blurry car on a road

Bent Rims and Unbalanced Tires: Vehicle Vibration 101

Whether it only happens at certain speeds or specific conditions, any time your steering wheel is shaking or vibrating you should know upfront that it’s a sign to get your tires looked at.

What does it mean when your car or steering wheel vibrates?

The short answer? It could be a couple different things, but the first place you should start with is with the tires. When a vehicle’s tires are out of balance, it can cause all kinds of shaking and vibrating. In lieu of technical issues, this can vary depending on the severity of the problem.

Long story short, a tire that is out of balance can have what is called a "static imbalance" and generally also a "dynamic imbalance" at the same time.

Static imbalance is when a tire vibrates and wobbles in an up and down motion during rotation.

Dynamic imbalance is when a tire wobbles and shakes from side-to-side as it spins.

Combined, these forces can cause cars and light trucks to shake significantly and can cause discomfort while driving.

How to tell if a tire has an imbalance

If you’re trying to hunt down the sources of your vehicle’s vibrations, you’ll want to make sure your vehicle’s alignment and any suspension components are good.

Old motor mounts can cause rattling and vibration as well, but they typically won’t shake your ride the same way an imbalanced tire does. This is because a vehicle generally vibrates from a tire being out of balance at speeds greater than 45 mph.

If you go off-road or have to drive on dirt roads, mud can also build up and get caked on the back of your rims. This can add uneven weight distribution and create an imbalance in your tires. Some quick work with a high-pressure hose nozzle will usually do the trick to blast any hardened mud out, and will get your vehicle’s tires back to normal. The same applies to snow and ice under heavy winter conditions.

Regardless of whether it’s a minor vibration, it’s something to have taken care of as soon as possible. Driving on tires that are unbalanced can cause uneven tire wear and poor fuel economy, and can even eventually lead to tire failure.

Bent rim symptoms

Maybe you didn’t see that massive pothole in the middle of the road, filled with slush on a gray snowy day. Or that speed bump. Or maybe you drove over a curb. But you’re feeling it when you drive now – at any speed.

Odds are your vehicle has a bent rim.

A bent rim can cause any variety of symptoms, depending on its severity. Some of these may include:

  • Vibration felt in the steering wheel or seats, depending on which wheel is affected.
  • Uneven tire wear
  • Increased road noise, including droning or thumping noises that can be heard in the cabin of your vehicle
  • Decreased fuel efficiency
  • Poor handling

While bent rims generally need to be fixed at a dedicated wheel repair shop, Discount Tire locations are sometimes able to use a special tool to pull the bent rims back into shape on some steel wheels. Unfortunately, other materials like aluminum (typically used to manufacture OEM and aftermarket wheels) aren’t sturdy enough for this service.

When it’s all said and done, we recommend checking your wheels and tires first when you’re feeling a vibration in your steering wheel or seat while you’re driving. Stop by one of our locations or learn more about unbalanced tires from our Tips & Guides today.

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