A new car comes with a perfectly balanced set of tires. If you visit a mechanic during a routine checkup to get your car serviced, you might be told to have them balanced. Balanced tires provide a smooth ride and increase the fuel efficiency of your vehicle.
You might not have the time or money to have your tires balanced when you notice that something is off. That said, putting off balancing your tires can cause problems with your vehicle if you continue to drive it. But how long can you drive on unbalanced tires?
In this article, we’ll answer this question and discuss what you should expect if your car’s tires are unbalanced.
How Long Can You Drive on Unbalanced Tires?
The easy answer is that you can drive on unbalanced tires for about 2-3 months before needing to get them professionally balanced. However, it is not quite as simple as that. There are a number of factors you need to consider, as well as issues that might arise when you ignore the uneven weight distribution of your tires.
If your car use is limited to grocery store visits and the occasional drive, you might be able to put off balancing your tires for a longer period time. However, if you use your car for long commutes to and from work everyday and have family road trips on the weekend, you may need to get them checked regularly and balanced more often to avoid issues and to generally improve your driving experience.
Waiting for 2-3 months is the maximum amount of time that it is safe to drive on unbalanced tires. However, this estimate should more be a measure of distance and driving style than of time. You also need to understand what exactly an unbalanced set of tires means for you and the maintenance of your vehicle.
What are Unbalanced Tires
To get the best possible driving experience from your car, the weight of your car should be evenly distributed between the four tires on your vehicle. This will ensure your ride is smooth and will improve your fuel economy.
Tires can become unbalanced for a wide range of reasons. Some of these reasons can be environmental, while others can be the result of your driving style. We’ll go over what some of these are and how you can address them.
Weather: When the weather gets cold, the air inside your tires also becomes cold. Cold air contracts, which means your tires shrink, deflating slightly. While this usually results in an even amount of deflation, this is not always the case, and different wheels can sink or expand at different rates, causing an imbalance.
PSI: PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) is a measure of the air pressure in your tires. If you inflate your tires unevenly or some external factor causes pressure loss from one or more of your tires, you may end up with unbalanced tires.
Tread: Friction between the rubber of your tires and the roads causes wear and tear on the tire treads. If, for some reason, the tread on the tires on one side of your car is more worn out than the other, you will also end up with unbalanced tires.
Tire belts: If you’re driving recklessly and hit an obstacle on the roadway, this may cause damage to your tire belt, resulting in uneven damage and unbalanced tires. It is important to get your vehicle inspected after such a collision.
Potholes: Not all roads are flat highways, and sometimes hitting a pothole, curb, or speed breaker at high speeds or at an angle can cause uneven deflation or damage to your tires.
Alignment: While alignment differs from balance, there are similarities between misalignment and unbalanced tires, and each can lead to the other, as well as show similar signs when not properly tuned.
Signs of Unbalanced Tires
How do you know if your tires are unbalanced? Your dashboard may tell you when your fuel is low and when the engine is overheating, but it may not show you if your tires are balanced. Here are some signs of unbalanced tires that are worth looking out for:
Car vibration: When the weight of your car is not distributed evenly between all your wheels, you may have to lean harder in the wheel to keep your vehicle traveling straight. If the problem is with your front wheels, you may find the steering wheel vibrating more strongly. Vibrations will also be more pronounced at faster speeds.
Straight line driving: When you’re driving on balanced tires, you will see that your car travels in a straight line if you leave the steering wheel undisturbed. If unbalanced, you may notice that your car is not traveling straight, and that it will lean towards the left or right side of the road.
Tread: Unbalanced tires will also cause some of them to get worn out faster than others. Checking the distribution of wear on your treads can be a good indicator of whether or not your tires are balanced.
Leaning: You may notice that your car does not stand upright and leans to either side when parked on a flat surface. This is a clear sign of uneven deflation.
Noise: Besides vibrations, your car may also produce irregular noises from the engine. Again, at faster speeds, these sounds from the engine or other parts of the car may be a lot more pronounced.
Fuel usage: You may also notice that your car is consuming a lot more fuel than it usually does. This is because unbalanced tires create more stress on the engine, as you will be forced to compensate for the imbalance and constantly adjust the wheel. This extra stress and inefficiency translates to higher fuel consumption.
Overheating: In extreme cases of unbalanced tires, the extra pressure on the engine might cause it to overheat. You might notice symptoms like your check engine light coming on, your engine temperature gauge climbing, and steam or smoke rising from the hood.
