There’s more to tires than just the type or retreading. Other considerations include road matters and even matters of balancing and alignment. Even so, ask some fleet managers and they will tell you that tire balancing and alignment is not at the top of their list, but should it be?
The fact is this: Alignment and balancing are best used as repair tools, not diagnostic tools. Only one thing will tell you when an alignment is needed: The tires. So what is the final answer on proper balancing and alignment?
Does it Matter?
You may get wildly different answers on the virtues of balancing and alignment depending on whom you ask. Fleets are either hot or cold on the matter. Most fleet managers will tell you that they balance only steer tires, and then only when they are new.
Conversely, those who don’t feel the need to balance are under the assumption that today’s top radial tires are of good enough quality that they shouldn’t need to be balanced if they are mounted and installed correctly.
Where alignment is concerned, the most common course you hear is that they align the truck before putting it into service and then only as needed throughout the full lifecycle of the vehicle. The problem is, that may be never. But is that a bad thing?
What’s the Problem?
Those that balance the steer tires typically use around 16 ounces of weight to balance them. If the tire requires more than that, it may be time to deflate the tire, break the bead, completely rotate on the trim and then go for a do-over. Still encountering problems? If so, it might be time to send that tire right back to the manufacturer.
But does this mean every time a truck driver complains about a vibration you should automatically pull and balance the wheels? Not necessarily. Keep in mind that if the tires are wearing properly and now showing any visible signs of damage, it may not be a balancing problem.
Imagine if you put weight on a tire to address a balancing issue, but the problem is actually along the driveline. You could be inadvertently swiping an even bigger problem right under the rug.
Is it Necessary?
The other side of the argument asks if balancing is even necessary. Many believe you can eliminate the need for balancing tires just by making sure they are installed properly to begin with. In this scenario, experts recommend that you inspect the rims with a runout gauge before actually mounting the tire. Always ensure they are within the manufacturer’s recommended tolerance level.
You have to make sure the mounted tire is checked for concentric mounting. Do this by verifying the gap between the rim flange and the bead seating ring. This gap should be the same all the way around and on both sides of the tire.
Looking for guidelines on inspection and mounting procedures? Check out the American Trucking Association’s Technology & Maintenance Council Recommended Practice library, section RP 214D for comprehensive inspection and mounting procedures.
When in Need
The moral of the story is that the truck drivers will know when the vehicle isn’t behaving properly. But even in situations where information isn’t coming in, tires should always be examined at designated preventative maintenance intervals. Look for signs of alignment-related wear, which includes feathering or excess opposite shoulder wear.
And if you are having a hard time justifying the maintenance need, consider the economic one. According to a recent energy group survey, tire balance is documented to save as much as 2.2% in fuel savings. The fact is, when you are trying to keep costs low, every percentage counts.
Making sure your tires are all properly headed in the right direction certainly isn’t going to hurt fuel economy. So in the end, it might not hurt to keep balancing and alignment in mind.