“Tire rotation and balance.” If you hang around a service garage long enough, you’ll hear this phrase spoken often. Rotation and balance are also commonly packaged together and sold as a single service.
But does balancing need to go hand in hand with rotation? The answer isn’t entirely straightforward.
Tire Rotation vs Tire Balancing
Most people are familiar with tire rotation as a method of maximizing tread life and keeping tires operating safely for longer periods of time. This is accomplished by changing the position of each tire on a vehicle every 5,000 miles or so.
The practice of tire balancing, however, is less widely appreciated and understood. A modern tire typically comes with three small metal attachments clamped in different sections of its rim. By adjusting one or more of these attachments, technicians can correct subtle imperfections in the tire’s overall mass distribution as it spins.
Because even small changes in mass distribution can cause large wobbling vibrations when traveling at highway speeds, tire balancing is essential to safe driving. It is a particular concern when moving rear tires to the front wheels.
The Tire Balancing Process
The balancing process begins by placing a tire on a spinning machine that clearly exhibits any wobbling, Because no tire is uniform in mass throughout, slight imbalances are quite common.
To correct these imbalances, a technician moves the necessary rim attachments into positions that support a steady spin. Because the balancing process costs little in terms of both money and time, service garages tend to automatically pair it with any rotation.
Balancing When Rotating: A Good Idea
Most garages will insist on balancing tires when performing rotations as part of their basic safety and quality protocols. If you are rotating your own tires, however, the choice “to balance or not to balance” is up to you.
You may find that your tires do not typically require balancing, particularly those that you take from your front wheels your back. If you choose to skip tire balancing, however, all drivers of the vehicle should beware.
Any driver that feels a shaking or a vibration in the wheels after the rotation should take the vehicle in for immediate tire balancing. When traveling at high speeds, this vibration can easily lead to a loss of control.