Suspension: Unbalanced tires can also mess with the suspension. You’ll notice that your vehicle absorbs fewer shocks and bumps, being less comfortable than with balanced tires.
How to Fix Unbalanced Tires
If you’re not familiar with how to balance your tires, the easiest step is to seek professional help. You can visit a mechanic and easily get your tires balanced, sometimes even for free. A number of car mechanics offer free balancing as a part of their package. Otherwise, wheel alignment and tire balancing should cost you up to an average of $50 per tire.
If you’re interested in DIY and want to balance the tires yourself, you can follow these steps. You will need to have access to a balancer, a jack for your car, and wheel weights.
Step 1: Make sure that your car is parked on a flat surface. Use the jacks to prop it up and remove the wheels.
Step 2: Clean your wheels thoroughly. Remove all debris that may have settled on them.
Step 3: Set up the wheels on the balancer. Mark the weight dials and make sure that the tire weights are evenly balanced. You might have to check the balancer manual to ensure that you’re following all the steps correctly.
Step 4: Continue adjusting until the balance is adequately adjusted.
Step 5: Repeat these steps for all four tires.
Step 6: Reattach the tires to your vehicle.
Once you’re done with these steps, you should notice a considerable difference in the way your car handles, the ride experience, and the fuel economy. If your car tires are unbalanced, do not wait until they cause irreversible damage to your engine or your tire treads. While you should fix them as soon as possible, you can still drive on them for a couple weeks.
How Long Do Brakes Last After Squeaking?
The brakes in your car are designed in such a way that once they begin to squeak, you only have a certain amount of distance you can travel before damage occurs to your vehicle.
So, how long do brakes last after squeaking? On average, you can travel another 5,000 miles after your brakes start squeaking before it becomes dangerous.
Here we’ll outline the different components of your braking system and how they connect to one another:
Brake pads: Brake pads are steel backed plates. A high friction material is attached to these steel plates and directed towards the brake rotors.
Brake rotors: Brake rotors are the large metal discs that you can see from the side of the wheel. Located inside each wheel of your car, the rotors are connected to the wheels along an axle.
Brake shoes: Similar to brake pads, brake shoes have a high friction material on one side. They are curved pieces of metal that initiate every time you press your brake pedal. This causes friction between the lining of the wheel and the drum, slowing down the car.
If your brakes are squeaking, it is likely a problem with one of these three components. How far your vehicle can go after it starts squeaking is determined by a number of factors.
Factors Affecting Brake Life
No two cars wear out the same way or at the same rate. Below we’ll go over the factors that determine how long your brakes will last.
Driving style: This is one of the more obvious variables, as a rough driving style will significantly reduce the lifespan of your brakes. If you use your brakes recklessly and brake suddenly at high speeds, your brake pads will wear quickly. Driving slowly and braking with caution can increase their lifespan.
Brake pads: The type of brake pads you use will also impact the life of your brakes. If they are made of materials like glass, rubber, or carbon, they will wear quickly. Metallic and ceramic brake pads last much longer, and are typically more expensive for this reason.
Surroundings: The terrain on which you’re driving will also affect brake life. Smooth, level roads will cause less wear, while off-roading can shave years off brake life. Living in an area with steep slopes and climbs will also cause your brakes to wear down quickly.
Transmission type: Brakes on manual transmission systems are known to last longer than those on automatic transmission systems. This is due to the difference in engine braking processes.
What Does Squeaking Mean
Squeaky brakes and squeaky doors do not have the same causes and solutions. Moving parts that squeak can be solved by applying oil to lubricate the joint. This is not the case with brakes–-squeaking made by car brakes is a deliberate modern safety feature to indicate to owners that their brakes are slowly failing.
Squeaking brakes indicate the brake pads have worn off and the safety feature is rubbing against the brake rotor. Once you hear this sound, make sure to change your brakes as soon as possible.
Sometimes, your bakes might squeak for a few days and go back to normal. In such cases, there is no need to worry, especially if you’ve traveled less than 40,000 miles sinc eyoru last brake replacement.
Squeaking in New Brakes
If your brakes are new and have started squeaking, you can get rid of this problem by following these easy steps:
Hard stops: If some moisture has gotten into your new brake pads, it might form a small film or layer of rust. This can cause squeaking in new brakes. This type of squeaking should go away after a few hard stops, which will rub off the rust and smooth the surface of the pads.
Grease: Applying grease to the contact points between the brake and the calipers can get rid of squeaking on new brakes. This type of squeaking does not mean your brakes are damaged. The contact points on the brakes include the caliper and behind the brake pad. Make sure that no grease comes in contact with the rotor surface.
