Tire balancing and alignment are often confused. Both of them serve an important role in making sure your wheels/vehicle is in its best condition and performance.

You don’t have to balance your tires before an alignment, it is completely up to you. They are 2 separate services aiming at different things. Tire balancing is done to restore tire balance due to uneven wear etc. While tire alignment is done to adjust the angle of your car’s wheels to the “proper” position. 

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to get both checked if you’re suspecting something, but you obviously don’t need to balance your wheels before alignment, doing so will not be beneficial unless your car actually has tire balancing issues. Though both should be part of regular auto maintenance.

How Do I Know If I Need An Alignment Or Balance?

You would know if your tires need balancing or alignments by the symptoms we listed below. Generally, they are the same for alignment and balancing.

  • You feel a vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard, or your seat. 
  • You drove for a minimum of 2 years, or 1 year if you drive on rough roads. 
  • You had a flat tire. 
  • You notice uneven tire wear.

If you feel a vibration, don’t wait to get it diagnosed. If your tires are well balanced, you will avoid many other issues and have a smoother/safer journey.

How To Know If Your Car Needs Alignment:

Wheel alignment is an absolutely crucial service if you want to have a comfortable ride. Below are signs that indicate a need for wheel alignment:

  • Sharp/Mild Pulling In One Direction: If the car is pulling sharply in one direction it indicates a need for a wheel alignment, although keep in mind that it may be due to insufficient inflation of the tires. If it keeps pulling in one direction after you have inflated the tires to the correct pressure, this is a sign that you should get the wheels aligned. Pulling can occur at different intensities depending on how bad the wheels are misaligned.
  • Steering Wheel Vibration: If your steering wheel vibrates it may be the result of unbalanced tires. It occurs because the tires are pulling in opposite directions.
  • Off-Centered Steering Wheel: if your steering wheel appears to be off-center, you should at least consider getting your wheels aligned
  • Uneven Tire Wear: Check at the front/back tires to see if wear patterns are the same. If they aren’t the same It may be an indicator that the wheels are not correctly aligned.

Under normal conditions, a wheel alignment should take about 30 minutes. It will take longer for some parts if there is too much wear, tear, or corrosion on the suspension system, steering rod, or other parts.

Wheel alignment can affect the intensity of tire wear. In most cars, the proper wheel alignment angles reduce tire wear and improve driver and passenger comfort/safety as well as reduce tire wear, contribute to durability, good performance, and reduce fuel consumption. 

How To Know If You Need Balancing:

No tire is perfect. And driving with unbalanced tires isn’t a good idea. That’s why it’s important to have your tires balanced. Here are the symptoms of unbalanced tires:

  • Steering Wheel Vibrations: Feeling vibrations in the steering wheel is one most common symptoms and early warning signs of unbalanced tires. Keep in mind that vibrations can also be caused by a damaged tire or problems with the wheel assembly. It is vital that the problem is quickly diagnosed.
  • Steering Problems: Unbalanced tires can create an unpleasant driving experience by making driving more difficult, you will experience a delay, you will not be able to steer smoothly in a given direction, and overall your car will be more unresponsive than usual.
  • Uneven Tire Wear: Uneven tire wear can be caused by unbalanced tires or by other problems with the steering or wheels. You can tell it’s uneven by checking the front/back tires and seeing if they are alike. If not, they’re uneven. Uneven tire wear can cause your car to pull in one direction, with varying intensity.
  • Bad Fuel Economy: Unbalanced tires put more stress on the engine of your vehicle (although this is more of a worst-case scenario). When fuel is draining faster than usual, check your tires. It would be a good idea to keep track of your car’s fuel economy by checking the mileage.
  • Stress On Shocks/Bearings: When tires are not balanced, the shocks, springs, bearings, and other parts of the wheel assembly are under a lot of stress, so they will experience more wear and tear than usual. If unbalanced tires are not replaced or balanced ASAP, you will have to replace more than just the tires.

Tire balancing normally takes between 40 minutes to 2 hours, depending on many factors like the condition of the tires, the driving habits, and the weather conditions. For example, balancing new tires could take a shorter time than balancing tires that have hit potholes.

“Washing” the car tires before balancing is very important and your mechanic should already know that. At first glance, it may seem that this procedure is not so important.

But if there is dirt on the tires and rims, you will not be able to balance them. After all, even a tiny piece of dirt/rock on a tire, which is clogged in the tread of rubber, can cause unbalance.

And when you drive at a speed of 100km/h (62mi/h), the steering wheel will start to “kick”, and the suspension elements will experience an unexpected load, leading to destruction.

Most often, signs of an unbalanced tire are noticed when changing winter tires to summer tires (or vice versa).

Related: How Do I Know If My Car Needs New Shocks?

Tire Balancing And Alignment Cost

Summarizing the text below, a wheel alignment should cost around $100-200, while wheel balancing will cost somewhere between $20 to $80 (about $5 to $20 per tire)

Wheel Alignment Cost:

Wheel alignment cost depends on the car you have and the mechanic shop

Modern mechanic shops use two services for tire alignment, Computerized, and “premium” alignment. 

For a computerized wheel alignment expect to pay around $100 while premium alignments can cost around $200

For most cars, a computerized alignment is fine, but for European cars, it often requires premium alignment because of their complicated steering, suspension and computer systems.

In short, expect to pay around $100 to $200 for wheel alignment, although some car care facilities may offer lifetime alignment packages for around $200.

Tire Balancing Cost:

Tire balancing costs are pretty straight forward. On average, to do tire balancing, most shops would charge customers between $20 to $80. Which is $5 to $20 per tire. 

There are also several cases where you could get free tire balancing depending on where your tires were purchased and what tire company you chose. 

Before getting your car’s tire balanced. you should check. If you happen to apply for a free tire balance on your car’s tires, you might save yourself a good amount of cash.

How Long Can You Drive On Unbalanced Tires?

Technically you can drive “forever” on unbalanced tires until your tires are beyond repair, but that is HIGHLY not recommended. It will generally not be safe to drive with unbalanced wheels as you will encounter problems such as:

  • Difficulty Steering
  • Steering Wheel Vibration
  • Bad Fuel Economy
  • Uneven Tire Wear
  • Stress On Shocks/Bearings

It would be a much smarter idea not to test your luck, and visit a mechanic shop if you suspect unbalanced wheels.

Related: How Far Can You Drive On a Flat Tire?

Can Tire Balance Affect Alignment?

The general answer to that will be no, although since symptoms of misalignment and lost balancing are so similar, it is quite difficult to tell which one is at fault.

Do You Need To Balance Tires After Seasonal Tire Change?

When you have only one set of tires for both winter and summer, then balancing will be necessary. Otherwise, there will be signs of unbalancing. 

If you refer to the vehicle manual. It should be specified there that the balancing should be performed every 10 000-15 000 km.

If your seasonal mileage is less, then, in theory, no balancing is required, except for a few cases described above in the article. 

The only time you need to get balancing re-done is when you have new tires fitted or if the weights get knocked off.

Does Costco Do An Alignment With New Tires?

No, Costco does not do alignments when you get new tires. Although if your tires need inflation, you might consider Costco. Most shops will inflate your tires with compressed air when they install them. But not Costco. The warehouse club uses nitrogen instead.

“The warehouse club has been installing nitrogen tire refill stations in its parking lots, and these are FREE for members to use! Filling your tires with nitrogen is better for pressure retention than compressed air and can make your tires last longer and improve the fuel economy of your vehicle” Says HIP2SAVE