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, - Feature

by Jim Park, Equipment Editor - Also by this author

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Alternatives to weights
There are alternatives that help balance tires without the traditional wheel weights, such as IMI's Equal.
There are alternatives that help balance tires without the traditional wheel weights, such as IMI's Equal.

While steel or zinc weights could pose a few operational challenges in the tire department, they aren’t deal-breakers. Traditional balancing methods still apply. These new weights simply require slightly different installation procedures.

Maybe now is a good time to take another look at alternatives to weights, such as internal balancing compounds or balancing rings. These products offer true dynamic wheel assembly balancing while the wheel remains mounted on the truck, and even into the tire’s second life at a run-out position.

The internal compounds, such as Counteract, Equal and Magnum, are reusable, won’t damage the casing, are environmentally benign and claim to provide lifetime balancing of not just the tire/wheel assembly, but the entire wheel-end from the hub out to the tire. And because of their dynamic properties, they will maintain wheel balance even as the tire changes shape with age.     

According to Ian Savidge, marketing manager at Magnum, internal balancing compounds have been around since World War II, and have been improved to provide less of the undesirable effects, such as moisture-driven clumping of the material. Today’s glass-based microbeads are also larger than earlier version of the product so they don’t get stuck in tire valves and won’t affect the sensors in internal tire pressure management systems.

“We use a coated, 2-mm bead that is about 98% round,” he says. “That improved the flow-ability of the product in the tire so it moves to where it’s needed more easily.”

There are also claims now – with SAE test data to back them up – that properly balanced tires can improve fuel economy. Coley Wolkoff, national accounts manager at Counteract Balancing Beads, says his company conducted tests at Auburn University’s Advanced Vehicle Evaluation facility in Alabama, and found a 2.2% improvement fuel economy. Evaluation in actual customer trucks showed even greater improvement.

“When Counteract Balancing Beads were installed in all the wheels of the truck fleet of one of our customers – about 100 trucks in all – running line haul from Missouri to California, they measured an estimated fuel savings of more than 5.5% on fuel per truck,” he says. “We also measured a significant drop in casing temperature in properly balanced wheels, which really helps reduce tread wear.”

Robert Coolidge, president of CentraMatic, points to the lifecycle cost benefits of using alternative balancing methods such as balancing rings. He says they will last the life of the truck, not just the tire, so the amortized cost is actually lower over vehicle life.

“If you don’t currently balance, or only balance the tire and wheel at installation, the direct cost is about the same as a set of our balancing rings,” he says. “When you consider the time and labor savings at installation and the reduced tread wear and reduction in driver complaints over the life of the truck, maybe four to 10 years, the savings are hard to ignore. And there’s fuel savings, too.”

Coolidge calculates that an out-of-balance wheel can sap up to 10 horsepower overcoming the additional tire flex and suspension motion.

Some fleets have said they don't want to use certain alternative balancing compounds for fear that they will adversely affect tire valves. However, products such as Equal come with a filtered valve core made of stainless steel screen to prevent any of the material from clogging the valve or preventing it from sealing properly.

Bob Fogal Jr., president and CEO of International Marketing Inc. (IMI), which manufactures Equal, says tires are assets that need to be managed, and fleets should be taking advantage of every tool at their disposal to get the best value from their tires.

"Aside from providing cradle-to grave tire balance on every new tire, Equal provides vibration dampening inside the tire as well, which helps absorb some of the impact on the tread face as the tire rotates," he says.

"We all know that as a tire wears it becomes more fuel efficient, so it's a shame to pull a tire prematurely because the tread has worn irregularly. Keeping tire and wheel assemblies properly balanced provides the maximum miles to take off, thus ensuring the more fuel economy from a tire when it's at it's most efficient."

Once the balancing compound is installed, it will continuously balance the tire, regardless of the tread condition, and that combined with tire pressure management or automatic inflations systems will help prolong tire life and ensure even wear down to the final few thirty-seconds of an inch of tread.

Lead weights are still available from distributors in states where lead bans have not been enacted, and so far, the EPA hasn’t signaled any intention to institute a nationwide ban, but producers and distributors are moving away from them.

Related Story: Why Balancing is Important

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  1. 1. Cliff Downing [ November 12, 2013 @ 05:17AM ]

    I have been sold on CounterAct balancing beads for a few years now. Tried Equal before, but it has the potential to gum up if moisture gets to it. Counteract is a fantastic product that eliminates the weights and having to recheck the wheel/tire assembly. Shouldn't take some states banning lead weights to sway some folks over to alternatives.

  2. 2. LD Meyer [ November 12, 2013 @ 07:59AM ]

    The design like Centramatics are the only practical way to go. The constant balancing extends tire and bearing life. Its been documented a set on the steering axle was transferred from one truck to another and had totaled up to 2 million miles and still going, they seem to last for ever. It appears they would pay for themselves in no time. The last pair I bought for the steering axle were only 90 bucks.(installed)

  3. 3. Ken Reilly [ November 12, 2013 @ 10:22AM ]

    Equal is junk, bottom line. The company I work for tried going the Equal route and we had all kinds of problems with it causing the valve stems to leak, even with the cores supplied by Equal. On medium to light vehicles you always had a vibration even a slight one at higway speeds. Cntra rings work ok but they are not perfect.

  4. 4. Herman [ November 13, 2013 @ 03:21PM ]

    Tried the " ring n marbles" . They rust and get clogged with road grime . I like the liquid balance stuff on the steers but after the first repair it has to be replaced and it fogs-up the crossfire pressure monitors...we can go to the moon but can't design good money in that.

  5. 5. David Drown [ November 14, 2013 @ 08:51AM ]

    After 31 years with a major a tire manufacture, I have heard a lot about not having to balance today's quality built tires. I totally agree with this article and the fact that new tires may not require balancing. But once they are put into service and begin to wear, they all benefit from being balanced. Internal balancing products, be it powders, beads or liquid are the best way to go for continuous balancing. One application for the life of the tire is all that is needed and that makes it economically feasible to maintain tire / wheel assembly balancing of all wheel positions. Each internal product offers it's own benefits. I suggest you look at to see the added benefits liquids have to offer


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