However, if you hear continuous squeaking within your brakes after driving your car for tens of thousands of miles, you might have to conduct some more serious repairs.
Squeaking in Old Brakes
For older brakes and cars that have traveled anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 miles, here are the steps you can take:
Shims: Installing a set of brake pad shims can stop squeaking in old cars. While most modern cars already come with a set of preinstalled brake pad shims, they can wear down similarly to other components of the brake system. Replacing these can significantly cut down on squeaking noise. The rubber covering will be sure to dampen the noise.
Pads: If your brake pads have been worn down and are causing the squeaking noise, replacing them is the easiest way to make the noise stop. As we’ve gone over, this usually occurs after excessive use has worn down the pads.
Rotors: If your brakes have been squeaking for a while and you are an aggressive driver, you might need to replace the brake rotors along with the brake pads. This will, of course, be more expensive than just replacing the brake shims or pads. To do this, you may want to see a mechanic.
If you drive a commuter car, squeaky brakes can be a problem. However, there are some cars with brakes that will always make a noise, such as with racing or performance cars.
These types of cars require extremely high quality brakes to help get them around corners quickly and safely. The high performance of these fast-acting brakes naturally causes squeaking.
Squeaking may also vary depending on the temperature and weather, and colder brakes will typically be squeaker.
Other Signs of Faulty Brakes
While squeaking brakes are certainly a sign that you might need to inspect or replace your brakes, there are a number of other signs you may find that justify a visit to the mechanic. Its worth keeping an eye out for these for your own safety.
Brake lights: A lot of modern cars come with brake lights that will indicate whether or not there is a problem with your braking system. While this may just be a question of your parking brake being on, it might also be a sign of a much larger problem. If your parking brake is not engaged and your brake lights are on, be sure to consult with a mechanic.
Other noises: Besides squeaking, you may also notice grinding or buzzing noises coming from your brakes. This could be because of the metal from the pads rubbing on the metals from the rotors, which is a definite sign that you need to get your brake pads changed. Ignoring this sign will cause further damage over time, and you may even have to get your brake rotors changed sooner than is necessary.
Wobbly braking: If your car is wobbling when you brake, it could easily be a sign that your brake rotors are not working as well as they should. This can also signify that your braking system is not properly aligned, which can result in uneven braking between your wheels. This can be extremely dangerous, especially when you’re traveling at high speeds.
Vibrations: Similar to your car being wobbly while braking, vibrations are also a sign of worn out rotors, as well as brake pads. If your car vibrates while braking, consult with a mechanic immediately.
Leaks: Gasoline and coolant aren’t the only liquids present in your car. Brake fluids are an important part of the braking system, creating hydraulic pressure that presses against the calipers. If your brake fluid has leaked out, there is a danger of your brakes failing altogether, leading to serious injury. Your car might not have a dial for your brake fluid levels, but you can check under the car for leaks when it is stationary. If you dedicate a leak, contact your mechanic immediately.
Smell: A burnt out brake may give off a distinctive burning smell. The way to distinguish this smell from the smell of an overheating engine is by its chemical character. While overheating engines may cause steam or smoke, a burnt brake will come with a chemical smell that is difficult to miss and unpleasant. See other types of car smells like gas or like rotten egg.
Uneven braking: As mentioned earlier in this article, unbalanced tires will cause the car to pull to one side when you’re in motion and make it difficult to stay straight. Malfunctioning brakes will result in an identical swerving tendency, except when you are slowing down. If your car moves towards one direction while braking, visit a mechanic immediately, as the brakes on your vehicle are applying uneven pressure to your wheels.
Soft brakes: The feeling of the brake pedal on your feet can be a solid indicator of brakes that are not functioning properly. If your brake does not give you the right amount of pressure kickback when using it, it may be indicating a failure in the master cylinder or the entire braking system. As with the above cases, it is best to see a mechanic for this.
The Bottom Line
You can get away with driving your car with unbalanced tires for a few weeks or months, but you will notice a number of problems with it. These problems include a compromised driving experience, noticeably worse handling, wear and tear of tires, and reduced fuel economy. Knowing which symptoms to look for and fixing your unbalanced tires quickly can return your car to its full glory.
Similar to unbalanced tires, brakes also have a short life once they have started squeaking. A number of factors like terrain type, brake pad type, and driving styles can affect the lifespan of your brakes. If your brakes are squeaking, you should get them checked out by a professional mechanic. Check out the other posts on Automotive Driving Belt to learn more about car accessories and maintenance!