We have all, at some point, felt that telltale vibration in our RC cars. You’re holding it, you hit the throttle, and along with the wheels turning, the whole car shakes a little bit in your hand. When this happens, chances are, you need to balance RC tires.
Here’s how to balance your RC tires, though you’ll repeat a few of them before you’re done:
- Mount the tire on the balancer.
- Spin the wheel.
- Pay attention to what it does when it stops.
- Apply your tape or putty at the top of the wheel.
- Spin again.
Tools are available for this specific task, and while it does take some doing to get your tires in balance, the benefits will have made it worth your time. An unbalanced wheel can add fractions of a second to your times, so there’s no good reason not to fix this problem when it arises.
Why RC Tires Need Balancing?
Chances are the RC tires you just bought and have only seconds ago opened up are unbalanced, and you haven’t even run them through one lap around the track. They may not be terribly out of balance, but they still need attention, or you won’t get the best possible performance out of them.
Maybe you’ve even bought new tires, put them on, and decided, “Well, I don’t get what the big deal is. These aren’t doing much more for me than the old ones.” They’re probably out of balance, but you didn’t know any better back then. After all, you were just a kid. Or a younger grown-up than you are now.
RC tires need balancing for the same reason your actual car’s tires need it– when there’s excess weight on one side of a wheel, that wheel does not spin perfectly. In your Ford F-150 pickup, a tiny imbalance will go largely unnoticed. But on the smaller scale of the world where your RC car lives, you’ll notice. And soon.
When your tires wobble from being out of balance, the energy from that wobble has to go somewhere, which is why you can feel the car shake– it comes from the energy being disseminated from the wobbly tire to the rest of the car. This will, at the very least, put added stress on your vehicle and its components.
Added stress to the bearings will shorten their lives, so on one level, if you don’t balance your tires, it’ll eventually cost you money. Also, balanced tires will last longer, as they’ll wear uniformly, meaning there will be more time between purchasing new tires.
Tire Ballooning is not Balancing Issue
It should be noted here that if you’re dealing with tire ballooning— where your tire begins to lose its shape at high RPMs, that’s not a balancing issue. Nearly every RC driver has dealt with this issue, which can lower the car’s grip on the racing surface at best and lead to a blowout at the worst.
Addressing this issue involves taping the tire and, again, won’t be solved by balancing your tires. For an illuminating demonstration on what a ballooning tire looks like and how to deal with it, watch this YouTube video of Dave by RC Patrol:
Video of the actual ballooning starts at about the 1:30 mark, and Dave (Mr. RC Patrol) shows the application of a solution starting at 2:45.
Of course, since the process involves adding tape to the tires, it’s more than a safe bet that once you’ve remedied the ballooning problem, the tire will be out of balance, so you’ll need to take care of that after you’ve reassembled your car’s wheels.
What equipment to use to Balance Tires?
At its most basic, the act of balancing tires (on RC cars or full-size automobiles) comes down to two things: discover where the extra weight is located, then balance it out with an added weight in an oppositional spot on the wheel.
When it comes to RC tires, we’re talking about small, light pieces of equipment, so the word “weight” can be misleading, whether referring to the extra weight on the tire or the stuff we’re adding. None of these weights are heavy in any sense of the word.
As mentioned above, your out-of-balance tires just out of the package were not perfectly formed during their manufacture. That’s not the end of the world and doesn’t indicate poor quality. But it does need to be addressed.
Similar uneven weight distribution comes into play once you’ve put a few miles on your RC car’s wheels. Because of friction and physics, microscopic pieces of your car’s wheels will get shed as they speed across any racing surface. They won’t shed those pieces symmetrically, so you’ll eventually find that one area of the wheel will be lighter than another because it has lost a little bit more material in that spot.
1. Use Putty or Tape (and What I Prefer)
Some racers prefer to use putty or clay to balance their wheels, and while this is a personal preference issue, either one works. The other major choice for balancing is lead tape.
I found some Racer’s Edge Wheel Balancing Putty available on Amazon.com. It’s inexpensive, specifically made for this exact kind of job, and it works well. In a pinch, your kid’s Crayola Air-Dry Clay (available on Amazon.com) will do the very same thing.
By adding a little clay to the light spot on the wheel (finding that light spot is something we’ll get to in a bit), it balances out against its heavier opposite side. Also, if your tire sports any dings or gouges, clay or putty is the best way to fill those in
On the other hand lead tape is a cleaner solution with a much easier trial-and-error process, at least in my opinion. Golfers use lead tape to balance out their golf clubs in search of an optimal swing, and the tape essentially performs the same job here. Find the light spot and add a little strip of lead tape, and your wheel is balanced.
Okay, so it’s not quite that easy, but it’s easier than molding the clay, discovering that you didn’t use enough, molding some more onto the same spot, realizing that now there’s too much, and on and on. Lead tape lets you stick a piece on, pull it off, add a long strip, whatever. Unique Sports offers a roll for a single-figure dollar amount.
2. Use a Tire Balancer
There are many brands of tire balancers out there, but basically, it’s a stand that holds your wheel while letting it spin freely.
