What is wheel alignment, balancing and rotation? How often should it be done?

As a responsible blogging website we would like to take this opportunity and educate our readers about what is known as wheel alignment, balancing and rotation. People in India may be updated to the auto-market and stocks of their favorite car company but unfortunately not many are acquainted with these 3 terms. That well-paid driver of a business man, who wears a fancy all-white creased uniform, may be reporting to his boss on time, but not necessarily to the tyres of the sedan he might be driving. A slight negligence in catering to theses aspects can lead to problems ranging from a vibrating steering wheel at your hands, to hazardous driving conditions which may be fatal. Wheel balancing and alignment, which are often confused, are totally different terminologies and practices. Having said that, both are equally important and hence should be given equal attention for a smoother and safer ride of your vehicle.

Wheel Alignment Machine
Wheel Alignment Machine

What Is Wheel Alignment?

Alignment of wheel means that all the wheels of the car are properly aligned in the way they should be. With time and usage of a car, these settings usually need adjustment to keep them properly aligned. Proper wheel alignment for a car plays a significant role in the dynamics of the vehicle in motion. Technically, it is an act of making sure that the geometric angles of Caster, Camber and Toe are correct in a tyre, if you don’t know these angles, you need not worry, just make sure that you get the alignment done on a regular basis, well how frequently, read on for more details.

When to get the wheels checked for alignment?

  • Your vehicle took a hit (kerb or god-forbid any other vehicle)
  • You notice an uneven or abnormal tyre wear
  • You experience handling issues like the vehicle pulling off towards left or right and the steering not returning easily after you take a turn
  • When you replace your steering  and suspension components, make sure you don’t return home without a wheel alignment check at that service center
  • Any of the above cases or after driving for 50,000 km a wheel alignment is recommended`

 What if you ignore it?

  • You will need a new set of tyres pretty soon, due to the abnormal wear caused by the faulty wheel alignment
  •  The drive may not be as comfortable as was claimed by your car dealer
  • Proper tyre wear which is achieved by a perfectly aligned wheel will result in better contact surface between the tyre and road and improve the fuel economy
  • You put the co-passengers and yourself at risk due to instability and hazards which faulty alignment may pose

How long does it takes to get wheel alignment done?

Most of the front and rear wheel alignment can be achieved in about 30 minutes to an hours time. Even though at the service center, you may hear engineering jargon like castor, camber and toe but wheel alignment actually is a pretty straightforward operation.Your car will be driven onto a platform that allows the wheels to spin while the rotation and orientation of each wheel is assessed by a computer. Specifications will be checked electronically for the year, make and model of your car. If these specs are off, an adjustment will be made to each appropriate wheel until they match up properly. Your vehicle will likely be test-driven both before and after the alignment.

What Is Wheel Balancing?

When a wheel rotates, the weight along its rotating axis must be properly balanced else there will be unpleasant vibrations and wobbling of the wheel. To avoid any unbalanced weights, wheel balancing is needed.  Technically speaking, it is a process of equalizing the combined weights of the tyre and the wheel assembly so that it spins smoothly at high speeds. The goal is to make sure the weight is even around the axle. When the wheel rotates, asymmetries of mass may cause it to hop or wobble, which can cause ride disturbances, usually vertical and lateral vibrations.

Wheel Balance Machine
Wheel Balance Machine

When to get the wheels checked for alignment?

  • Your steering wheel vibrates at high speeds which is usually when the imbalance is in the front wheels
  • Your seats and the floorboard vibrates at high speeds which is usually when the imbalance is in the rear wheels
  • Scalloped /cupped wear pattern on the tyres.
  • Wheel balancing is recommended after every 5,000 to 10,000 km of running

What if you ignore it?

  • You will need a new set of tyres pretty soon, due to the abnormal scalloping/cupping on the tyre surface
  • It puts uneven pressure on the tyre treads/pattern which results in hot-spots and uneven wear
  • It may strain your vehicle bearing and suspension and thus pose a cumulative loss if ignored at the beginning

How to restore the balance?

Wheel balance is checked on a wheel balancing machine that can sense as little as 1/4 ounce  (i.e. 7 grams) difference in weight around the wheel. Some might say, why worry about such a insignificant mass on a wheel that weighs many kilos? Well that tiny amount of weight is traveling very fast around the axle: hundreds of times a minute which creates enough momentum to cause vibrations. And when you multiply by 4 wheels, the wobble really adds up. Experts at service centers follow some standard procedure that we have mentioned below:

  • Tire and wheel removal
  • Mounting each wheel on a state-of-the-art balancing machine
  • Spinning each wheel to make sure the weight of the wheel and tire are balanced evenly around the axle
  • Detecting and locating any imbalance both static and dynamic (i.e. wheels checked, both at rest and motion)
  • Attaching a lead weight on the opposite side of the tire to compensate for weight differences
  • Remounting tires and wheels

Zinc tyre weight
Tyre weight

What Is Tyre Rotation?

Mind you guys. when we talk of tyre rotation, we do not mean literally mounting your car and actually spinning your tyres. Tyre rotation is a practice of swapping the front and back tyres to even out the wear. By design, the weight of front and rear axles differs which results in uneven distribution of load on the wheels. Depending on the specifics of the vehicle, tyre rotation may be recommended every 8,000 km. A general law of tyre swapping/rotation is governed by the type of drive-train viz. rear wheel/forward wheel/ 4-wheel, and are depicted below pictorially: 

Bottomline: if you have spent your money to avoid the dreaded public transport and reach your destination comfortably and safely, then one should attend to these issues on time and save on the damages.

Video Courtesy: Nhausman22

Pic Courtesy: carbible.com