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Bryan
Hagerty Employee

The wheel and tire balancing nightmare

There’s an interaction I sometimes have with my wife. It’ll happen after I’ve cheaped out on some purchase or repair and had it go sideways on me, like buying a $75 laptop computer on Craigslist only to have the hard drive crash the next day. I’ll rail against my shortcomings, asking—largely rhetorically—“Why do I keep doing this? Why don’t I ever learn the lesson?” She’ll say, “Because you’re usually right, and you save us a lot of money.”

 

God, I love this woman.

 

There are a lot of aphorisms regarding this sort of tradeoff between cost and quality ... Read the full column on Hagerty.com:

 

https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/the-hack-mechanic/the-wheel-and-tire-balancing-nightmare/

 

23 REPLIES 23
Dond
New Driver

Tires are the only thing between  you and the road.  Why would you risk your ride and your life for a few bucks?  Good quality tires generally last longer too.

dhomuth
Intermediate Driver

The whole point of suspensions, brakes, drivelines and other major components is to manage four patches of rubber of roughly 70-80 square inches where "the rubber meets the road."  Why put thousands into changing and upgrading the major components for better handling, braking and acceleration only to pinch pennies on tires and wheels?  Makes just No damned sense! Buy the best tires and wheels you can buy. 

Smileamile
Pit Crew

I love your style and honesty. May the good tire/wheel gods continue to smile on you (from time to time)!

JAG
Intermediate Driver

Long but good and accurate story.  One other option on out of round tires is to have them cut/shaved into roundness. BFG use to do this when they ran the showroom stock series, too much tread is bad for dry racing.  Ever wonder why the OEM tires are so good on a new car?  This is because the car manufacturers have very strict requirements for roundness, balance, and runout.  This means they rework tires, and also means the best tires go to assembly lines.  The OK ones end up on the shelves at tire stores.  I know because I use to release tires for a major car mfg.  Also sound like the stock Lotus wheels are very weak, get some aftermarket ones to drive on!  I had a Typhoon, same issue bad wheel design, would bend if they saw a curb.

Jay
Pit Crew

I have always hated the expression “There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over.” 

 

The fallacy is that you would never know how to solve the problem better on the second try if you didn't have the experience of the first attempt.  Sure, you're naive on the first attempt, trying to save time and money.  And as Rob's wife pointed out, it usually works out.  But when the first attempt doesn't succeed, you apply what you've learned to formulate a better plan - generally involving more time and money - for the second round.  Rob's wheel & tire story perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon.

topside
Intermediate Driver

I can expand on this a bit for my fellow musclecar guys and anyone buying new aftermarket steel wheels. I bought a new set of "Magnum 500" wheels from Coker, had my local Perfection Tire mount new Coopers on them, and found a wobble in the steering wheel above 50 MPH. Turned out that one of the centers was not square with the barrel. After proving & documenting so on Perfection's RF machine and shipping the wheel back to them, Coker replaced the wheel and all is well. After 50 years of this hobby and countless wheels & tires, I learned to check even new wheels before mounting tires. And also that even expensive aftermarket wheels are not checked for accuracy by their makers. And 3rd, that a reputable company will help once the problem is proven.

KlausKneip7263
Passenger

Long ago I was in tire cord R&D side of things.  Among my learnings were that worldwide more tires are sold for animal drawn vehicles than cars/trucks.  The standards for cheap tires are low and not much above donkey cart requirements. Buy good tires with nylon cap plies.

CJinSD
Advanced Driver

Tires are the single biggest determinant of a car's ride and handling. A crummy car with great tires will drive better than a great car on crummy tires. For those of us who buy cars for the way they drive, tires are the last thing to economize on.

Swamibob
Instructor

Good story Rob!

 

To quote the Great and Powerful philosopher Swamibob "It has been said;  'that the smart people learn from their own mistakes while the wise people learn from the mistakes of others':  I further postulate; the smart ass laughs at other people's mistakes while the wise ass knows when to keep their mouth shut."  __ Swamibob  

 

In this article, you show people you are a smart man, who learns from his own mistakes.  You also give people the chance to gain wisdom by showing them how NOT to solve this sort of problem, which can move them down the road toward wisdom. 

You also give the smart asses, of the world, something to laugh at (and point out their own foibles in the process) and even something for the wise (those of us who've been there previously, sometimes more than once), to look at and smile, while remembering and sharing our own difficult times balancing hope and cost.  Thank you!

