What Causes Tires to Wobble?

by John Willis
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Tire wobbles create a frightening experience for good reason: They're dangerous. Tire wobble most often originates in the tires themselves: One tire problem leads to another until it creates a wobble. If you have a tire wobble, it will wear or damage the tire, making the wobble more severe. For economic and safety reasons, if you feel a tire wobble, inspect your tires immediately for inflation and wear. If you can't solve the problem completely with proper tire pressure, take your car to a local tire center.

Flat Spots

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As you drive, the weight of the car flattens the area of your tire that touches the ground—known as the "contact patch. If you park it, the flat spot on the tire remains in one place. With time (and with cold temperatures), the flat spot can become rigid. The rubber will take on a "memory." As soon as you begin driving, the rigid, misshapen flat spot will cause a vibration or wobble. As your tires warm up and you drive a little, the flat spot may work itself out; flat spots can become permanent, however, requiring you to replace the tires. If you have mild, permanent flat spots, they will likely cause irregular wear, balance problems and poor alignment, increasing the tire wobble until you replace the tires.

Wheel Alignment

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Misaligned wheels can cause tire wobbles—especially in front tires. Sometimes wheels slowly move out of alignment with use. But sometimes, an event, such as slipping into a curb on an icy road, may immediately knock your alignment out of whack. Pay special attention to sudden alignment change. Otherwise, an alignment wobble will tend to present itself slowly and gradually instead of radically and unexpectedly. Alignment problems will cause irregular tire wear, increasing wobbles.

Tire Balance

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When you first have your tires installed, the installer uses lead tire weights to balance them. Improperly balanced tires will result in irregular tire wear, pulling your wheels out of alignment and causing wobbles.

Improper Wear

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All of the above-mentioned factors can cause improper tire wear, which in turn will eventually render the tire asymmetrical and increase the likelihood of wobbling. Left unchecked, any of these problems will only escalate, resulting in tire wobble or failure. For your pocketbook and safety, if you feel a wobble, address it right away.

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