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What Happens If You Drive With Unbalanced Wheels? (Risks & Prevention)

Has your mechanic ever come out from the garage and informed you that your tires are unbalanced? If you’re not familiar with the workshop, this might be a relatively new diagnosis for you. You might be wondering how serious this problem is and whether it’s safe to drive with unbalanced wheels.

Driving with unbalanced wheels isn’t necessarily dangerous and it’s not something that always needs fixed urgently. However, unbalanced wheels can lead to more severe problems, and so it is always recommended that you get them rebalanced as soon as you notice the problem.

Keep reading to learn why car tires need to be balanced and how often you should bring your vehicle in for tire maintenance. You’ll also learn the consequences of delaying any repairs and what to expect if you let the problem persist for a very long time.

Why Do Car Tires Need To Be Balanced?

A Smooth Ride

Car tires are balanced because it helps them roll smoothly. If your tires are not correctly balanced, the tire’s high-speed revolutions while driving will unevenly distribute the force from the wheel assembly to the road. This irregularity can cause it to bounce or hop, which will result in a harsh ride or even damage to your vehicle.

All tires, even new ones, need to be balanced. Manufacturers will balance their new tires before selling them to accommodate minimal features, like the hole in the wheel rim for the valve stem or seams in the rubber. As tires age, they will need to be balanced more often due to different driving habits.

Weight Differences

Most people know that their tires will wear in different ways because of their driving habits. Tire wear is one reason experts recommended to rotate your tires regularly. However, that uneven wear also results in weight differences across the circumference of the tire. Mechanics resolve these weight differences by installing small weights along the rim.

Regularly balancing tires, when paired with a consistent tire rotation process, helps them last longer. Preserving your tires should be considered part of your routine maintenance, along with managing belts, fluids, and oil changes. By preventing trouble caused by unbalanced tires, you can save money with less-frequent tire replacements and potentially costly repairs.

4 Things That Affect Tire Balance

1. External Issues

Tires can be come unbalanced due to issues with the car as a whole, while others are situational. For example, the car’s suspension system might unevenly distribute weight throughout the tire, which will need to be addressed when rebalancing the wheel.

2. Driving Habits

However, most wheels fall out of balance because of the way the car is being driven. Certain driving habits can contribute to more severe tire wear. Stopping short can cause flat spots that contribute to weight loss in a small part of the tire.

3. Hitting Potholes And Curbs

Hitting potholes or curbs can cause weights secured to your tire’s rim to fall off, which can also throw your tire out of balance. These small impacts can also throw your wheels out of alignment, leading to uneven tire wear – also causing tires to become unbalanced.

4. The Weather

One of the most innocuous ways that tires become imbalanced is because of the weather. When the seasons change, cold air can often cause tires to become under-inflated, changing how the tread’s rubber meets the road. Driving with under-inflated tires for even a few days causes unusual wear of the tire tread, which can cause them to become unbalanced.

4 Symptoms Of Unbalanced Wheels

1. Vibration

The earliest symptom of unbalanced tires is usually a noticeable vibration in the car. When your wheels are out of balance, the inconsistent weight causes an uneven distribution of force on the road. This variable force can make your car’s wheel jump or hop while driving, causing you to feel vibrations through the steering wheel or – in more extreme cases – your seat.

This vibration probably won’t make your vehicle undrivable, but it might be a little annoying, especially if you have a regular commute for work or are travelling a long distance. You might find that the shaking in your steering wheel makes driving uncomfortable or wears on your patience.

2. Uneven Tread Wear

Because unbalanced tires cause an uneven distribution of force from the tire to the road, you may see uneven tread wear on your vehicle. You might notice that your tire is wearing on one side or more heavily in different patterns. Generally, unbalanced tires cause a kind of wear called “cupping.” Tires with this wear pattern will have lines of heavier wear across the tread.

Vibration and uneven tread wear in a vehicle are often evident in a few other issues, such as a bad wheel alignment or a dented rim. These issues generally need more attention than balancing and can lead to far more catastrophic problems. If you experience any of these car troubles, make sure to visit your mechanic as soon as possible to make sure they’re resolved.

3. Higher Fuel Costs

If you find that you’re filling your gas tank more regularly, the cause might not be your engine but your car’s tires. Properly balanced tires spin evenly, with proper pressure put to the road to better manage the friction between the ground and your wheel.

Unbalanced tires cause your vehicle to drive less efficiently because the force is unevenly distributed throughout the circumference of your car’s wheels.

4. Long-Term Damage

Consistent vibrations throughout your car’s wheel assembly will result in long-term damage to your vehicle. Those vibrations will cause things to come loose and it can cause extra wear on components like your shock absorbers, bearings, and other parts of your wheel hub.

For more extreme imbalances, the consistent vibration can also stress your vehicle’s chassis, leading to more catastrophic damage (especially in older vehicles.)

Most of these issues are not catastrophic on their own; however, they can become more significant over time. If your tires wear significantly, you might find that your car is harder to control or is pulling one way more than the other. Uneven tire wear can also cause your vehicle to struggle with handling in poor weather conditions, such as rain or snow.

Is It Safe To Drive With Unbalanced Wheels?

Usually Just Vibrations

In normal circumstances, it’s fairly safe to drive with unbalanced wheels. The most dramatic result is that you may have a vibration that’s a bit annoying. However, if you’re distracted by the vibration, it might become more serious. If you find it negatively impacts your driving abilities, you should get the issue fixed as soon as possible.

As tires become more and more unbalanced, the issues they cause can be more significant. Unbalanced wheels can cause tires to wear unevenly, making them less round. Deformed, or out-of-round, tires can be incredibly dangerous and should be addressed immediately.