 

It is amazing how much difference the Road Force Balancing can make, in how some cars ride and drive.  Highly recommended for anyone who can't get that weird vibration out of a vehicle.  I will agree it is better to spend a bit more money on better quality tires, especially if you're inclined to drive fast or push clover leafs hard, even once in awhile.  That said I'm not afraid to run lesser tires on my winter beaters or other run around junkers either.  (Just for clarification; my handle is a nod to Swamibob...  I'm really not him.  🙂  )

coastr
Pit Crew

Your E39 touring is sensitive to wheel balance.  It has 4 or 5 suspension bushings per wheel, all with fluid-filled rubber.  Then the rear subframe is mounted to the body with 4 coke-can sized fluid-filled rubber bushings.  Aging of all of these bushings will produce slop, and any amount of out-of-balance in the wheel will shake the whole car.  The only solution is replacement - you can balance wheels and tires until you go cross-eyed and/or broke, but if the car doesn't have a firm hold on the suspension arms, vibrations will happen.  The same goes for any car, but seems especially prevalent.  Ask yourself how many X5s you've followed on the road running several degress of positive camber in the rear - a sign of wear and slop in the countless suspension mounting points.  They feel like a cloud when new, but that's because you're floating on a sea of rubber/fluid bushings.  

RobertLLR
Intermediate Driver

Noting will assure that old parts or new ones will be to the necessary spec.  There is no "rule" of how to proceed.  Expensive parts are just as likely to be flawed as inexpensive ones.  Expert mechanics are as likely to err as the well-informed, careful, spare-no- time-and-effort DIY owner/builder. 

 

Sure,  someone with better diagnostic tools can determine in advance whether a part is suitable to be put in service.  But what hobbyist wants to pay someone to make that investigation, when there is a good chance he will just say, "Yup, yer parts are good."

 

I've had occasional good luck with relatively cheap tires, and occasional bad luck with very expensive ones.  I've had trusted mechanics screw up a tire install, and I've had emergency, shot-in-the dark, fly-by-night, shops get it right the first time.

 

Actually, the only real lesson to be learned here--and I'm pretty sure Rob would agree--is:  "When it comes to playing with your cars, sometimes you get lucky and things work out; other times...not so much."

Tim
Advanced Driver

I wonder if the wheels weren't the majority of the problem. Even the new tires and road force balancing didn't resolve the issue until the wheels were repaired. What if the "crappy" tires and regular balancing would have been fine if the wheels had been better to begin with?

 

There was a lesson to be learned here, but what if the right lesson wasn't learned? 🙂

Zephyr
Advanced Driver

I worked as a claims adjuster for 40 years. Suspension parts, wheels and tires are just about the only pieces of a car that insurance companies will not replace with used parts (or to use the insurance company term, LKQ parts). Alloy wheels can have internal cracks that are invisible but will fail at high speed. Same for suspension pieces. Used steel wheels have been known to break apart at the point where the inner wheel is welded to the outer wheel. A big problem that developed in the last decade is Chinese wheels that come from the factory so out of balance that no amount of shaving or balance weights can fix them. Steering and suspension parts are the last place you should economize. 

Tinkerah
Technician

I have so much to say about this:

 

1) Rob, of course you're not an idiot; like all non-idiots you're willing to explore a less traditional process, learn from it and accept the outcome.

 

2) I've been mounting and balancing tires (as a hobbyist) for over 30 years and have never needed nor heard of road force balancing, but am happy to know it exists and its purpose.

 

3) How in the hell is one person cursed with so many bent rims that don't show crash damage?? Curb strikes and potholes typically damage the rim bead (which is an easy fix in steel) but a gently warped wheel is usually a mounting surface issue. I'm sure professionals look here first but whenever you encounter this scrutinize the mounting faces. Alloy wheels that have been stored off of hubs can be notorious for this, and account for many new wheel sales.

 

4) While it's easy to balance an out of round wheel it'll never ride smoothly. Diagnose it by driving the car at idle speed in a large safe area, hands and feet off all the controls. Watch for any oscillation in the steering wheel.

JLM
Pit Crew

Hey Rob, enjoyed the article and always look forward to what you write. Pirelli CN 36 tires are the right size(s), the right look, the right performance for a Lotus and the wrong price. 3 out of 4 isn't too bad. When I see a cool car like your Lotus and see all the great things you have done to it to bring it back to life including the Spax shock, and then see the cheapo non-performance tires, I always wonder "what were they thinking?"  Hey, now I know so thanks for that. Still crazy, but at least I understand you thought pattern. Maybe Pirelli will gift you a set of CN36 tires and you can write an article about how they transformed the car.  I like to get the best tires I can get because "so much is riding on your tires" per the Michelin tag line.

Guitar74
Gearhead

I had this nightmare happen with NEW tires and NEW wheels. I won't say the brand of wheel (if you can imagine me coughing through the word Cragar), but I got a car with a brand new set and have had nothing but terrible luck with these wheels (I was warned about the wheels by the former owner who had them installed on the car two months before I bought it). I would have thought that they were a unilug pattern, but no, they were drilled 5 x 5 pattern. I wouldn't feel too bad about having issues with used rims. Both myself and the former owner of this car have the same issues with new rims. When contacting the manufacturer, I got no response at all. Nothing. Nor did the former owner of the car. 

