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What's the Difference Between Wheel Balance and Alignment

Mike Prosser - Sunday, August 09, 2009

Most RVer's have a car as a separate tow vehicle or maybe a truck if you have a 5th wheel. We will explore what is the difference between Tire Balance and Wheel Alignment.


Wheel Balance

Question: Does your steering wheel shake at speeds 45 MPH and above?

Answer: Yes, then you probably have a wheel balance problem.

Usually the faster you go, the worse the shake becomes. Assuming your tires are in good condition and not worn out, there are a number of places you can go to have all four wheels balanced. Generally, the wheels are removed from the car and put on a computer balance machine. They spin the wheels and the computer indicates where balance weights should be placed. The weights are put on the wheels and, re-spun to verify that the balance is correct. If it's not, the weights are moved into the correct position until the vibration is gone. After the wheel is back on the car, it should get rid of the shaking steering wheel, unless you have a wheel that is bent or damaged. The vehicle should run down the road much smoother. In addition to the shake being gone, balancing tires makes them last longer and minimizes wear on the suspension components.


Wheel Alignment

Question: When you check the tire pressures every week, do you observe any peculiar wear pattern on front or rear tires? Is your vehicle pulling to one side when you drive?

Answer: Yes, you could have an wheel alignment problem.

Most people don't think of wheel alignment as a maintenance operation. They have an alignment performed as a part of buying new tires. You should have the alignment checked every 7,000 to 10,000 miles on your vehicle. I would also recommend having it checked if you have recently been in an accident or if you tend to run over curbs. When you have a wheel alignment, be sure to have a 4-wheel alignment, rather than the 2-wheel alignment of just the front end. The reason why, many of today's cars require a 4-wheel alignment to minimize tire wear. The angles checked during a alignment are: Caster, Camber, and Toe-in on most cars. Of these angles, Camber and Toe-in are the critical tire wearing angles. Incorrect toe-in can account for 70% of excessive tire wear, as well as cutting down your fuel mileage. Camber is also a tire wearing angle but not as critical as toe-in. The caster angle helps with road holding capabilities and is important for stability.

Well, there you have it! An out of balance vehicle will shake your teeth out and wear your suspension parts out prematurely. A vehicle out of alignment will chop your tires up and steal fuel mileage every day. So I contend to you, your vehicle needs wheel balance and alignment on a regular basis to make your life smooth and give you long lasting tires and good fuel mileage!

Quality tire shops will be able to offer these services, and I encourage you to find a good alignment man who really takes pride in doing First Class Alignment!


 
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