Getting the Lead Out of Tire Weights
Six states have banned the use of lead tire weights. While a nationwide federal ban is not yet on the radar screen, don’t rule it out.
November 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Feature
UPDATED -- Beware the lead tire weight cops.
They are out there and working in six states, with several more states looking at banning lead weights. California, Illinois, Maine, New York, Vermont and Washington already have lead wheel weight laws on their books. New Hampshire, Minnesota and Wyoming have tried to ban the sale, distribution and installation of lead weights, but those attempts failed.
True rotation of a several-hundred-pound mass and high speeds requires balancing, not just of the tire, but the entire rotating mass, including the hub, brake drum, wheel and tire.
Several more states have restrictions on lead tire weights in place for state-owned or state-controlled vehicles, including Kentucky, Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada and others.
According to Greg Parker, marketing manager for Perfect Equipment, one of the oldest manufacturers of wheel weights in the world, about 30% of vehicles in the U.S. are located in states that ban lead tire weights, so a fair portion of the national fleet has already been affected by the ban.
“Most OEs and the major tire retail chains are now non-lead,” Parker says. “Altogether, about half of the market for tire weights is now some material other than lead.”
Whether it will go any further remains to be seen.
“There was a lot of activity on this front between 2007 and 2009, but it has subsided greatly since then,” Parker says. “It was pretty easy for the states to do this since there are only a handful of producers manufacturing lead tire weights and there are practical alternatives to lead, such as steel and zinc.”
Most of the language in the regulations speaks to the sale, distribution and installation of lead weights. The regs don’t address lead weights already in service – there won’t be inspectors checking trucks at scales – but it would be an offense in the listed states to install lead weights the next time you are balancing tires. The penalties could also apply to truck fleets that aren’t based in the affected states, but that have terminals there.
Scott Flynn, the director of sales at Plombco, another wheel weight manufacturer, says the transition from lead to steel or zinc posed some problems at first in the light truck and passenger car markets because the installation procedures are different.
“Because lead is soft and malleable, it was easy to clip to the wheel and hammer into place with a good precise fit,” he says. “Steel and zinc are too hard to install in the same fashion, so the design of the clip and matching it to the shape of the rim flange is a larger concern than it once was.”
Flynn says that is not as great a concern in heavy truck applications because there are fewer wheel styles to deal with, but the size of the weight is a concern.
“For heavy-duty applications, we make zinc weights in clip-on styles and steel weights with an adhesive backing,” he says. “But because of the physical size of the weights required on trucks, we limit each weight to 8 ounces. If you need more than 8 ounces, you put on more weights.”
When non-lead tire weights were first introduced, they were expensive, Parker says, but as manufacturing capacity increased, the price quickly came down.
“Roughly half the market is now non-lead, so we’ve got scale working for us,” he explains. “The non-lead options are running about five points higher than lead today. The upcharge is minimal. You can find some pretty cheap imported products. It really depends what you want. The cost is really in the clip, so you’re going to pay maybe 25 cents more for a high-quality clip that will keep the weight on for more than 1,000 miles.”
Next page: Alternatives to Weights
Traditional balancing methods still apply with steel and zinc weights. Just the material has changed, not the process.