Papa-tony
Intermediate Driver

Just wanna say Rob, I too have had horrible balance issues with 13" tires on my Fiat X1/9.

 

13's are difficult to find except for some very expensive high end race tires that would not last a month on the road.  I also like the staggered look as well as for the performance they offer, especially in mid and rear mounted sporty-cars.

 

I run a 175/60x13 up front and a 205/60x13 in the rear when I can find them and this last "set" I purchased will also be my last... because they probably won't ever be available again.

 

I'll need to go to 15's which still can look great, offer me a plethora of tires and wheels, but will probably need to add adapters as well.  But, all this would cost really no more than purchasing some high-end race tires.

 

Alas, like you witnessed, even the Road Force balancer's require some skill along with the computer based balancing... mostly recognizing the trueness of both the tire and wheels.  A few years back the only reasonably priced 13" tires were Federal's and Achilles' and many of my friends found that the Federal's were mostly junk like you found with your Achilles.  My experience has basically shown me that the smaller the tire's diameter the more critical the balance need to be.  I use to balance larger tires on Hunter floor balancers and never encountered the issues I have like these smaller ones.

 

Alas, I have smooth running, vibration free tires (up to 85 mph or so) and am extremely happy with the Achilles 175/60's up front and the Pro-Meter 205/60's in the rear.

 

Don't ask me where these are made though... as I have no idea.  Just lucked out on a few decent tires!

dustin
Passenger

The Lotus Europa alloy wheels have no centering device when placed on the hub. In addition, they use non tapering lug nuts that further accentuate that lack of center, especially when the wheel mounting holes are slightly out of round, as most are, given the age and softness of the Lotus alloy wheels.

Panasport or Minilite replacement wheels with tapering lug nuts did the trick for me.

 

 

 

JSievers
Detailer

Thanks Rob for another wonderful story that pulls be back to my youth. It's great to hear how you constantly attempt to balance cost with efficacy in the ownership of multiple vintage cars. Many of us have been there. Ona  related matter, I've been fortunate to have had the the opportunity to drive a Europa, and if there is any car that would ever cause me to break my vow to NEVER own a British car, that's the one. However, as you discovered, Lotus' practice of adding lightness tends to exacerbate any suspension, tire and wheel issues. But when everything is right, I don't know if there is any other car that provides such a sublime connection between the driver and the road. The Europa is a car built with narrow English country lanes in mind, and driving it on modern American roads can sometimes be downright scary given the car's relative invisibility. But on the right road, it's magic unparalleled. Enjoy!

Vetter
Passenger

An article this great should be presented to all aspiring young drivers and those in drivers ed.  With such great insight and import it deserves a title that catches and holds their attention.  I suggest titles of "Wheels of Death", or "Suicide by Tire", or "Murder on the Orient Interstate", or possibly just " Jackass, the Article.

In the furtherance of auto safety I am searching diligently for an eleven pack of window stickers that read "Idiot on Board".

Can't wait for his next article on how to buy and install used brake pads and linings.

Terrified in North Carolina,

Paul Mariano

Guitar74
Gearhead

While I understand wanting authenticity, I would NEVER put used tires on anything I drive. I just wouldn't. I see guys at the cruise ins that have the bias ply repops on their classics and I just think to myself,"Why?" I especially wonder that when you can get radials that look just like the original bias ply tires with none of the draw backs of feeling like you're driving on owl turds.
NightRanger
Intermediate Driver

I have two older British cars, MGB and Austin Healey. I always insist on having on-car balancing performed for them. I once had vibrations that couldn't be cured by the normal off-car balancing, static or dynamic. On-car balancing solved it. I assume because the disks/drums contributed to the imbalance. (...or maybe just the mechanic wasn't mounting the wheels properly on the wheel balancer??) 

  Only issue with on-car balancing is that if you rotate the tires they have to be rebalanced. Also, if you remove the wheels for any reason, you need to mark the hub and the wheel so that you put them back on in the original position, i.e. same studs in same holes.

acooper529
Intermediate Driver

As I have said before; Rob Siegel's writing is strangely interesting, but always too long. The real question is... who would waste this much time screwing around with old tires? Check the date codes and then put them all in the dumpster. I have mounted thousands of tires over the years, and the inner bead area is "the most common location" for bent  wheels (not withstanding curb contact damage). Who does not know this? I can't tell is Rob is just being cheap, or eccentric, or both? Maybe it's just his style of writing?

Bottom line; I personally hope this does not encourage anyone to follow this lead and to install or drive with old, dangerous tires on the public highways.