How To – Understanding Wheel Alignment and Tire Ballancing

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    How your car handles has a lot to do with the proper alignment of your suspension.

    You don’t have to be driving a race car to benefit from proper wheel alignment and balancing even if you always drive 10 miles per hour under the speed limit and only make trips to the grocery store when parts are aligned they work better and that means they last longer. It also means better gas mileage and that is important to everyone.

    Why does your car need Wheel Alignment

    Whenever you have new parts installed that change the geometry you will need to check and adjust your suspension alignment.

    Part changes can be due to an accident or normal wear. Additionally if you add lift or lowering kits or other performance parts you will need to bring your car to a service center with an alignment rack.

    Some vehicles only need front end alignments. Other vehicles including most 4 wheel cars and trucks can benefit from a front and rear wheel alignment.

    If you have a fixed or independent rear axles a 4 wheel alignment may be necessary if you are in an accident that causes suspension or frame damage.

    What is a Wheel Alignment?

    Wheel alignments are performed by mechanics to make sure the geometry of your suspension are in align.

    There are three basic points in a Wheel alignment Toe, Camber, Caster. In addition to individual wheel alignment is the overall alignment of side to side and front to back.

    Basically each wheel that has adjustment can be set individually then you check the front to rear wheel alignment to make sure the tires are driving over the same paths as they go down the road.

    This work requires a dedicated alignment rack that looks similar to a vehicle lift.

    When the technician measures the alignment the steering wheel inside the vehicle is locked into a straight ahead position.

    Measurement devices are mounted to the Hub of each wheel and a analog or digital readout will tell the mechanic what changes need to be made.

    Once the vehicle is aligned it is restored to factory geometry and your car should drive straight, not pull or drag inappropriately.

    Vehicles with damaged parts may need new parts before the work can be completed.

    Vehicles with frame damage must be repaired because normal adjustments that a Mechanic can make are often not enough to compensate for frame damage.

    What is Wheel or Tire Balancing

    Tire and Wheel Balancing is performed any time that you change the tires on your wheels or whenever you find a wear problem on your tires that indicates weights have popped off due to hitting a pothole.

    An indication of out of balance tires is normally seen with wear patterns known as cupping on the tread. Some people may be lucky to notice a missing wheel weight but normally you do not feel an out of balanced wheel due to the shocks or struts compensating and  making your ride feel smooth.

    When you do finally feel the effects of an out of balanced wheel you will feel a hopping up and down.

    Worn shocks or springs can also cause problems similar to an out of balanced wheel.

    When you purchase new tires the mechanic will mount the new tire on the wheel then mount the unit in a wheel balancer.

    The tire and wheel will be supun up in speed to match normal driving and then electronically measured for out of balance.

    The mechanic will then rotate the wheel and hammer or glue on a wheel weight.

    The tire is spun again to ensure that the wheel is now balanced.

    Important: a lazy technician will not follow standard practices when balancing your wheels. It is important that if a wheel and tire set is out of balance more then one ounce that the tire be rotated on the wheel 180 degrees then tested again.

    The balancing of wheels and tires should use minimal weights. A single weight of no more then 1 ounce should fix most problems and rotating the tire on the wheel by removing it and retesting takes time.

    If you notice that your new tires have more then 2 weights on any tire you should ask the manager to retest the tires and rotate them on the rims.

    The reason you rotate the tire on the wheel is because the tire can be out of balance and rotating it will remove the problem or allow only one small weight instead of many or a single large one.

    Reducing the number and size of these weights is important because over the life of the use of the tire it is probable that one weight could pop off if many are used.

    You can not balance your tires and wheels at home without an expensive set of equipment . Bubble balancers are fine for farm equipment but not for vehicles that see heavy use in commuting daily.


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