Suspension Damage

Out-of-round tires can cause significant damage to the suspension of your vehicle. This damage might require a very costly repair. More seriously, out-of-round tires might have weak spots that are prone to failure. If your tire fails while driving, you could find yourself in a bad accident, or stranded fixing a flat in the breakdown lane.

Your driving habits might also increase the urgency with which you need to make this repair. If you don’t drive a long distance to get to work, or you work from home, you might find that unbalanced tires don’t impact you that much. Alternatively, if you drive for long hours every day or drive through various conditions, you might want to prioritize this repair.

How Often You Drive

Those who drive for their career should always prioritize regular maintenance to ensure your car is working when you need it. Keeping up with your routine maintenance is not only crucial for the longevity of your vehicle, but it’s also a way to make sure you’re staying safe on the road.

Many car owners will delay getting their tires balanced because it’s generally not included instate inspections. However, if you put off this repair for a long time, you might develop other problems, like irregular tread wear, causing you to fail your yearly inspection.

Inspections

Although you probably won’t fail your inspection, driving with unbalanced wheels can lead to significant problems later down the line. Having work done to your suspension or buying a new set of tires is much more expensive than a routine balancing procedure.

Taking the time to regularly look at your wheels and see how they’re wearing is an excellent way to notice problems before they become more serious. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic at the first sign of irregular tire wear to ensure that your car stays in good shape.

When Should You Get Your Wheels Balanced?

Every 7,000 Miles

To ensure that out-of-balance tires don’t lead to more significant issues, you should have your tires balanced every 7,000 miles. A great way to consistently have your tires looked at is to include tire balancing and rotation into your regular oil changes.

If you’re a self-sufficient car owner that does your own oil changes and tire rotations, you may need to schedule regular visits to a mechanic to balance your tires. While this might be inconvenient, tire balancing is not a procedure that you can do at home. It’s best left to the professionals.

You Need A Professional

You could, in theory, use a piece of equipment called a static balancer, which is a lot like the bubble level you’d use in construction. When you mount the tire on a static balancer, you’ll see a reservoir with a bubble on the balancer’s cap. The bubble should be in the reservoir’s center when the tire is balanced.

Static balancers may not be calibrated appropriately or might not be sensitive enough to balance a tire accurately. For this reason, the automotive industry has stopped using static balancers because they only measure tire balance on one axis.

Not The Best Method

While it’s relatively common for tires to be unbalanced laterally, they can become unbalanced dynamically as well. Dynamically unbalanced tires are often hard to diagnose at home because they’re unbalanced on two axes.

Some home mechanics will try to diagnose dynamic unbalance by using a few tricks, like balancing a tire on a billiard ball. Unfortunately, this is a fairly imprecise method, which is incredibly subjective. Rather than wasting your time in your garage, it’s best to let professionals balance your tires.

Visit The Garage

Going to a mechanic is one of the easiest ways to ensure your tires are properly balanced. Your mechanic can probably do it in less than an hour. Even the most expensive mechanics will charge well under $100 to balance a full set of tires, meaning this process won’t break the bank.

How Do Mechanics Balance Wheels?

Balancing wheels is a regular part of car maintenance that most mechanics can accomplish with the supplies they have in the shop. If you bring your car to the garage complaining about vibrations, uneven tread wear, or low fuel economy, they’ll be able to find out if it is unbalanced tires or another issue is causing your woes.

Visual Inspection

To evaluate whether a tire is balanced, mechanics first do a visual inspection of the wheel. They’ll make sure that the wheel is properly sitting on the hub and that all the lugs are sufficiently tightened.

Your mechanic will also inspect the rim to ensure it’s not dented and check the wheels’ camber and toe to evaluate the alignment. Both dented rims and imprecise alignment will cause car troubles similar to out-of-balance wheels. These issues are all solved in different ways, which is why a trained mechanic should evaluate your vehicle.

Balancing Machine

After removing the tire from your vehicle, your mechanic will place the wheel on a tire balancing machine, a tool that spins the wheel at high speeds. While the wheel spins, the device records how much the wheel is vibrating and evaluates the cause. 

The balancing machine will then tell the mechanic where to put weights on the wheel and how heavy these weights should be. Sometimes, it does this by shining an LED light directly on the tire, so the mechanic knows exactly where to install them.

Adding Weights

These weights are often tiny and light, weighing only a fraction of an ounce (which is a little more than the weight of a quarter). Your car at home probably has several weights on it that you’ve never noticed. They’re often at the very edge of the rim, where the rubber meets the metal.

After installing the weights, the mechanic will re-spin the tire using the tire balancer to see if the tire is balanced correctly. Once it’s balanced, the mechanic will mount the tire on the vehicle and repeat the process with the remaining wheels.

Tire Rotation

Most mechanics inspect your tires during regular maintenance, like tire rotations. If your mechanic isn’t regularly rotating or balancing your tires, make sure to ask for it each time you get your oil changed. Most car owners get their oil changed every 10,000 miles, which is a perfect time to have your tires evaluated by a professional.

By having a mechanic rotating and balancing your tires regularly, you can have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the most life out of your wheels. That means they’ll work as they were designed to, whenever you need them.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, driving with unbalanced wheels is not a catastrophic issue that will be very dangerous in the short term. However, letting this issue continue in the long-term can cause some trouble with your vehicle’s stability overall. Addressing unbalanced wheels is best done early on when it’s usually a cheaper fix.

Having your wheels balanced by a mechanic is a form of regular maintenance that won’t break the bank. If you feel a small vibration in your car or your handling is just a little bit off, consider bringing your vehicle to your local mechanic for a check-up. While vibration alone might not be reason enough to have your car worked on, it could be the first indication of more significant problems.