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Working with Wheel Weights: Mistakes, Best Practices and Choosing the Right One

Wheel weights are an important component when adjusting the balance of a customer’s tires. But choosing the right ones can lead to faulty installation or misalignment.

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wheel weights working dos donts

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Wheel balancing is among the top three services provided by tire dealers. Most tire technicians know that balancing tires and wheel assemblies can help solve for vibration and wobbling. Proper balance improves tire wear, increases fuel mileage and removes stress on the vehicle. Vibration caused by out-of-balance tires is most noticeable at speeds of 50-70 mph, but even if a customer doesn’t notice that their tires are unbalanced, damage is still done.

Wheel weights are an important component when adjusting the balance of a customer’s tires. For passenger cars, motorcycles and truck wheels, two options are available: clip-on and adhesive wheel weights.

According to Gregory Parker, national account sales and marketing director for Wegmann Automotive Inc., manufacturer of Perfect Equipment wheel weights, the original clip-on weight was first patented in the early 1930’s and hasn’t changed much since then. He said adhesive wheel weights came into the market starting in the early ‘70s and provided a new way to balance aluminum rims.

“Clip-on weights are the industry standard simply because of speed,” explains Parker. “It takes only a second or two to knock a weight onto the rim flange, and in most tire shops speed is vitally important. On the other hand, adhesive weights are a much slower installation process due to having to clean the rim before installing the weight. However, adhesive weights are traditionally [less expensive] and can be hidden behind a spoke for a near invisible appearance.”

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According to Emilie St-Onge, director of customer experience with wheel-weight manufacturer Plombco Inc., “both kinds are effective for proper wheel balancing. Several clip-on materials are offered (steel, lead, zinc and Plasteel, which is exclusively offered by Plombco) giving all the latitude needed to fulfill the customer’s needs. Same thing for adhesive weights – steel, lead and zinc are available. Pricing is not the only concern as taste and habits are also a key consideration.”

The experts at Coats Garage prefer Bada, a brand of wheel weights made by Hennessy Industries, manufacturer of Coats wheel balancing equipment. They advise that the type of weights used depends on application.

“Clip-on weights are traditionally used with wheels that have flanges to which the clip can attach,” Coats Garage explains. “Tape-on weights are used for wheels without flanges, commonly for customers who are mindful of an aesthetic look to their vehicle where weights can be hidden behind spokes.”

But why do tires need to be balanced?

“Although it’s becoming less common thanks to advancements in technology, not every tire or wheel is perfectly balanced when manufactured. Slight imbalance in the rim and in the tire can result in significant imbalance in the wheel assembly,” Coats Garage says. “Tires and rims are built to mostly symmetrical and to intended design dimensions. Due to small variations in manufacturing, the design ends up not being exact to design intent but [fall] within [reasonable] tolerances. These tolerances contribute to the imbalance in the wheels and tires.”

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Coats Garage says wheel weights are used to correct and counteract those imbalances found when balancing tire assemblies. By applying the weights to the wheel in the appropriate location, the addition of the targeted added weight “causes the wheel’s mass to be equally distributed around the axis of rotation.” This ensures the wheel will rotate without vibration.

Parker says that the materials used in wheel weights can vary. What started out as exclusively lead has shifted to other types of metals and even plastics.

“Wheel balance weights were made of lead for nearly 60 years until the advent of non-lead weights starting in the early ‘90s,” said Parker. “Today you have a mixture of both lead and non-lead weights in the marketplace due to regulation. There are currently nine states with laws that ban the installation of lead wheel weights within the state. Those nine states equal 33% of the vehicles in the U.S. market.

“For technicians, traditionally you want a malleable material for a clip-on weight, such as lead, zinc or even plastic. The malleability of the material allows it to install easier with less force. For adhesive weights, the material doesn’t matter quite as much due to the material not coming into contact with the rim itself. For adhesive weights, the type of adhesive tape that is on the weight is the most vital component.”

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Coats Garage adds that steel is a better replacement for lead when it comes to wheel weight materials.

“Lead weights have regulatory issues which must be taken into consideration, while zinc weights are harder to produce to tight weight tolerances and are currently under review for environmental impact,” Coats Garage says. “Steel weights, the best option to replace lead, should be coated to prevent rust from maring the appearance of the wheel.”

As increasing numbers of consumers are investing in custom wheels and vehicle manufacturers are using lighter weight aluminum and alloy wheels, St-Onge says, “more and more end customers care about the appearance of their vehicle. Clip-style wheel weights on a nice looking custom wheel look bad!”

While taste and habits are a key consideration on which type of wheel weight installers might use, pricing is also a concern. Steel weights can be less expensive, according to St-Onge.

“The price of steel is currently lower than lead and zinc, which has a direct impact on the price you pay for wheel weights,” she says.

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Common Mistakes and Best Practices

According to Parker, common misapplication of wheel weights can be due to wrong weight selection, faulty weight installation or misalignment of the weight to the imbalance point.

“Weight selection is critical for clip-on weights due to the many different types of rim flanges out in the marketplace. Picking the wrong weight could cause rim damage or weight failure after the vehicle leaves the shop. Using the proper tools and following safe business practices are the keys to correctly installing the weight and avoiding misalignment.”

St-Onge says that proper installation of a clip-on weight is critical, and having the proper tools is the key for success.

“Choosing a good hammer with rugged rubber head and replaceable hook helps prevent damage to the rim when the wheel weights are installed or removed. Even with the best wheel balancing weights on the market, we recommend always using the right tool for the job. Using standard tools often leaves permanent marks,” she said.

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“Related to adhesive wheel weights, it is very important to properly remove the existing weights and left over adhesive residue. But  it is equally important to clean the wheel before applying the new wheel weight. Constant improvements in technology have enabled our industry to consistently create products that assist the tire installer to properly clean and prepare the wheel while saving them time and money.”

Choosing the right weight for the application is also important.

“Applying the wrong style of wheel weight is the most common mistake,” says Coats Garage. “It is always advised to reference an application guide that lists all OEM vehicles with their corresponding style of weight. It is also strongly recommended to use a wheel rim gauge, a convenient tool that can be applied to all applications.”

Parker says that following these steps will help to ensure proper installation:

1. Perform the balance check at the balancer;

2. Determine the rim type;

3. Determine if you are going to use clip-on or adhesive;

4. Select the proper weight and test fit it to ensure accuracy;

5. Use a soft tip hammer if installing a clip-on weight as to ensure a scratchless install or pre-clean the wheel properly if installing an adhesive weight;

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6. Re-spin the assembly to ensure proper balance was achieved.

Coats Garage advises that to properly apply a clip-on weight, first reference either the application guide or use a wheel-rim gauge to determine the style of weight needed. Place the corrective weight in line with where the wheel balancer detects imbalance. Using a wheel-weight hammer, strike the clip of the weight. After attaching, check to [make sure the] fitment is not loose.

“For tape-on weights, make sure the surface of the inside of the rim is clean,” Coats Garage says. “Upon determining the proper amount of weight, remove the backing of the strip and place the weight in the center of the imbalance point, then apply pressure to ensure attachment.”

Coats Garage says it’s important to ensure clip-on weight profiles match the profile of the rim flange to which they are applied. Failure to properly match the weight style to the rim can result in weights moving on the rim, coming off the wheel or scratching the rim with the wrong selection.

There are eight styles of clip-on weights that correspond to the make and model of vehicles on the road. Be sure to use the charts and information provided by manufacturers to make sure you’re using the right type of product for the application and for your area.

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