First of all, there's a difference between a wheel alignment and tire balancing, because they are frequently confused with each other.
A wheel alignment involves putting your vehicle on an alignment machine and making adjustments to the steering and suspension on the vehicle until the wheels are perfectly lined up. Balancing the tires is not a part of a standard wheel alignment.
Now we can talk about tire balancing. Tires need to be balanced or else they will wear out much faster. That’s because an out of balance tire will tend to hop and wobble as you are driving down the road and that wears the tread out prematurely.
How can you tell if you need your tires balanced? You can usually tell if your tires are out of balance as you are driving down the road. If your steering wheel shimmy’s from side to side at higher speeds, something is out of balance and it is usually one of your front tires.
On the other hand, if you feel a shimmy coming from your seat at higher speeds, it’s probably one of the back tires that’s out of balance. Either way, if you feel a shimmy, it’s time to get your vehicle into the shop and get it checked out.
Here’s why tires need to be balanced. Whenever any object spins around in a circle, it will have a tendency to wobble if one side is heavier than the other, kind of like a ceiling fan. The same holds true for a tire. The weight of the tire and wheel must be evenly distributed to keep it from wobbling at higher speeds.
When a tire is balanced, it is put on a balancer machine, which spins it up to speed. Then sensors in the machine take readings as the tire spins and gives the technician a readout of how much weight the wheel needs in order to be balanced and exactly where to put the weight on the wheel.
As little as a quarter of an ounce of weight can make a big difference. Once the weights are installed, the technician runs the machine again to verify that the wheel and tire are perfectly balanced.
There are all kinds of weights that are available to balance your tires and they all look a little different. Certain types fit on certain kinds of wheels and your mechanic should be using the one that is specifically designed for your wheels.
Otherwise they not only won’t look good, they’re probably going to fall off over time. So if you have a shimmy, have your mechanic look into it. Maybe you just need to balance your tires.