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Shakes, Ratles and Rolls
September 13, 2011 - Larry DeHays
Tires, alignment or balance. Which do you need?
If your car has a wobble, shake, vibration, shimmy, pulling or uneven tire wear, how do you know what is needed? One of two ways. Ask a front end specialist, or keep reading for some tips on the subject. If you ask a tire salesman, you'll need tires, and you know the drill from there. I find that if I ask an orthopedic surgeon about joint pain, I'll need orthopedic surgery. Funny how that happens.
Here's all you need to know. If you have lopsided tire wear, like one edge wearing faster than the other, you need alignment, even if it's on the rear of the car. Many cars have adjustable alignment on the rear wheels as well as the front wheels.
If your problem is a vibration at higher speeds, 55 mph to 70 mph for instance, your problem is wheel balance, not alignment. They need to be rebalanced. Do all four at the same time.
If you have a wobble or shimmy at lower speeds, it's caused by a broken belt in a tire. Neither alignment or balance will help. You need to replace the tire once it is identified..
If the car seems to pull to one side while driving, you either have a bad front tire causing the pull, or you might need alignment. Here's how to tell which. Switch the two front tires, left to right and right to left. If the direction of pull reverses, it proves that a tire is causing it. If it doesn't change the direction of pull, it means an alignment is needed.
You can buy tires one at a time if necessary. Don't let the tire guy tell you they have to be a matched set. They only need to be the same size. Tread pattern and white sidewall or white letter patterns are just cosmetic. Also it isn't necessary to have it aligned or balanced on a repeating schedule, (like yearly). If they don't vibrate they are not out of balance. If you don't notice any of the symptoms listed above, follow the adage "If it ain't broken, don't fix it".
Larry DeHays is the owner of DeHays Automotive, Inc. of Fort Myers Beach, an A.S.E. Certified Automotive Technician, and an arbitrator with the Florida Lemon Law program.
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