How to tell if your tires are out of alignment

Which One Do You Need?

The yoga studio isn't the only place where you'll hear the words "balancing" and "alignment." You'll also hear these words mentioned when you take your car in for service.

But what do balancing and alignment mean off the yoga mat? Both contribute to a smoother ride, but tire balancing and alignment are different services. A tire balance corrects the weight imbalance on your tire and wheel assemblies, while an alignment corrects the angles of the tires so that they come into contact with the road in just the right way.

If you’re wondering, “What is wheel alignment?” or, “What does tire balancing mean?” it’s time to dive deeper into your car care practice. Learn the difference between the two today.

What Is Tire Balancing?

Tire balancing (also known as wheel balancing) corrects uneven distribution of weight

in the wheels. Imbalanced wheels can lead to vibration, excessive tire wear, damage tothe suspension, and other problems.

During a tire balance service, your tires and wheels are mounted onto a tire balancing machine. The machine spins the tire and wheel assembly to measure the imbalance, so that a technician can precisely install the correct tire weights to achieve a properly balanced wheel and tire assembly. Often, wheel balancing and alignment happen during one service, but they shouldn't be confused for the same thing!

What Are the Signs That Your Tires Needs Balancing?

Uneven tire wear and vibration in your steering wheel, floorboard, or seat can signal it's time for tire balancing. You may also want to have your tires balanced during a tire rotation, after a flat tire repair, or as part of your scheduled maintenance.

Interestingly, the part of your car that trembles can indicate whether the front or back wheels need balancing. If it's in the steering wheel, it’s likely your front tires. If it's in the seats, the imbalance is in the back wheels.

Tires can become out of balance because of uneven tire wear or the loss of a wheel weight because a rim hits a curb or pothole. If you leave your car parked for extended periods without moving it, the tires might develop flat spots that cause imbalances.

What Is Wheel Alignment?

Wheel alignment (also known as tire alignment) refers to an adjustment of a car's suspension — the system that connects a vehicle to its wheels. It's not an adjustment of the tires or wheels themselves.

Alignment keeps your car from veering to the right or left. It also can improve the handling of your vehicle and stop unusual on-the-road vibrations.

What Are the Signs That Your Car Needs an Alignment?

Your vehicle might need an alignment if you notice any of the following:

  • The car is pulling to one side of the road.
  • The tire treads are wearing out prematurely or unevenly.
  • The tires are squealing.
  • The steering wheel tilts off-center when you're driving.
  • The steering wheel vibrates when accelerating.

Your alignment can get knocked out of whack after being in a car accident, driving over a pothole, or running into a curb.

How Do Balancing and Alignment Benefit Your Car?

The most significant benefit of balancing services is that they prevent premature tire tread wear. Technicians agree that getting your tires balanced every 5,000 to 6,000 miles (or as recommended by your manufacturer) can help extend their lifespan and improve their performance.

Wheel alignment benefits, on the other hand, include improved vehicle handling, fuel efficiency, and tire life. Firestone Complete Auto Care recommends that you have your vehicle's alignment checked every 6,000 miles or twice a year. Left untreated, alignment issues can shorten a tire's life by thousands of miles, and they can damage critical steering and suspension components.

Tire Balance vs. Alignment Quicklook
Service Definition Signs It's Time Benefits
Tire Balance A tire balance corrects the weight imbalance on your tire and wheel assemblies. Uneven tire wear and vibration in your steering wheel, floorboard, or seat. Proper balancing can lead to a smoother ride, less tire wear, and reduced strain on the drivetrain.
Wheel Alignment An alignment corrects the angles of the tires so that they come into contact with the road in just the right way. Vehicle pulls to one side, rapid tire wear, squealing tires, or crooked steering wheel when driving straight. Proper alignment ensures a smoother ride for you and a longer life for your tires.

Are you noticing symptoms of balancing and alignment issues in your car? Don't let them disrupt your flow. Schedule an appointment at your nearest Firestone Complete Auto Care for a zen-like ride that’s both relaxing and reliable.

7 Warning Signs of Bad Wheel Alignment

Proper wheel alignment helps you maintain control of your vehicle, especially while turning or driving on curved roads. However, having poor driving habits as well as other environmental factors can cause your wheel to fall out of alignment. Knowing the warning sign of bad wheel alignment and why you need to fix it right away will not only keep you safe but can save you money in the long run as well.

