The difference between wheel balancing & alignment

By Lewis on 24th August 2016 - View Comments

We’ve found another awesome post by the guys at Kwik Fit, if you have any confusion on wheel balancing and alignment then take a read…

One of the more common questions that we get asked in our centres is if wheel balancing and wheel alignment are two terms used to describe the same thing. After all, they sound very similar and both aid the long term health of your tyres.

Balancing and alignment are in fact two very different practices and whereas balancing addresses the distribution of weight around the wheel, alignment looks at the position of the wheels in relation to the road and each other. It’s easy to confuse the two, so here’s a closer look at each one and the benefits this can bring to you and your car.

Wheel Balancing

Wheel balancing ensures that weight is distributed equally around the wheel and that the tyre rotates evenly. This involves adding small balancing weights to the rim which counter weight inconsistencies. If you imagine a set of balancing scales, when you add a heavy weight to one side the scales will tip. If you then add a number of smaller, less heavy items to the other side, the scales will gradually begin to tilt the more you add until finally, when you have added enough smaller weights, the scales will once again level out. Add too many weights and the scales will tip the other way. Although this is a simpler example, wheel balancing works in the same way and if an imbalance towards one side of the wheel is identified, wheel weights are added to the opposite side to even out the distribution of weight.
It’s important to address wheels that are not correctly balanced to ensure you receive the best ride comfort. Incorrectly balanced wheels produce a vibration that is felt through the steering wheel when travelling above a certain speed that can cause considerable discomfort over time. What’s more, balance issues can cause premature wearing of your tyres, suspension and steering components. You can see the negative impact that out-of-balance wheels can have on your tyres in this video.
Wheel Balancing – How It Works

Wheels can be balanced on a wheel balancing machine available at all Kwik Fit centres. The tyre and wheel assembly are mounted on the machine which then spins the wheel to calculate even the slightest variance in weight across the wheel. The balancing machine then highlights the exact position where a counter weight should be applied and which size of weights to use to correctly balance the wheel.

Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignment involves checking the direction and angle of the wheels to ensure they remain parallel to one another. Adjustments can then be made to the tie rods and control arms to correct alignment. This has several benefits but the easiest to remember is that a-lign-ment helps you to drive in a straight “line” since vehicles with misaligned wheels can pull or drift to one side.
Wheels should be aligned to the optimum position as per the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation which involves adjusting the “toe”, the “camber” and sometimes the “caster” angle. “Toe” refers to whether the front of the tyres are closer or further apart than the rear of the tyres whereas “Camber” describes the inward or outward tilt of the tyre. “Caster” refers to the angle between vertical and the steering pivot axis and can be adjusted by moving the suspension struts. This video will give you a better understanding of each.

Wheel Alignment – How It Works

Wheels will generally become misaligned over time due largely to road conditions. Hitting a pothole, a curb or even a speed bump are all common causes of alignment problems which can lead to uneven tyre wear, the car pulling to the left or right, and uneven braking, so it’s recommended that you have your alignment checked every year. Doing so could save you money in the long run as you’ll be changing your tyres less frequently and spending less on fuel due to the reduced rolling resistance of the correctly aligned tyres.

Wheels can be adjusted using specialist alignment equipment which measures either just the front wheels (2-wheel alignment, also known as tracking), or all four in relation to one another (4-wheel alignment).  4-wheel alignment has added benefits including resetting the steering wheel to a straight position and ensuring optimum performance and drive comfort. Hunter Hawkeye 4-wheel alignment machines have been installed in the majority of our centres which use a series of high-definition imaging sensors to measure 14 primary alignment angles on your wheels. The position and orientation of your wheels are compared against our vehicle manufacturer data, ensuring your vehicle is set up perfectly for you to drive.

Wheel balancing and wheel alignment is available at all Kwik Fit centres. Contact your local centre for more information or to book.

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