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    Tire balancing and alignment can be expensive, but often is necessary (Corbis).

    by: Tom Torbjornsen | AOL Autos
     

    During my years at the service counter costumers who purchased tires often asked me, “Do I have to have them balanced?” followed by, “Does it need an alignment too?”

    I understand why consumers ask these questions. Tire balancing coupled with wheel alignment can be expensive. So let’s look at why balancing new tires and performing a wheel alignment are necessary.

    Tire balancing

    Despite advanced tire manufacturing processes and advanced rubber compounds used today, some weight imbalance can still be evident in new tires. Therefore they should be balanced with wheel weights to achieve smooth rolling of the tire. An imbalanced tire expresses itself as a wheel shimmy (rocking back and forth of the steering wheel while driving, usually at a specific speed).

    To balance a tire, it must first be mounted in the proper rim and then inflated to the proper air pressure and a new valve stem installed. Next, the complete tire/wheel assembly is affixed to a machine that is designed to spin the tire and identify the location and severity of the imbalance. The tech must then affix the proper weight to the rim in the location designated by the machine. Finally, the wheel is spun again to ensure that the tire is properly balanced. A tire is balanced based on the mass of rubber present at the time of its first balance. As the tire rolls down the road, rubber wears off, causing the tire to become imbalanced again. For this reason, when tires are rotated on the vehicle every 5-6,000 miles or 6 months, they should be checked and rebalanced if necessary.

    Wheel alignment

    The average price of a newly mounted and balanced tire with a new valve stem is roughly $125 per tire. That’s $500 for the set of four. If your wheel alignment is out, you could lose that $500 in short order. That’s why you should, at the very least, check wheel alignment before venturing out on a new set of tires.

    Repair Estimator

    So how could you lose money by not having an alignment done? By significantly decreasing the life of your new tires. The steering and suspension of your vehicle has wear points. They are bushings, ball & socket joints, and miscellaneous mechanical links. When the steering and suspension system is new and adjusted according to factory specs, the rate at which the tires wear is minimized and the vehicle corners and handles smoothly. Over time, the steering and suspension systems are jostled and hammered (compliments of America’s highways). This produces wear in the parts listed above, causing the alignment to go out from factory specs. This results in poor cornering and handling, and a significant increase in tire wear.

    There are three alignment angles that must be in line for the vehicle to handle properly and for minimal tire wear. Carmakers have built adjustment points into the steering and suspension that allow for re-alignment of the front end.

    There are three alignment angles:

    Camber is the angle of wheel alignment that measures the tilting in or out in reference to the top of the tire. If a car’s camber angle on a tire is too positive then the top of the tire is tilting outward. If the camber angle is too negative then the top of the tire is tilting inward. This angle is adjusted mechanically. Conditions that cause excessive camber are worn ball joints, control arm bushings, strut bearings/mounts, or excessively worn wheel bearings. These parts must be ‘tight’ (not sloppy) to insure accurate alignment of the camber angle.

    Toe: The best way to explain how this angle affects wheel alignment is to look down at the tops of your feet. Imagine that you’re hovering above the hood of your car and you can see through the body of the vehicle. Your feet represent the tops of the tires. Now slowly turn your feet inward to an excessive degree. That’s what your tires look like when they’re toed-in. Now turn your feet outward excessively. That’s what your tires look like when they’re toed-out. This alignment angle is adjusted through the lengthening or shortening of a steering linkage part called a tie rod (found in both Conventional and Rack & Pinion Steering systems). Obviously when this angle is out or in too far, tires wear out quickly! This angle also affects whether your car’s steering wheel is straight. If the steering wheel is crooked, the toe’s probably way out. Excessive toe can be caused by worn tie rods, loose rack mounts, worn idler arm/s (some vehicles have two), pitman arm, drag link assembly, or a worn rack or steering box. Before you can accurately set the toe angle, you must have tight steering linkage parts.

    Caster is adjusted either by mechanical adjustment or by bending a suspension part. The caster angle can be best illustrated by the bicycle of your childhood youth. Remember when you rode your bike with “no hands?” Remember how the handlebars returned to the straight-ahead position when you leaned right or left to turn a corner? This is the caster angle expressing itself. The caster angle of your car expresses itself when the steering wheel returns to the straight-ahead position after making a turn. It is also expressed when the car wants to wander right or left.