Common Causes of Bad Wheel Alignment

Several factors can cause wheel misalignment including driving habits, road hazards, or worn-out vehicle components. That said, here are the four most common causes of bad wheel alignment:

  • Low Tire Pressure: Underinflated tires can cause your vehicle to pull or drift to one side or another. If your tires don’t have the correct PSI, it changes the height of your car’s suspension, leading to a bad tire alignment. 
  • Heavy Impact: Driving over curbs and potholes, or hitting any road hazard that causes heavy impact can alter your car’s wheel alignment. 
  • Worn Parts: Every part undergoes wear and tear, especially for older cars. Worn suspension bearings and wheel bearings can cause the tires to tilt and change the angle they sit on, which can mess up the car’s alignment.
  • Overdue re-alignment: One of the most common reasons for misaligned wheels is simply because it’s already due for a re-alignment. You should have your tire re-aligned at least once a year if you’re being cautious. 

Proper wheel alignment is essential for maintaining control of your car while you drive. Any signs of misalignment need to be addressed right away. To help you out, here are some of the warning signs you need to look out for:

1. Car pulls to one side

Your vehicle should be able to drive straight when you take your hands off the steering wheel. But if your car pulls or drifts to one particular side when driving on a straight road, there may be a problem with your alignment. How often it swerves to one side determines the severity of misalignment. It will be harder for you to control your car and stay in a straight line if you don’t address the issue right away. Have a mechanic realign your car as soon as you experience this problem.  

2. Uneven steering wheel

Another easy way to check for a bad wheel alignment is to observe the position of your steering wheel as you drive on a straight and even road. Your steering wheel should remain straight or in the center while driving. You can check the steering wheel’s logo for reference. If it leans slightly off-center in any direction, it means you have an uneven steering wheel that needs to be realigned. Addressing this problem can help you regain more control of your steering wheel as you drive. 

3. Sloppy or loose steering wheel

Loose steering, also known as  “free play,” is when you notice that as you turn, your steering goes a little too far than you intend to. A loose steering wheel can be very dangerous and is a sign that your vehicle needs realignment as soon as possible. 

4. Steering wheel is vibrating

Your steering wheel should not vibrate as you drive. If it does, you must be driving a car with bad alignment or unbalanced tires. However, car vibrations can also be caused by problems other than tire alignment. To be sure, have a mechanic inspect your car to avoid further damage. 

5. Tire squealing

If you notice a squealing sound from your tires as you turn or accelerate, your wheels may be misaligned and are causing your tires to wear out unevenly. While a squealing sound may also come from worn brake pads, the point is that squealing is not normal and it indicates that your car has some issues. Submit your car for inspection to determine the problem to avoid possible accidents. 

6. Uneven tire wear

Checking the tread wear of your tires can help you determine if you have proper wheel alignment. If you notice that one of your tires is more worn-out than others, it could indicate a bad alignment. You can use a tread depth meter to measure the tread depth of your tires accurately. 

Neighborhood Roadside Assistance offers tire change service in different areas of New Jersey and New York.

7. Steering hesitation as you turn the wheel

Most cars these days have power steering that makes turning easier. However, a bad wheel alignment can cause steering hesitations that require you to exert more force as you turn. So, if you’re having difficulty turning your wheels, it could indicate that your vehicle has a problem with the steering system or it needs an alignment fix. Consult a mechanic to assess the issue and have them fixed for a more comfortable driving experience. 

Why Fixing Bad Alignment Right Away Is Important

Many drivers tend to ignore symptoms of bad alignment or do nothing to address the issue. Maybe because they think it’s not necessary or they simply don’t want to spend money on realignment. The problem is that alignment issues do not go away on their own and if they’re not fixed right away, they can further damage your tires and car. 

Bad wheel alignment can also contribute to poor gas mileage because your car works harder than it normally should, consuming more gas in the process. Misalignment can also shorten your tire’s lifespan as it can wear your tire tread faster than those with proper alignment.

Tips to Keep Your Wheel Aligned

Keeping your wheel aligned is crucial for your safety while driving. It can also help you cut back on future expenses from potential damages of having a bad tire alignment. Here are a few tips on how to maintain better wheel alignment:

  • Keep your tires properly inflated (check owner’s manual recommended PSI)
  • Keep your tire in good condition
  • Rotate your tires regularly
  • Drive more carefully


Looking out for these seven warning signs can help you address the issue as soon as possible and avoid further damaging your vehicle. Driving safely and keeping your tires properly inflated goes a long way in keeping your wheels aligned. Don’t ignore the symptoms just so you can save some money. If you keep driving your car with misaligned wheels, you’ll be spending more on future damages and faster fuel consumption. Unfortunately, avoiding car care can end up costing you more.

