The question of whether or not to balance your trailer tires is a contentious one within the trailering community. Some trailer owners swear by balancing their trailer tires; others see it as an expensive waste of money. Some service technicians insist on it even as many manufacturers don’t necessarily recommend it.
So who’s right? Well, before we go pointing fingers, it’s worth taking a step back and recalling why we balance tires, the differences between trailer tires and automotive tires, and how the type of cargo and trailer will ultimately impact your decision. To make this easier, we’ve cut through the noise and compiled everything you need to know about balancing your trailer tires right here.
What is Tire Balancing?
Simply put, tire balancing is an effort to evenly distribute the weight of the vehicle around the circumference of the tire.1 If one portion of the tire is supporting more or less weight than any other portion, the shape of the tire will slightly deform. At high speeds, this imperfectly round tire – which is so subtly imperfect as to be visually imperceptible – will make itself known through a variety of telltale symptoms. If you’ve ever ridden down the highway in a car that couldn’t stop vibrating, trembling, or buzzing about, you know firsthand the effects of imbalanced tires.2
These same symptoms can plague trailers whose tires haven’t been balanced, but they are much less noticeable from behind the wheel of your tow rig. That doesn’t mean all is well inside the trailer, however. If the trailer tires are imbalanced, unsecured cargo is more likely to be damaged or tossed about. The suspension components of the trailer will also be subject to undue stress, especially at highway speeds.
Benefits of Balancing Trailer Tires
By balancing your trailer tires, you’ll even out the weight distribution and eliminate any vibrations that may be affecting your trailer. A smoother-riding trailer will feel more stable at speed, which in turn makes for safer and more confident towing.3 The added stability might not make much difference with a simple utility trailer but is particularly important for those trailering horses, livestock, or other fragile and valuable cargo.
Proper balancing also improves the lifespan of tires. Imbalanced tires wear unevenly and ultimately result in something called cupping – a scalloped wear pattern featuring alternating high and low spots along the tread.4 Left unchecked, cupped tires eventually cause severe vibration at speed and will require premature replacement.
Drawbacks of Balancing Trailer Tires
Balancing your trailer tires is only beneficial for your trailer, but it isn’t the easiest process. Done improperly, it may not bring any benefit at all. Much of this has to do with the construction and design of trailer wheels and tires.
Unlike on a car, where the weight of the vehicle is supported by the wheels via a central hub, trailer wheels use their lugs to shoulder the weight of the trailer. This lug-centric design is not compatible with the tire-balancing machines in use at most tire centers, which are intended for the hub-centric wheels used in automobiles. To properly balance a trailer tire using a conventional tire-balancing machine, a special pin-plate adapter must be used. Balancing trailer tires based on the lugs is crucial to getting a true balance.
It’s worth noting that because many trailer and RV owners don’t balance their trailer tires, these adapter plates are not commonplace in service centers. You may have to call around in order to find a business equipped to properly service your tires.
Even if you find a shop that has the skills and equipment to balance your trailer tires, the trailer wheels may not be cooperative. The crude galvanized steel wheels fitted to most trailers often leave the factory with enough flaws from the galvanizing process to resist proper balancing even when used with the correct adapter. They may be so bad that it might make more sense to buy new trailer wheels.
So, Should I Balance My Trailer Tires or Not?
A smoother ride may all be well and good for someone’s prized Clydesdales, but if the only horse you’re towing is a ratty Mustang to the local track, you might be thinking twice about balancing your trailer tires. In that case – or for anyone towing very locally or very occasionally – you can get away without balancing your trailer tires. Your trailer will still be subject to the harsher ride and uneven tread wear prompted by imbalanced tires, but odds are the tires will dry rot before any serious consequences come to pass.
Anyone who tows serious weight or racks up the miles on their trailer would do well to balance their tires. The resulting smoother ride will reduce stress on the trailer’s suspension components, stabilize the trailer at high speeds, and evenly wear out tire tread. Together, all these factors will lengthen the life of your trailer tires – and better protect your cargo.
For more information on whether you should balance your trailer tires, check out this article by the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers. It offers an authoritative take on the points illustrated here.
How Often Should I Balance my Trailer Tires?
This isn’t something you need to do every season. Generally, trailer tires should be replaced when they are five or six years old, sooner if you tow frequently. Because trailer tires don’t come balanced from the factory – or, if buying used, you aren’t sure if the previous owner balanced the tires – we would recommend getting them balanced right away.
After an initial balancing, keep an eye on how the trailer feels while towing or how cargo holds up after a long trip. Are drawers and cabinets in your camper always open when you arrive at camp? Are the horses suddenly becoming more agitated than usual during transport? When you glance in the rearview, does the trailer look like it isn’t riding smoothly? Keep an eye out for these sorts of details, and balance as necessary. For typical owners, this probably means one additional balance before replacing the tires due to age.
Despite what some might say, it’s worth the time and money to seek out a tire shop that can properly balance your trailer tires. The toys or tools you’re hauling are worth serious coin: why try to save a few bucks by skipping on tire maintenance? The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, and the peace of mind from knowing that your trailer is properly balanced and riding smoothly is well worth the hassle of finding a credible tire shop that can correctly service your trailer tires.
Skip balancing if the extent of your towing is pulling a dolly to the dump every few weeks. Otherwise, make the investment and balance your trailer tires. Your RV or boat will thank you.
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Evans Tire. Tire Balancing: What You Need to Know. Evanstire.com. Published August 19, 2020. Accessed April 20, 2021.
- Fix Auto USA. How Unbalanced Tires Can Affect Driver Safety. Fixautousa.com. Published August 7, 2020. Accessed April 20, 2021.
- Les Schwab Tire Center. Trailer and Tire Do’s and Don’ts: Answers to Common Questions. Lessschwab.com. Accessed April 20, 2021.
- Bridgestone Tire. Tire Cupping: Causes, Problems, and Prevention. Bridgestonetire.com. Accessed April 20, 2021.