Truck News


Balancing act

MONTREAL, Que. - You've seen it before; an empty trailing bouncing along the road, its wheels spending more time in the air than against the asphalt. Chances are, that trailer's tires aren't properly...

MONTREAL, Que. – You’ve seen it before; an empty trailing bouncing along the road, its wheels spending more time in the air than against the asphalt. Chances are, that trailer’s tires aren’t properly balanced and chances are it’s costing the owner money. It’s generally accepted that dynamic wheel balancing does what it’s supposed to do: extend tire life, improve fuel mileage and reduce wear and tear on freight and equipment.

Many tire manufacturers admit that tire performance will improve if the tires are perfectly balanced, yet even brand new tires can contain imperfections.

Len Prince of Balance Masters says his customers typically realize a five per cent improvement in fuel mileage with some realizing an even greater savings.

“I did my own test to California last year using a friend’s truck and got 14 per cent better mileage,” he says. “But I’m telling people five per cent so everything else is a bonus for them.”

Go to a trade show and you’ll be bombarded with vendors trying to sell you products that reduce fuel usage.

If every one of them did what the salesman said they’d do, ideally you could slap them all on your truck and actually create fuel as you drive!

Of course the industry has attracted a lot of gimmicks but wheel balancing appears to be a proven way to improve fuel mileage.

The Balance Masters system uses mercury within a steel ring to iron out imperfections in the tire as it’s travelling down the road.

At highway speeds, the balancing points can change between 400 and 500 times per minute.

As the company’s Web site puts it: “Vibrational resonance is the up and down vibration pattern created by a rotating tire and wheel that’s out of balance. Forcing the mercury fluid which is free-moving within the ring to positions along the ring, which exactly offset any light and heavy spots, eliminates the vibration and creates equilibrium within the rotating mass. Once properly positioned, centrifugal force holds the mercury fluid in that position.”

To simplify that description, Prince uses a mercury-filled tennis ball to demonstrate how it works. While a normal tennis ball bounces wildly when dropped from above, the mercury-filled ball sticks to the table when dropped, with no bouncing whatsoever.

Dynamic wheel balancing isn’t new and there are many options out there. Some innovative truckers have put everything from sand to anti-freeze to golf balls in their tires to achieve the same effect.

Tire manufacturers warn against putting foreign objects inside the tire itself, however.

Other systems such as the ones offered by TAABS Balancers work on the same premise, substituting the mercury-filled ring with a ring containing steel ball bearings and lubricant. But although there’s no disputing that perfectly balanced tires will perform better than those that are out of balance, Prince says the vast majority of heavy-duty truck and trailer tires are still out of balance.

“Between ourselves and our competitors we’ve covered maybe two per cent of the heavy-duty market,” says Prince.

The biggest deterrent is cost. A three-axle tractor will cost about $1,175 to equip with the Balance Masters system, but Prince says the balancers will outlive several tractors. And with improved fuel mileage of five per cent, extended tire life of up to 50 per cent and less wear and tear on components, it doesn’t take long to recoup the investment, he insists. Surprisingly, it’s owner/operators who have been the first to embrace dynamic balancing.

“Fleets are still worried about the initial cost factor,” he said, particularly when it comes to trailers.

“A lot of them have three trailers to one truck and they don’t see a parked trailer with balancers as an advantage to them.”

Even so, some significant fleets are catching on, especially in Quebec where the likes of JE Fortin and Danfreight have begun equipping their equipment with dynamic balancing systems.

“They’ll all come along,” Prince boldly predicts. “Tires and fuel aren’t getting any cheaper!”

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