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Tire wear. Types and causes of tire wear - an article from the company "SHINOavtoSERVICE"

With mileage, the technical condition of tires changes, which affects the performance of the car and traffic safety. Therefore, it is important to monitor the uniformity of wear of all tires, and also to prevent the operation of the vehicle, the residual height of the tire tread of which is lower than the minimum allowable. The task of preventing premature wear and destruction of tires is very complex and is associated with the ability to determine their types, accurately identify the cause that caused each specific tire failure. The increased wear of your car tires is influenced by many factors, or, to put it bluntly, violations. The fact is that many car owners do not follow the basic rules for maintaining their own or working car.

This happens either due to ignorance or negligence. Due to the periodic and timely inspection of car tires, you can get complete and necessary information about the condition of the wheels and tires, the degree of wear, identify defects that are dangerous for traffic safety, determine the causes of tire wear and the features of car operation.

In addition to safety, tire condition affects handling, driving dynamics and fuel consumption . The latter is especially important for trucks and car owners with high daily mileage. Some tire manufacturers claim in their flyers that their tires will not only last longer, but will also save fuel. Let's see how tires really affect a car's fuel consumption. In a truck, this is of course more noticeable than in a passenger car, due to the large number of wheels and high loads. The rolling resistance of an entire vehicle consists of a whole list of resistances: air resistance, overcoming inertia forces during acceleration, internal resistance of engine and transmission components, and tire resistance. We will not dwell on all these factors and focus on tires.

The total rolling resistance of tires is also made up of several components. Contrary to popular belief, tire friction on the road surface of is only 5%. A little more (about 15%) falls on air resistance . The lion's share of the energy expended (about 80%) is spent on tire deformation . If the tire is rolled along the road with no load at all, then before stopping, it will move for a long time. But if the tire is loaded so that its lower part begins to deform (compress), after the initial impulse it will stop very quickly. This clearly demonstrates how much energy is spent on the constant deformation of the tires.

Thus, car owners may want to buy tires that will deform minimally, and therefore create less rolling resistance. Now in the market such an option is quite possible to find. As a rule, these are inexpensive budget-class tires. A stiffer carcass, although it gives some fuel economy, at the same time can present an unpleasant surprise in the form of a tire explosion. You just need to run into any object with sharp edges (stone, piece of iron, etc.). By the way, a similar situation can happen with premium tires. Some drivers, mostly trucks, inflate their tires on purpose to save fuel, without realizing that uneven wear will appear.

The chassis geometry of the also has a significant effect on fuel consumption. Even minor deviations entail extra costs. Firstly, tires wear out faster, and secondly, fuel burns more. When the wheels, figuratively speaking, go in different directions, additional energy is spent on their "drag". For example, if at one meter the wheel “leaves” only 2.5 mm, then at a kilometer it turns out that the wheel will “drag” to the side by 2.5 m. 2.5 kilometers at full load.

Normal tire wear

Tire inspection provides you with information about the condition of the tires and wheels, how the vehicle is used, possible defects, and driving style. So, for example, a sporty driving style leads to a different tire wear pattern than a quiet one. For a correct assessment, it is necessary to inspect all the wheels. This is especially evident in the example of a passenger rear-wheel drive car, since the load is distributed differently between the driving and steered wheels in it.

Tire wear as a function of air temperature

Tire wear as a function of driving speed

While driving, tire wear is determined by measuring the remaining tread height. Tire wear must be uniform over the entire circumference; when the minimum tread height is reached, the tire is considered completely worn out and must be replaced. Tire wear is primarily determined by driving style. Hard acceleration and braking wears out the tire faster than steady motion.

Drive and steer wheels have different wear patterns due to different loads. Steered wheels wear more on the sides, since it is on this part of the tire that the main load in the turn occurs. Tires on drive wheels wear more in the middle , since it is this part of the tire that contacts the asphalt and transmits the rotation of the wheel to the road. On vehicles with front-wheel drive, the wear is "cumulative" - ​​in this case, the entire tire wears out evenly and its central part and sides.

