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Tire Truing, Tire Balancing, Tire Shaving - Make Your Tires Truly Round

A Vibration-Free Ride Could Be A Shave Away

Ken BrubakerPhotographer, Writer

Does your truck vibrate at highway speeds? Have you had your wheels balanced only to find that your vexing vibration still exists? Are you resigned to living with the problem? Well, to that we say, bummer. And again, bummer. And finally, you don't have to. The simple solution to your problem may be tire truing, especially if you've established that your vibes come from tires, and not from driveshafts. Tire truing is a low-tech, but highly specialized, process of shaving off the out-of-round high points of tire tread in order to create an almost perfectly round tire. Of course you can't do this at home, so don't even try. Tire truing requires a special machine with an experienced person at the controls.

We recently had an opportunity to observe the simple yet effective tire-truing process at Southwest Brake and Alignment in San Antonio, Texas, and we got a before and after seat-of-the-pants demonstration of the benefits of this process. Southwest owner Ted Zrzavy has offered this service for more than 26 years, and it's extremely popular in the San Antonio area due to the state's lenient lift laws, which effectively allow large-tired rigs to be driven daily. Zrzavy says that it's not just larger-diameter tires that often need to be trued, although tires over 36 inches in diameter often exhibit the greatest need for truing.

During our visit, we also watched as Southwest trued the tires on an ambulance, and we're told the technicians there recently have trued tires for National Guard trucks, motorhomes, 18-wheelers, new Porsches, schoolbuses and telephone company repair trucks. This service is so popular that Zrzavy has assigned two full-time employees to tire-truing duties, and they're busy 10 hours a day, 5 days a week.

The tire truing process that Southwest offers is actually composed of two steps. First, the tire is trued using a specially designed $5,000 truing machine, and then the tire is spin-balanced. These steps are done with the tire and wheel on the vehicle so that the tolerances of the wheel, brake drum/rotor, spindle, bearings and so on are all factored into the truing process.

Obviously, tire truing, and the subsequent on-vehicle balance job, results in the inability to rotate the tires without having them re-balanced, and if you remove a tire from the wheel for repair it must be re-installed in exactly the same position. This includes the positioning of the wheel on the lugs. This may sound like an inconvenience, but truck owners who've had their tires trued say that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. We rode in a truck shod with 44-inch tires that had three trued tires and one un-trued rear tire due to the tire rotating on the rim because of a combination of hard wheeling and soap being used on the rim to mount the tire (bad idea). Before truing, we could feel a vibration coming through the seat at highway speed. After truing, the vibration was completely gone, and the truck rode smoothly, even at speeds of up to 75 mph.

We found that tire truing is not for the faint of heart, because the by-product of tire truing is shavings or strips of tire, and seeing this may come as a shock if you've just forked over big bucks for a set of tires. Keep this in mind, though: The process is only removing the out-of-round portion of the tire, and for most tires, this is only a small amount. If a tire is new and significantly out of round, Southwest will recommend that you return the tire to the place of purchase for a replacement.

How much does it cost to true and balance a set of tires? Zrzavy says that Southwest charges about $64 a set for those tires under 38 inches in diameter, while those over 38 inches cost approximately $120 a set.

We talked with many folks who have had their trucks' tires trued, and they all say it does exactly what it's intended to do, resulting in a truck that can be driven at expressway speeds without aggravating wheel and tire vibration. For those of us who use our 4x4s as daily transportation, a service like this is just what the doctor ordered.