We tend to take our vehicle’s smooth ride for granted. When the road ahead is freshly resurfaced and smooth, we expect the driving and vehicle cabin experience to be the same. But actually, even on the most ideal roads, a vibration-free drive depends on a number of vehicle components being optimized and working in harmony.
When one or more of these components are out of specification, you’re likely to sense vibrations through the steering wheel and/or seat. The intensity of the vibrations depends on the severity of the issue – it can be a subtle rhythmic “pulsing” at highway speeds, all the way up to strong juddering that wears on your hands, spine, and nerves.
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So what causes driving vibrations? Is it the tires? Wheels? What are the most likely reasons for your vehicle’s vibrations? Here are some potential causes, explanations, and solutions.
The art of tire and wheel balancing is critical to your vehicle’s smooth ride.
When you purchase a new set of tires, they’re installed on the wheels, and then the assembled tires and wheels are individually balanced with strategically placed wheel weights to cancel out small imperfections.
“But aren’t both tires and wheels perfectly round?”
That’s the goal from both tire and wheel manufacturers, and yes, close to perfectly round. But even the smallest imbalance and imperfection can be perceived at highway speeds and 1,000+ revolutions per mile. So the tire technician fine tunes each of your tires and wheels through balancing.
If you’re experiencing vibrations after a new set of tires was installed, it’s possible the tire technician didn’t quite hit the mark on balancing one or more of your tires and wheels.
Can a tire and wheel imbalance occur on an older set too? Yes. The wheel weights that create wheel balancing are applied to the inner wheel with adhesive. Over time, and especially prompted by certain driving conditions (e.g., performance driving with heavy braking, off-road conditions), the wheel weight adhesive can weaken, and the wheel weights can detach from the wheel.
You might not sense the imbalance with the loss of one or two weights, but if enough of them check out, you’ll have a fundamentally imbalanced wheel, and vibrations are likely.
To explore missing wheel weights as a potential cause of driving vibrations, take a flashlight or park the car in a well-lit area, and peer into the wheel barrel to find the wheel weights. (They’re often applied in small groups/strips.) If you spot adhesive residue in an area that looks to have been a position for one or more wheel weights, then this might be the cause of your vibration.
America’s many pothole-riddled roads are a very likely cause for driving vibrations. Tires and wheels are manufactured to withstand road imperfections, but there are limitations.
Rolling impacts with some of these catastrophic road caverns can cause structural damage to tires and/or bend wheels.
If you can place the timing of your new driving vibrations with a pothole impact, then this is a very likely cause.
Unfortunately, structural tire damage or bent wheels can’t and shouldn’t be “balanced” out. Replacement of the damaged component(s), or professional wheel repair are the only safe solutions.
If your vehicle has been sitting for an extended period of time, tire flat spots can be a cause of driving vibration.
Tires are intended to be used. If the vehicle weight is focused on a specific area of the tires over the long-term, and especially if a corresponding drop in tire pressure has occurred (common with long-term vehicle storage), then tire flat spots can develop.
When the vehicle is put back into use, those flat spots will create a driving vibration until they’re worked out. The good news is all but the most extreme flat spots can be resolved with proper tire inflation and some miles. Conventional cornering, braking, and acceleration will help to coax the tires back into proper shape.
In very rare circumstances, a new tire can be out of round from the manufacturer, and to the point that proper balancing isn’t possible.
The tire technician who installs your new tires will likely know if he or she is working with a defective, out of round tire.
If you’re experiencing vibrations during a road test after a new tire installation, and the tire technician has balanced to the best of his or her ability with the available balancing equipment, then tire defect is possible.
Replacement under warranty is assured in the case of a defective new tire.
We’re sticklers for basic tire awareness and care, and for good reason; a little bit of attention goes a long way toward ensuring a smooth ride over the long-term.
So far we’ve covered many ways in which tires can cause vibrations during driving, but they’re not the only potential cause. Other causes of driving vibrations include:
Getting a vibration diagnosed by a professional mechanic is absolutely necessary, both in the interests of road safety and vehicle care. Vibrations are more likely to worsen over time than conveniently go away. And because the causes range from missing wheel weights (relatively benign and annoying) to a loose wheel (extremely hazardous), leaving a vibration unaddressed is not an option.
If we can be of more help pinpointing potential causes of your driving vibration issues, gives us a call at 866-961-8668.