    When having new tires installed, at the very least have the wheel alignment checked. If it’s out, have the vehicle realigned or pay the price of another set of new tires sooner than later.

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    1 - 20 of 92 Comments
    dmurphy776 Dec 09, 2010 8:17 PM
    Unless the tires coming OFF the car are unevenly worn, you're safer (and economically better off) by NOT getting an alignment because there's a good chance the technician will make things worse instead of better.
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    syesupriya Dec 09, 2010 3:49 PM
    I have done all the research you could possibly do. Do a comparison with what I suggest. Check out the prices for your cars tires at Costco - they are always cheaper than anywhere else with everything included. Then get a lifetime alignment at any Firesotone for $150.00 and do any number of alignments after you have gotten your new tires for as long as you own your car. I take my car every 6 months after doing this for an alignment check at no cost to me. Believe me you cant beat Costco's tire prices and they dont sell tires which are not of good quality. They sell some of the best brand names. Check it out, do your homework. You will save quite a bit if you do. Good luck.
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    ironmikemiata Dec 09, 2010 6:04 AM
    The biggest problem I have is when I go to have my car reballanced & or re alligned I'm being charged for the work but the work is never done due to a lack of knowlageo on how to do the work ! REMEMBER TO ASK THE SERVICE WRITER IF THE TECHNICTIONS ARE PAID ON COMMISSION IF THEY ARE CHANCES YOUR CAR WAS NEVER TOUCHED ! ! THESE GUYS GET PAID FOR SELLING PARTS THAT YOU PROBABLY DON'T NEED !FIRESTONE-GOODYEAR- OR ANY TIRE STORE-SEARS-WALLMART -BETTER GO TO THE DEALER AT LEAST YOULL HAVE SOME RECOARSE IF YOU NOTICE UNEVEN TIRE WARE
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    alfredschrader Dec 09, 2010 5:23 AM
    98% of wheel alignment problems are the result of wear. Keeping front end parts lubricated with chassis grease will make them last almost forever. Typical cost for front end lube is $2.00 plus $1.00 for the grease. Cost to replace just one balljoint ? About $300.00
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    vlady1000 Dec 08, 2010 11:01 PM
    Wyattpump is 100% correct. Especially watch the" huge specials" from some of the mail order places, Ask them what the manufacture date is, sometimes they are unloading Old (never used) tires at very huge discounts. Especially on the high performance (soft componds) it very important. Just a clearification when looking for the manf date. The manf date is always a set of letters/numbers "indented" into the tire (like a hot branding iron would make) while normally, all the other letters/ numbers on the tire are "raised" as they are part of the mold. Obvouisly they are not going to modify the mold every week, just to get the date code up to date.
    Report This
    bubbacuff Dec 08, 2010 10:51 PM
    The only problem I have encountered is that there is a shortage of technical people who know how to align cars properly or are willing to perfect the alignment they do.
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    vlady1000 Dec 08, 2010 10:44 PM
    I am very picky about what type of tires I get for all my cars/trucks. I research the tire(s) alot, decide what I want and usually mail order them (saves $$, but stick to the reputable places). Then I drop off my wheels to be mounted/balance (my installer knows me), I put the wheels on my car myself. I have had way too many lugs over tighten with impact wrenchs in the wrong hands. On a few of my cars (collectable, or weekend track) I ask to meet the guy who will be mounting them and tell him what they are going on (collector car, be extra careful) or the use (occasionally on the track, driven high speed, etc) so he understands what is important. I then tip him as I unload the last wheel to him and say "no hurry at all, just call me whenever you are finished". A lot of the shoddy work is because they are under the gun to get it done because you are waiting for it or they are backed up. I then go to a different shop for my alignment. Again, I explain the last wear pattern, the use of the car, etc. He will usally make some suggestions on the setup to maximize what I am looking for. Tires are the most important part of a car. Never take short cuts there.
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    wyattpump1 Dec 08, 2010 10:34 PM
