Spotting the Difference: Wheel Alignment Vs Wheel Balancing

Understanding the Difference Between Wheel Alignment vs Wheel Balancing

Keeping a car’s tyres in good shape is essential to ensure their performance and longevity. It is recommended to check tyre treads regularly, especially before and after long trips. Excessive or uneven tyre wear can be a sign of imbalanced or misaligned wheel assemblies. 

To promptly address this issue, tyres should be adjusted with wheel alignment and wheel balancing. Since these two processes sound quite similar, people often mistake them for one. Therefore, it is necessary to understand their difference to avoid any confusion. 

Here’s a comparative analysis of wheel alignment vs wheel balancing, which will highlight the major differences between these two important tyre maintenance processes. 

Wheel Alignment Vs Wheel Balancing: What’s the Difference? 

We’ll start explaining the difference between wheel balancing and wheel alignment by describing their respective technical aspects and purposes. 

What is Wheel Alignment? 

wheel alignment ensures that wheels are properly positioned
Wheel alignment ensures that the wheels are positioned properly

Wheel alignment is a process that involves adjusting the angles of a vehicle’s wheels to the recommended levels. The main purpose of wheel alignment is to ensure that the wheels are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. 

During a wheel alignment, three types of angles are adjusted to ensure proper wheel positioning: camber, caster, and toe. 

Camber

Camber refers to the inward or outward angle of the wheel when viewed from the front of the vehicle. If the top of the wheel leans inwards, it is called negative camber, while if it leans outwards, it is positive camber.

Caster

The caster angle or castor angle is the deviation angle between the steering axis and the vertical axis of a wheel in a car. It helps with steering wheel returnability, making maintaining a straight line while driving easier.

Toe

Toe refers to the direction in which the tyres are pointed when viewed from above. If the wheels point inward towards the centre of the vehicle, it is called toe-in, while if they point outward, it is called toe-out. 

What is Wheel Balancing? 

wheel balancing keeps the weight on tyres evenly distributed
Wheel balancing fixes any weight imbalances in tyres and wheels

Wheel balancing fixes any weight imbalances in tyres and wheels

The purpose of wheel balancing, on the other hand, is to ensure that the weight is evenly distributed throughout each tyre and wheel of the car. 

Even the slightest imbalance can create enough momentum to cause uncomfortable vibrations during the ride. If the problem isn’t fixed in a timely manner, it can lead to excessive tyre wear and leave you with no option but to replace the tyre.

During a wheel balancing process, the tyres and wheels are removed from the vehicle and placed on a specialised balancing machine. The machine then spins them at a high speed to spot the imbalances. Small wheel weights are mounted to the tyre and wheel assembly to fix the imbalances. 

Types of Imbalance Issues

There are three types of imbalances that can occur in a vehicle wheel assembly: static imbalance, couple imbalance, and dynamic imbalance. Static imbalance arises from an uneven distribution of weight, causing a tyre to have uneven heavy or light spots. This results in an up-and-down motion that creates a hop or vertical vibration.

Couple imbalance, on the other hand, is when the mass axis intersects the running axis. Lastly, dynamic imbalance occurs when there is unequal weight on one or both sides of the lateral centreline of the wheel assembly. This results in a side-to-side wobble.

Common Causes of Bad Wheel Alignment and Wheel Balancing

Some common causes of misaligned wheels
Common reasons behind misaligned and imbalanced wheel assemblies 

Let’s list some of the most common causes behind bad wheel balancing and wheel alignment. 

  • Tyre wear
  • Reckless driving
  • Driving with heavy loads
  • Sudden impact (hitting a speed bump, pothole or curb)
  • Problematic car suspension system
  • Mismatched tyre size

Symptoms of Bad Wheel Balancing vs Wheel Alignment

To diagnose if a car has misaligned or imbalanced tyres, you can look for the following symptoms to identify the issue. 

Vehicle Veering to One Side

When a vehicle drifts or pulls to one side while driving on a straight, level road with little to no wind, it may indicate an alignment or wheel balancing issue.

Vibrations When Driving

Vibrations felt through the steering wheel or the vehicle’s body while driving can be an indication of problems with both bad wheel alignment and wheel balancing. If the wheels are not correctly positioned and balanced, it causes uneven tyre wear, resulting in an uncomfortably shaky car. 

Off-Centre Steering Wheel

If a steering wheel is not centred, it is often a symptom of bad wheel alignment or wheel balancing. Wheel alignment issues can cause the steering system to pull in one direction, leading to an off-centre steering wheel. On the other hand, unbalanced wheels can result in vibrations that cause the steering wheel to move off-centre.

How Often to Perform Wheel Balancing and Wheel Alignment on a Vehicle

How Often You Should Perform Wheel Balancing and Wheel Alignment on a Vehicle
Check the vehicle’s user manual for recommended frequency of wheel alignment and balancing

There is no definitive answer on how often one should perform an alignment or tyre balance on their vehicle. The frequency of servicing may depend on the following factors.

  • Frequency of driving
  • Condition of the roads on which the vehicle is driven
  • Quality of the tires

One can also check the vehicle’s user manual to determine the manufacturer’s recommended frequency for wheel alignment and balancing. However, it is generally observed that wheel balancing requires more frequent attention as compared to wheel alignment.

There you have it — a detailed comparative analysis of wheel alignment vs wheel balancing. To understand more about car maintenance, take a look at our comparative analysis of tyre rotation vs wheel alignment.

Besides these tyre maintenance processes, lubricating a car’s steering and suspension parts also enhances its drivability. 

After buying a used car in the UAE, make sure to get it inspected for wheel alignment and balancing issues before taking it for a spin.

Stay connected with the dubizzle car blog if you are looking for more informative guides on auto parts and repairs.

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