The Dollars and Sense of Tire & Wheel Balancing
by Jim Park
Fleets leave millions of dollars on the table every year by not balancing their tires and wheels. Poor tire and wheel balance can result in uneven tire wear that prematurely consigns thousands of tires to the scrap pile. Imbalanced tire and wheels are also responsible for increased wear and tear on other vehicle components and ride complaints from drivers. Additionally, improperly balanced tires and wheels have a negative effect on fuel economy.
Poor tire and wheel balance is a simple problem to remedy, yet many fleets do not fully exploit its advantages. Many fleets have simply given up on it because traditional balancing methods do not deliver the benefits they expect.
Traditional spin balancing of a tire and rim addresses the condition of the assembly only at that moment in time. It does nothing to address the changing condition of the tire as it wears, nor does it address the condition of the wheel hub or brake drum. Those are all parts of the rotating assembly at the end of the axle and need to be balanced as a single unit. Consequently, the time, money and effort that goes into spin balancing has very little impact on the balance of the wheel over time.
Fleets may also be getting bad advice from their tire dealers, who suggest that balancing is unnecessary due to the high manufacturing standards of modern tires. While it may be accurate to say that modern manufacturing processes and tolerances are such that irregularities are largely eliminated in top of the line Tier 1 and Tier 2 tires, it may not apply to lower quality Tier 3 tires, and it certainly won’t apply to the cheap off-shore imports now flooding the North American commercial tire market. Those tires are cheap for a reason.
It’s Not Just the Tires
There are many reasons for the rotating mass at the end of an axle to be imperfectly balanced, including poor attention to detail during installation. Installers should verify that the GG ring on the tire (a raised circumferential ring located close to the bead of the tire) is centered on the full 360-degree sweep of the wheel. Failure to verify this can result in a condition known as non-centric mounting, where the rotation of the tire tread around a central axis point will be egg-shaped.
Similarly, when the wheel is fastened to the hub, it should sit evenly on all four hub pilot pads. If the pilot pads are worn, a similar non-concentric condition can result, but this can be prevented with the use of wheel stud centering sleeves. Installers should check the radial runout of the tire by placing an object as close to the tread face as possible and spinning the wheel. Any variation in the gap between the marker and the tread as the wheel rotates indicates non-concentric mounting, so the entire tire/wheel assembly should be remounted and properly centered.
While there are many causes or irregular tire wear, from non-concentric mounting to poor vehicle alignment resulting in cupping/scalloping/wavy wear, spot wear and flat-spotting, the result is the same: quantities of rubber are scrubbed off the tire over time. A typical deep-tread tire will lose about 30 pounds of tread rubber from the time it’s new until it’s removed at 4/32 of an inch of tread depth. Irregular wear changes the shape of the tire and by extension, the balance of the entire wheel-end assembly. This is where internal wheel balancing products such as Counteract Balancing Beads can really help.
A Permanent Balancing Solution
Unlike fixed wheel weights, balancing beads move freely inside the tire, repositioning themselves to where they are needed to offset the uneven weight distribution of worn tread. The tire/wheel is kept in balance regardless of the condition of the tread. While the beads will not prevent wear caused by external factors such as mis-alignment, they will mitigate additional wear resulting from imbalance as tread rubber is scrubbed away. This is especially beneficial with tires that have been repositioned to drive or trailer positions to run out prior to retreading.
Since the balancing material is reusable, it can be put back into the tire when it is remounted so that the tire will continue to run in a balanced condition. This promotes longer tread and casing life, smoother operation and improved fuel economy.
Yes, tire and wheel balancing can improve fuel economy through reduced rolling resistance. It takes extra energy to roll an unbalanced tire, or 18 of them, and that energy comes straight from your fuel tank. It has now been proven in two separate SAE J1321 fuel economy tests, one conducted by Auburn University Auburn University (2) the other by the PIT Group PIT Group (3) The results of both tests showed the use of Counteract Balancing Beads in all wheel positions increased fuel efficiency by 2.2%.
But beware, while other balancing products, including externally mounted rings and internal compounds, may claim an improvement in fuel economy only Counteract has the accredited test data to substantiate its claims.
Going beyond the performance benefits of adaptive balancing products like Counteract Balancing Beads, the product is environmentally inert (unlike lead tire weights, which are now banned in several North American jurisdictions), and it will not damage the inside of the tire or void tire warranties. It is unaffected by moisture, will not clump inside the tire, nor will it clog tire valves.
Fleets accustomed to seeing few long-term benefits to traditional spin-balancing will see reduced irregular tire wear and an improvement in tire life when using an internal balancing compound like Counteract Balancing Beads.