    An important item to check when purchasing tires is to check the age of the tires. Yes, even what are new unused tires. Dealers might sell you a tire that has been sitting on the shelf for a while. Age as well as wear is an important factor in tire safety. The date of manufacture is molded into the tire. It follows the DOT information. It indicates the week and year the tire was molded. For example: DOT U2LL LMLR5107. This tire was made during the 51st week of 2007.
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    rchwdsilvers Dec 08, 2010 9:33 PM
    Yeah, have the taxpayers put 16 million more illegal mexicans to work building your roads. We all know who frames the massive unsold home market. Who cares if fruit and vegetables rot in the field. They are already too expensive to buy. And why don't you try mowing your own #@!%^&* yard.
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    koolstop1 Dec 08, 2010 9:32 PM
    You do not bend suspension parts to do an alignment. You straighten them because they are bent. Right out of the Bear Wheel alignment school in Rock Island,Ill.back about 1965 when we had to straighten the twin I beam Ford trucks. TBA Soecialist
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    bigguy173 Dec 08, 2010 9:07 PM
    Most car manufaturers do not allow adjustment of the camber angle,A cam-bolt is an after market kit that is installed where the strut/steering knuckle meet that allows the camber angle to be adjusted. Very common job to be done.
    Report This
    martytick Dec 08, 2010 8:51 PM
    I HAVE A 05 AVALON NEW TIRES FROM FIRESTONE. HAD ALINGNMENT, ROTATION EVERY 3,000 MILES STILL HAVE EXCESSIVE WARE THE SAY I NEED A CAM-BOLT KIT $200.00. HAVE ANY ONE HEARD OF THIS?
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    bigguy173 Dec 08, 2010 8:35 PM
    I get a kick out of people buying tires, why wouldnt you balance your tires and align them? Why would you buy them from a company who doesnt do these services? Discount tire, sams club, costco do NOT do alignments, kinda of like a place changing your oil but not the filter. And the people who come in with a 2-3 year old vehicle and want the cheapest tire available. Or the line "its just my kids car" lol apparently their saftey is not high on your priority list. I wish people would realize driving is not a right. And if you cannot maintain your car in safe working order DONT endanger everyone else one the road with your DEATH TRAP!!! I run winter tires on my cars and premium tires in the summer because they ARE THE NUMBER 1 SAFTEY FEATURE on your car, they are the ONLY thing keeping you on the road!!!!
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    qingshzuix Dec 08, 2010 8:18 PM
    I love this , So does My boyfriend .he is almost 11year older than me .i met him via aged'ate.c'om a nice place for seeking age le ss love.which gives you a chance to make your life better and open opportunities for you to meet the attractive young girls and treat you like a king. Maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends.. Just love it
    Report This
    sonydude32 Dec 08, 2010 8:14 PM
    Gizmozyw said: "have you heard the stories about tires comming off cars because of improper installation." -- Or, discs for the brakes becoming warped because the person who did the work of putting the wheels back on tightened the lug nuts or lug bolts beyond spec or tightened them out of sequence or even both.
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    gizmozyw Dec 08, 2010 8:10 PM
    yes this is a very good thing but wthat you should also know are the installers doing it right, every picture I see just makes me cringe, no safety glasses are being worn and do they use the proper torque sticks when putting the tires back on, hvae you heard the stories about tires comming off cars because of improper installation.
    Report This
    sonydude32 Dec 08, 2010 8:08 PM
    Stephensjas2, the cartoon character that has a tendency to say "very, very" as "vewy, vewy" is Elmer Fudd, not Bugs Bunny.
    Report This
    mjm1943 Dec 08, 2010 8:02 PM
    The write up is correct on caster, a bike does not have the caster that makes the wheel go straight , think of caster like a caster wheel where the pivot point of the wheel is behind the vertical attachment
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    stephensjas2 Dec 08, 2010 7:47 PM
    Be Vewy Vewy Careful buying tiwes from anyone. Get a quote up fwont and ask if that is the total. They will "change owder You for evewy thing they can think of. Or cowpewate forces them to do... Youw Loyal Fwiend - Bugs.......
    Report This
    wpjwhitaker Dec 08, 2010 7:44 PM
    I know i need to get aligments but where ?
    Report This
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    Tire balancing coupled with wheel alignment can be expensive. So let’s look at why balancing new tires and performing a wheel alignment are necessary.
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