, the angle between the upper and lower ball joints which can be detected from the vehicle’s side. Lastly is the toe, which is the angle of the tires from an aerial viewpoint. 

What Causes a Wonky Wheel Alignment or Tire Imbalance?

A tire imbalance can result from a number of issues. One of the most common causes you may encounter after auto body technician training is a sudden loss of wheel weight due to impact— such as when a vehicle gets into a fender bender or hits a pothole or curb. Tire imbalance can also happen over time. If a vehicle is parked in one spot for an extended period of time, imbalances can result from the flat spots that develop on the tires. A tire balance issue can be identified by uneven tread wear patterns on the tires. If a vehicle vibrates at high speeds, there’s also a good chance this is due to a tire balance problem. 

If a vehicle receives a sudden impact, such as a fender bender, its tire balance or wheel alignment can be affected

Wheel alignment issues, like tire imbalances, can be caused by impact with potholes, curbs, or other vehicles. They might also be caused by faulty suspension parts, or years of wear and tear on the tires causing them to become skewed. Wheel alignment trouble can typically be identified when driving, as a misaligned vehicle may pull to one side despite the road being level. Additionally, worn tire treads, a vibrating steering wheel, and squealing tires can all mean that it’s time for a wheel alignment. 

How to Perform Tire Balances and Wheel Alignments as an Auto Body Repair Technician

In order to perform a tire balancing service, a machine is used to accurately measure the imbalance. The wheels and tires are mounted to the machine and spun at high speeds. When an imbalance has been identified, you can mount wheel weights to the appropriate tires to fix the issue. These weights create optimal tire balance, creating stabilization throughout the vehicle.

A wheel alignment can be performed by measuring the caster, camber, and toe angles of the vehicle and determining how much adjustment is necessary to correct the alignment. A proper wheel alignment can result in improved longevity of the tires, more responsive handling, and better fuel efficiency.

Understanding the difference between wheel alignment and tire balance issues will enable you to properly diagnose and repair vehicles throughout your career as an auto body technician. Use these tips to identify these problems and make the necessary adjustments.

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