One-sided wear (possible reduction in wear from 15% to 30%) - occurs more often than others, since there are several reasons for its occurrence. One-sided tire wear can be caused by an error in suspension geometry. To determine the cause in this case, it is necessary to check the toe-in and camber. Wear on the outside of the tire can be caused by excessive positive toe or camber . Wear on the inside of the tire, on the other hand, causes excessive negative toe or camber. Driving with zero camber results in even but increased tire wear. In addition, it increases the tire's rolling resistance and increases fuel consumption . In addition to the tires of the steered axle, tires of other axles can also be subject to one-sided wear - again due to problems with the geometry. This is either a lack of alignment, or deformation of the axes themselves. On steering tires for tractors, one-sided wear may appear due to the operating conditions of the vehicle. Another reason is cornering at high speeds. To prevent one-sided wear, you need to monitor the condition of the chassis, periodically check the geometry and abandon the aggressive driving style.

Bilateral and central wear (possible reduction in mileage from 5% to 10%) appear for the same reason - tire pressure mismatch. When the pressure is below normal, the tire begins to wear more at the edges, and bilateral wear is obtained. The same thing happens during overload - the tire, even with normal pressure, rides as if it were lowered. Fans of pumping tires get a different result: the load on the contact patch is not distributed evenly, but closer to the center, which means that the tire wears out faster in the central part of the tread. Anyone who monitors tire pressure and does not overload the car does not encounter such problems.

Multiple wear around the circumference

Patchy wear (possible 10% to 20% reduction in mileage) is a direct result of imbalance. It is especially characteristic of steering axle tires, but can appear on all axles. If such wear has become visible to the naked eye, the problem is obvious. Balancing will correct the situation, but only partially: a wheel that has lost its roundness will wear out more intensively. Therefore, it is more expensive to ignore balancing when buying and installing new tires. Repeated wear spots around the circumference of the tires can cause suspension failure (arms, dampers, springs). After diagnosing and repairing the suspension, the tire must be replaced, since this wear pattern no longer ensures its uniform rotation, and the wheel will “beat”.

Spot wear

Spot wear in one spot is the result of emergency braking with a locked wheel. The uniformity of rotation of the wheel in this case is also broken and the tire will have to be replaced. If you leave the car for a long time in the parking lot, then there is a risk of flat areas on the tires, which then during the movement will cause the wheels to vibrate. It is recommended to increase the pressure in the tires if you leave the car for a long time. A similar effect can also be caused by stopping the car after intense sports driving - heated tires are easily deformed at the points of contact with the road surface and practically “freeze” in this state. This defect is easy to fix - after warming up the tires, they will again acquire a round shape.

Comb (sawtooth) wear (possible reduction in mileage from 10% to 20%) is a form of uneven wear. It can often be seen on drive axle tires with a block tread pattern. It is caused by the fact that during the movement the tire is deformed - at the point of contact with the road, the tread is pressed inward (the blocks are crushed and dragged along the road surface), and as the wheel rotates, it straightens again. This leads to the fact that the tread wears more on the front edge than on the back. The result of this wear is an increase in tire rolling noise. It is impossible to avoid the appearance of comb wear, but with the help of permutations, its negative effect on tire mileage can be leveled. Drivers can also influence the situation: if you step on the gas pedal as smoothly as possible, comb wear will be minimal. To even out this wear, tires are usually swapped, as tires on a non-drive axle are more susceptible to this wear. Low tire pressure also increases sawtooth wear.

Driving with the wrong tire pressure

Insufficient tire pressure causes the tire to flex in the middle and wear out at the edges as a result. Excessive pressure in the tire leads to the opposite effect - its middle part wears out. It is authentically known that it is impossible to create an ideal tire. If you make it economical, it will be too rigid and unsafe. Conversely, a soft, durable tire with good grip will inevitably have increased rolling resistance. Manufacturers strive to find the best solution, but in any case it will be a compromise between durability, reliability, safety and economy.


In fact, the average life of any tire is 5-7 years, but a lot depends on how the owner treats his car. Aggressive driving, improper seasonal tire storage, unrepaired suspension/balancing problems, incorrect pressure and other errors can significantly shorten tire life. But worn tires can be a serious problem on the road: an increased risk of uncontrolled skidding, hydroplaning, even accidents is the price that drivers and passengers have to pay for using old tires.

Tire wear index

Each manufacturer indicates the so-called wear index on the tire profile, which most often looks like the inscription “Treadwear 100” and means a maximum of 48,000 km on a standard road surface (polygon). In a real environment and often not the most ideal roads, this number actually needs to be divided by 1.5 - we get 36,000 km.

