What Unbalanced Tires Can Do To Your Car
There’s a reason tire shops insist on balancing the tires when you put a new set on your car – unbalanced tires are not safe to drive and they cause many problems with the tires and your vehicle. These include:
Too much vibration. Driving a car involves a certain amount of vibration, especially on poorly maintained roads. However, when all four tires are properly balanced, it minimizes the amount of vibration, making the drive smooth and the steering easy. When your tires get out of balance, the vibration increases throughout the vehicle. If the tires are old and worn out, with very little tread remaining, the vibration will get even worse. In addition to producing an uncomfortable ride, the vibration can make it harder to steer and control the car, causing it to be unsafe to drive at high speeds and in wet road conditions.
Uneven tread wear. One advantage of having balanced tires is the tread wears down evenly (as long as you keep them properly inflated) so that all four tires are in the same condition. This extends the life of your tires and produces a smoother, safer ride. When tires get out of balance, it can cause certain areas of the tire to wear down quicker than they should. The vibration from the lack of balance combined with uneven tread wear makes it harder to steer properly, and can increase the risk of sudden blowouts. Tires that are out of balance can even cause extra wear on the tire sidewalls, which also increases the risk of having a sudden blowout or the tire coming apart at high speeds.
Long-term damage to your car. It’s bad enough that unbalanced tires can wear out quicker and make it unsafe to drive. To make it worse, they can also cause damage to other parts of your vehicle. For example, driving with tires that aren’t properly balanced puts undue stress on your shocks, bearings, and wheel assembly. This causes these important parts to wear out sooner than expected or even fail while driving. Balancing your tires allows them to spin without any interference, resulting in a smoother, safer ride that prevents excess wear and tear on wheel assembly components.
Increased fuel costs. Driving on tires out of balance can also damage your bank account by causing your engine to use more gas. The faster you drive, the more out-of-balance tires will affect driving performance, further decreasing your fuel efficiency. Under-inflated tires will also reduce fuel efficiency. So if your tires are properly inflated but your gas mileage is declining, it’s a good idea to take your car to the tire shop to see if the tires are out of balance.
Fortunately, balancing tires doesn’t involve a complex process. Technicians look for damage and foreign materials in the tire and wheel assemblies. Then they properly seat the wheels on the hubs, and tighten the lug nuts. Tire stores usually charge a balancing fee when you purchase a new set of tires. But, thereafter, many will rebalance them for free. It also helps to rotate your tires every six months, as this will enhance balanced handling and enable the tread to wear evenly.
UNDERSTANDING TIRE PRESSURE AND LOAD LIMITS
Tire inflation pressure is the level of air in the tire that provides it with load-carrying capacity and affects the overall performance of the vehicle. The tire inflation pressure is a number that indicates the amount of air pressure– measured in pounds per square inch (psi)–a tire requires to be properly inflated. (You will also find this number on the vehicle information placard expressed in kilopascals (kPa), which is the metric measure used internationally.)
Manufacturers of passenger vehicles and light trucks determine this number based on the vehicle’s design load limit, that is, the greatest amount of weight a vehicle can safely carry and the vehicle’s tire size.The proper tire pressure for your vehicle is referred to as the “recommended cold inflation pressure.” (As you will read below, it is difficult to obtain the recommended tire pressure if your tires are not cold.)
Because tires are designed to be used on more than one type of vehicle, tire manufacturers list the “maximum permissible inflation pressure” on the tire sidewall. This number is the greatest amount of air pressure that should ever be put in the tire under normal driving conditions.
Avoiding a Blowout
Double check tire pressure early and often. When it comes to blown tires, prevention is the best survival strategy. The vast majority of blowouts are caused by improper tire pressure. In the United States, cars sold after 2007 are required to be equipped with an electronic tire pressure monitoring system that alerts you when your air pressure fluctuates above or below safe levels. If you have an older car, you’ll have to do the monitoring yourself.
Check your tire pressure before any long trips (find out your vehicle’s recommended tire pressure with this helpful online tire pressure tool). This is especially important in the summer, when the temperature of the pavement can rise to 140 degrees and cause your tire pressure to rise to bursting levels. If your tires feel “off” or you have a tire pressure warning light on, head to your local Firestone Complete Auto Care location to take advantage of a total tire checkup and repair service. Having your tires examined at the first sign of trouble is the best way to avoid a blowout altogether.
Don’t drive on old, worn tires. If the tread on your tires is worn down or if there are any cracks in the rubber, you could be doing some serious damage to your ride and your rims. Driving on worn tires in the heat of summer is asking for trouble, plain and simple. If checking your tires isn’t something you think you’ll do often, (because hey, we’re all busy) you may want to choose a set of tires that does the work for you. Some tires, like DriveGuard tires, are uniquely engineered with a high tech cooling system that evenly distributes heat to help maintain safe tire pressure and prevent a blowout, even in extreme conditions.
Symptoms of a Bad Alignment
We rely on our vehicles to get us from place to place every day, and safety should be all drivers’ number one priority. That’s why it is important to pay close attention to your car and be careful not to ignore even the slightest hiccup or malfunction that occurs while driving. Let’s take a look at the warning signs to look out for that could mean your wheel alignment is bad.
Your Steering Wheel Vibrates
If your steering wheel constantly vibrates when you are driving, this is a common sign that your vehicle needs an alignment. Driving on uneven terrain or over a pothole can easily cause misalignment. Steering wheel vibration, however, can be the cause of a number of vehicle issues besides misalignment, so it’s best to visit an auto repair shop when you notice this symptom.
Your Car Drifts to the Side
If you’re ever on a straight road with little or no traffic and you take your hands off the steering wheel even for just a moment, the car should continue along the road and guide itself straight. If the car swerves to one side or the other when you lift your hands off of the wheel, a bad wheel alignment could certainly be the cause.
Your Steering Wheel Feels Off Balance
When you’re driving straight, your steering wheel should be perfectly centered. If you notice that your have to turn the wheel slightly to one side or the other in order to drive in a perfectly straight line, it’s very likely that your wheels need realigned. Your car’s emblem on the steering wheel should always be centered when you are driving straight – if it’s not, it’s time to take your vehicle in to the local auto repair shop.
Your Tire Wear is Uneven
Giving your tires a visual inspection every once in a while is good practice if you want to be a safe driver. The tread should be the same on all tires, front and back. If you notice tread on one or two tires is worn down more than others, an alignment may be necessary. To check tire tread, take a coin, like a nickel or quarter, and visually measure to what point on the coin the tread goes up to. A properly aligned vehicle will have all 4 tires with the same amount or depth of tread.
What to do if You Experience a Blowout on the Highway
If your tire blows out on the highway when you’re traveling at high speeds, there are important tips to keep in mind so you know what to do when your tire blows out. When your tire blows out on the highway, here is what you need to do:
- Grip steering wheel firmly and do not slam on brakes.
- Let your car slow down gradually by taking your foot off the gas pedal.
- Let your car roll toward the berm or an exit. Do Not Stop in Traffic.
- Brake lightly once off the road until you come to a stop.
- Turn on your emergency flashers.
- Stand a safe distance from your vehicle while waiting for help to arrive.
It can be a scary and gut-wrenching situation when you’re cruising down the highway and experience a tire blowout. Use these tips to learn what to do when your tire blows out, and how to avoid a flat tire through proper maintenance.