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Only A Few Square Inches Between You and Your Safety

Author: Brian England 28 January 2011 No Comment

Some of the most important parts of your vehicle are your wheels and tires. At all times, only a few  square inches of rubber keep you connected to the road. You should always take extra care of your wheels and tires.

You need to make sure you have the correct air pressure in your tires; to find the correct tire pressure for your vehicle, check your handbook, NOT the tire! Figures on your tire give the maximum pressure, not the safe driving pressure for your vehicle. With properly inflated tires your car will drive safer, save you money by using less gas.

But your tires are only as good as the wheels they are on, so you need to make sure your wheels and tires are correctly balanced and aligned.

Wheel Balancing

Wheel balancing is very important, but so is knowing when you should do it. The most usual time is after they have been rotated. Rotating and balancing tires every 7,500 miles is a good rule of thumb. This is also a convenient time because 7,500 miles is usually the time interval that manufacturers recommend for vehicle servicing, including changing the oil and filter.

After rotating your tires, your service facility should at least balance the tires that were moved to the front of your vehicle. The front of your vehicle is much more sensitive to tire wear and out-of-balance tires. If your front wheels are out of balance, you will feel vibrations through your steering wheel that generally start at about 50 mph, get worse around 55 mph, and then starts to fade at 60-70 mph.

The other time when you should always have your wheels balanced is when installing new tires. Balancing is normally included in the total price of purchasing and installing new tires. Better quality tires do not need as much balancing, which also means they do not cause as many “out-of-balance” issues.Wheel balancing costs vary depending upon the type of wheels. Most cars now have aluminum wheels that require special weights to be stuck to the wheel rim. This can cost more than the tradition wheel weights that clip to the rim and can be installed in seconds rather than minutes.

Wheel alignment

When should you have your wheels aligned? You can’t look up at a menu of services and say, “Oh I haven’t had that done for a while, let me get that done today!”

The times when you will need to have your wheels aligned are:

  1. After repairs following an accident, which could be as small has hitting a pothole or a curb.
  2. If you experience any strange driving/steering symptoms, for example you car is not steering straight on a flat highway.
  3. If there is tire wear (one side of the tire is wearing quicker than the other) indicating you having an alignment problem.
  4. After a repair to the steering and suspension with parts replaced.


Wheels do not just go out of alignment—something has to happen! If you have just had your tires replaced after they have been on the car for 3–5 years, then an alignment check should be performed and adjusted to manufacture’s specifications if necessary. After being checked, the specifications should be kept on file so there is a baseline of data that can be used for comparison in the future.

Free wheel alignments for life!

Sometimes you might see “Free wheel alignments for life” advertised. How is this possible? Why are some repair facilities giving away a service that can take half an hour to two hours to perform? And wheel alignments use one of the most expensive pieces of equipment an auto shop  buys, costing $20,000 to $50,000 for the best alignment equipment.

So why would someone offer a lifetime of free alignments? It is to get you back into the repair shop. If this service is offered for free, it also means the technician is not being paid because they only get paid for the “paid work” they perform. So, would you rather have someone checking your car who is paid a livable wage with benefits or someone who is paid only when they find work to perform on your vehicle?

Finally if you do have an alignment performed, make sure you have a copy of the before and after results so you can see what was adjusted and you have that baseline in you file. After an alignment has been performed your steering wheel should be straight and stay straight when driving down a flat road.

Happy and safe driving, and make sure your few square inches are performing to their best ability!

Additional posts by Brian England