For your vehicle to function properly, your wheels must be evenly balanced and point in the same direction. This is only possible if you have correct wheel balancing and wheel alignment.

However, there are common misconceptions about these elements. Many drivers wrongly believe that they are the same thing or that they are unnecessary services. To clarify this confusion, we will go into an in-depth comparison between wheel balancing and wheel alignment. By the end of this article, you will know:

  • What wheel balancing and wheel alignment are
  • The benefits of each service
  • Signs when you need wheel balancing or wheel alignment
  • The cost and time taken for wheel balancing and wheel alignment

 

How Does Wheel Balancing Differ From Wheel Alignment?

First things first, you need to understand what wheel balancing and wheel alignment are and how they differ. Wheel balancing is what you do to balance the weight of your tyres and wheel assembly. This helps your vehicles travel evenly. On the other hand, wheel alignment refers to the position of your wheels on your vehicle.

Let's discuss wheel balancing, shall we? However, before we start, we must first highlight a problem wheel balancing solves. For your wheels to roll smoothly, it needs to be perfectly balanced. Unfortunately, even with the technology present today and modern design, it is impossible to make a tyre or wheel that balances all the way around. You may have certain areas with lighter or thinner materials, while others may be thicker. This implies that one side of your car's wheel will be heavier than the other. As a result, the wheel will vibrate when rotating.

Thankfully, wheel balancing fixes this problem. Wheel balancing makes use of precision machinery which spins each wheel and tyre to find out what part of the wheel is heavier than the other. Once the technician finds the heavier parts of the wheel, they utilize bonding cement on the lighter parts to increase their weight.

Unlike wheel balancing, wheel alignment deals with your vehicle's suspension system, which directly affects the angle and direction your wheels are rolling at. To put it simply, a wheel alignment is only necessary when your wheels are misaligned.

To further distinguish wheel balancing from alignment, wheel alignment isn't an adjustment to your vehicle's wheels or tyres. Instead, it is a modification of your vehicle's suspension system (the system connecting a car to its wheel).

 

What Are the Benefits of Wheel Balancing and Wheel Alignment?

The single most significant benefit of balancing your wheels is that it eliminates the chances of premature wear on your tyres. Also, wheel balancing increases the lifespan of your tyres and improves their performance. Technicians recommend that you balance your wheels every 5,000 to 6,000 miles. Other benefits of wheel balancing are:

  • Safer and smoother ride
  • Less tyre wear
  • Reduced strain on the drivetrain

Like the wheel balancing service, experts suggest that you should check your vehicle's wheel alignment after every 6,000 miles. Some of the benefits of wheel alignment are:

  • Increased fuel efficiency
  • Improved vehicle handling
  • Extended tyre lifespan

 

How Do You Know if You Need Wheel Balancing or Wheel Alignment?

Like all tyre or wheel defects, unbalanced wheels also come with symptoms. There are several signs that scream, "you need to book a wheel balancing". If you notice any of the following warning signs, you will need to book a wheel balancing appointment at a garage near you:

  • Vibrations in your steering wheel
  • Vibrations in your seat
  • Vibrations in your floorboard
  • Uneven tread wear

Keep in mind that where you feel the vibrations is an indication of what wheel or wheels need balancing. If the vibrations come from your vehicle's steering wheel, the chances are that your front wheels need balancing. However, if you feel vibrations coming from your car's seat, it means that your back wheels are imbalanced. Furthermore, a direct hit to a curb or porthole could cause your wheels to become unbalanced.

 

In contrast to wheel balancing, the warning signs of misaligned wheel alignment are more noticeable. Some of these signs include:

  • Your vehicle pulls towards one side of the road
  • When driving, your vehicle's steering wheel tilts off-center
  • Your steering wheel vibrates when you punch the accelerator (when speeding up)
  • Your tyres wear prematurely and unevenly

If you notice any of these symptoms in your car, it's time to book an appointment at a local garage for a wheel alignment or balancing. That way, you’ll get a more comfortable ride. You should also book a wheel balancing and alignment after fitting any new tyres, a tyre repair or during a tyre rotation.

 

How Long Do Wheel Balancing and Wheel Alignment Take?

On average, the wheel balancing service takes about 30 to 60 minutes. However, the time taken to balance your wheels depends on some factors, including your driving habit, the condition of the tyres, and the weather conditions you drive in. For example, the time it will take to balance a wheel that hits a pothole will be shorter than the time taken to balance a wheel whose imbalance results from more severe cases.

In contrast, a wheel alignment takes about 60 minutes. The time taken to align your wheels doesn't change regardless of whether your vehicle is a two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. However, if the damage to your vehicle's suspension system is severe, it would take longer to get it aligned as you may need to replace some parts.

 

How Much Do Wheel Balancing and Wheel Alignment Cost?

The wheel alignment and wheel balancing service costs depend on the type of vehicle you have and your location. For example, in the UK, it costs an average of £42.63 to align the wheels of an average car. Furthermore, the average two-wheel alignment cost is £41.23, while for a 4-wheel alignment, you will spend £74.64 on average.

Wheel balancing is considerably cheaper than wheel alignment. It costs about £5-10 per wheel for the wheel balancing service. Also, depending on the type of car you have, the price may vary. However, most garages add up the wheel balancing fees to the wheel alignment. What this means is that you get both the wheel balancing and wheel alignment services all at once.

 

 

Final Thoughts

The misconception between wheel balancing and wheel alignment is one that has raised a lot of questions over time. Hopefully, this article has cleared up all those misconceptions. To further bolster a point, wheel balancing has to do with weight distribution and stability. On the flip side, wheel alignment deals with the directional stability of your wheels (suspension system). These points alone set wheel balancing and wheel alignment apart.

To conclude, wheel balancing and alignment are crucial maintenance routines that you must book whenever necessary. This is because they both contribute to your vehicle's safety, comfort, performance, and lifespan. Although the symptoms of an imbalanced wheel are quite similar to those of a misaligned wheel, knowing what sets them apart can really help you diagnose your wheel problem. Lastly, if your car exhibits any of the signs mentioned in this article, you should book an appointment at a local garage as soon as possible.

To get the best deal on your wheel alignment or balancing appointment, enter your vehicle reg and postcode into our online booking tool to compare garages near you and save money on your car maintenance. You get access to unfiltered ratings and reviews and can filter by price, distance or availability, whatever matters most to you. That way, you can always choose the garage that best suits your needs.

 

You can read more of Tim's articles on his website, OBD Advisor.