By analogy, if the wear resistance index is 150, then this means “factory” 72 thousand km, 200 - 96 thousand km., and so on.

What are the dangers of worn tires on the road:

  • adhesion to the roadway deteriorates, which leads to an increased likelihood of skidding, accidents, hydroplaning in case of rainy weather;

  • reduced cross-country ability in off-road conditions;

  • increases the risk of a tire puncture while driving.

It is also worth remembering that the issue of tire wear is regulated by traffic rules, and you can get a fine for using “bald” rubber. Knowing what maximum tire wear is acceptable, this is easy to avoid: 1.5-2 mm for summer, and 4-5 mm for winter (a more accurate figure is indicated by the manufacturer).

3 ways to determine tire wear

1. According to the wear indicator on the tire. To find this indicator, you need to inspect the side of the tire and find one of the markings: a triangle, a company logo, a snowflake, or the abbreviation TWI. If the tread has worn down to this indicator, it means that the tire needs to be disposed of urgently.

2. Many people in the old fashioned way prefer to use a 10-kopeck coin. Insert it into the tread with the inscription "10 kopecks" towards you, and if it is visible, the wear level is too high, you need to replace the tire. This method is convenient, but not entirely accurate: by measuring wear in different parts of the tire in this way, it will be difficult to estimate its unevenness by eye, and this is also an extremely important indicator.

3. It is optimal to use a special gauge, depth ruler or caliper for these purposes. This will allow you to measure the wear of the tread in different parts of the tire with an accuracy of up to a millimeter and understand if there is uneven wear.

Uneven tire wear: how to determine the causes, what is dangerous

If measurements show different results in different parts of the tread, it is important to determine exactly how your tires wear in order to understand where and what the operating error is.

If the tread wears more on the sides and the center wears off less, this means that the tire pressure is insufficient and the contact patch with the road is not correct. This leads not only to poor vehicle stability, but also to increased fuel consumption.

If the tread is worn down the middle but the sidewalls are fine, then your tires are overinflated. Sometimes this is done intentionally in order to save fuel, but in this case, the tires will still have to be changed ahead of schedule.

There is also the possibility of increased wear on the inside or outside of the tread - this indicates an incorrect camber. A visual table with wear options and their causes:

How to assess tire wear visually: additional parameters

  • Cracks on the sides of tires can indicate frequent off-road driving, improper storage, low-quality rubber or long service life, as well as incorrect tire pressure.

  • Bulges or "hernias" on the sides of the tires appear as a result of the side part hitting hard obstacles. Tires with such damage are not recommended.

  • Dents on the tread indicate insufficient depreciation and unadjusted camber. Having found such damage, it is necessary to drive the car to the service and make sure that the suspension is in good condition.

  • Individual wear spots on the tread indicate aggressive driving / braking, skidding with wheel locks, or prolonged parking of the car in one position.

How to calculate tire wear percentage

Most often, this is required for the sale and purchase of used tires in order to orient the buyer in the degree of their wear. Many sellers give this figure at random, but this method has nothing to do with the actual assessment of the degree of tire wear. It is also important to understand that a conditional 50% wear for a summer tire is an acceptable value, while 50% wear of a winter tire tread is a sign that the tire cannot be used. Therefore, it is important to know how to accurately determine the percentage of tire wear so as not to get into an unpleasant situation.

Many people divide the actual tread height by the height of the same, but new tire, and get a certain percentage of wear. This would be correct, if not for one BUT: we cannot physically erase the tread to zero, and the law prohibits the use of tires with a tread below the permitted values.

You can calculate actual tire wear by dividing the difference between the new tire height and the actual tire height by the difference between the new tire tread height and the minimum possible tread height for that tire, and then multiplying this number by 100.

If it is impossible to find out the height of the same, but with a new tire, use the average values ​​​​of your tire type:

Tire type

Average tread height at start of use

Winter tires with Scandinavian tread

10 mm

Winter with regular or asymmetric tread

9 mm

High-speed winter

7 mm

Summer tires with classic tread

8 mm

Summer speed

7 mm

You can check summer tires for wear a little less often than winter tires, since in summer the tread depth is not so important for patency.

If you have assessed the condition of your tires on all of the above factors and realized that the tires are worn out, be sure to replace them with new ones as soon as possible.

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