Wheel Alignment and Tire Balancing – What’s the Difference?

Dear Tracy,
Do I need to have both wheel alignment and tire balancing services on my car? If so, can you tell me what the difference is between these services?
-Ian C.

Dear Ian,
Wheel alignment and tire balancing are two separate services, and you do need to have both done on your car. Each of these services will extend tire life and improve the performance of your tires.  While you should check your owner’s manual to find out the recommended schedule for your car, wheel balancing is usually required more frequently than wheel alignment.

As you drive your tires lose balance, so periodic tire balancing service is needed to return proper balance. Over time, tread wear causes the distribution of weight around the tire to change, which causes  the imbalance. This may be felt in unusual shaking or vibration as you drive. When performing tire balancing service, the technician will use a calibrated spin balancer, testing non-moving  or static balance as well as moving or dynamic balance. Tires will be adjusted to the proper balance in accordance with the test results. Tire balancing is usually done in combination with tire rotation, usually every 5-6,000 miles or 6 months.

Wheel alignment is service you may also hear referred to as “front end alignment” or “tire alignment.” The process involves the adjustment of the angle of your car’s wheels to the original position recommended by the car manufacturer. Wheel alignment includes inspecting tire tread for signs of poor alignment. The technician will also check  the toe, camber, and caster to precisely measure wheel orientation. Following the inspection, the actual service will include all of the necessary adjustments. Wheel alignment checks are usually recommended every 10,000 miles. But if you notice the vehicle pulling to one side, or if the vehicle has recently been in a collision, you should have it checked right away.