By spinning it and letting it stop on its own, you can discover where the wheel is unbalanced, apply your tape or putty to fix the issue, and then you have a balanced tire. We’ll talk about specific models in a bit, but now it’s time for the how-to.
How To Balance RC Tires?
Now that you know your tires are out of balance and that you need to fix the problem, and you have an idea of the materials needed, here are the steps:
1. Mount the Tire on the Balancer
Most tire balancers have adapters to accommodate many different scales or tires, but the most important thing here is that the balancer must be perfectly level. If it isn’t, you can’t precisely balance the tires. Ever. The Yan He High Precision Level Bubble is perfect for this job, and it comes with a magnetic strip to hold it in place.
2. Spin the Wheel
Just give it a small spin- no need to Price Is Right it. All you need to do is get it rotating quickly enough that it’ll go through a couple of rotations on its own before beginning to slow, then stop on its own (it’s the stop, not the spin, that we’re actually concerned about).
3. Pay Attention to What It Does When It Stops
An out-of-balance tire will rock back and forth at the end of its spin before finally coming to rest. When you see this behavior, you know you need to balance. On the off chance you didn’t get any rocking, skip steps four and five. Also congratulate yourself, because that never happens.
4. Apply Your Tape or Putty at the Top of the Wheel
Your tire stopped where it did because gravity pulled the heavier place as low as it could. Directly opposite that spot is where you’re going to counterbalance this weight by placing a piece of tape or a small dab of putty there.
NOTE: here’s only a smidge of weight in a piece of tape, so we’re not talking about huge shifts in weight. Also, if you’re using putty, keep in mind how little the tape would weigh and then don’t use some giant glob of putty.
5. Spin Again
Repeat this process until you can spin the tire and it comes to a smooth stop with no rocking. When you added the weight, the heavy spot sat at six o’clock and you added the weight at 12 o’clock. Your tire is perfectly balanced when the weight you added comes to rest at three or nine o’clock. Once you’ve achieved this, you’ve got a balanced tire, and have three more to do.
This isn’t a difficult task, but it can be tedious and time-consuming. It also takes concentration, so it’s not something you want to try to get done while you’re watching television. You’ll need to keep your eyes on the spinning tire as it comes to rest.
You can balance your tires without a balancer, but that process involves lots of driving your car and lots of holding the car while its wheels spin in an effort to find the out-of-balance tire. We’re talking orders of magnitude more trial and error, so the balancer is worth the investment.
Tire Balancers I Like
Diagnosing the problem of unbalanced tires is easy– partly because you know that your tires are probably out of balance now– and fixing it is something you can do yourself because there are tools for that.
Sadly, the free-standing balancers are getting more and more rare for reasons I don’t totally understand. They aren’t especially bulky, and they give a much more accurate balance than using a handheld tool, which we’ll look at shortly, but first, back to what’s apparently becoming an old-school tire balancer.
There are several versions of the Integy RC Tire Balancer available on Amazon.com, and this is a good, solid tool. Its base allows for a good, solid posture, allowing you to be certain it’s perfectly level. Again, I’ll repeat here that a perfectly level tool is crucial to ensuring that your wheels get balanced.
The Integy unit is available in several different colors, which may be important to some users. Maybe you want your tools to match your car, but at any rate, you have choices. What I like about this unit is the mechanism that holds the balancing shaft in place.
To get the freest spin from your wheel, you need as little friction involved in the process as possible. Integy uses magnets to hold the shaft in place, drastically reducing the friction from something like a shaft resting in a groove or hole in the body of the tool.
This magnet construction eliminates the need for lubricant, which some RC enthusiasts use on the shaft of their balancers to eliminate friction at the connecting point.
The Integy unit’s balancing shaft itself is 4 mm (0.16 in) thick, and the balancer can accommodate wheels up to 100 mm (3.94 in), so this will work for tires from multiple scales.
- Free-standing unit allows for better balancing results
- Magnetic construction means no friction
- As a bigger unit than the handheld versions, Integy’s tool feels more solid, which I like
- Not as portable as a handheld model
- Pricey for an RC car tool
By the way, if you’re using a non-magnetic unit like this one and need lubricant for it, go the dry lube route, as it’s cleaner– something as simple as the Finish Line Dry Bike Lubricant (available on Amazon.com). There’s no reason to get grease and muck dripping all over the place when this invention is available.
Handheld balancing tools like this one fit in the palm of your hand. Associated has given us a nice and portable tool, meaning you can easily take it to the track, but it won’t be as precise as a free-standing unit.
However, as these are becoming more and more the norm in the RC world, this unit warrants a look. The only difference in the above instructions when it comes to using a handheld unit is that you won’t need anything like a bubble level, but you’ll have to be sure to hold the balancer as level as you can to get the best imbalance diagnosis possible.
- Portability is second-to-none
- By not requiring leveling, set-up is nearly instantaneous
- Will never, ever be as accurate as a free-standing unit
- Doesn’t feel like a the most solid piece of equipment ever made
You can see this unit in action (and see a good demonstration of the mechanics of balancing your RC car’s tires) starting at the two-minute mark in the YouTube video below:
Balance, Don’t Replace
When your tires have become extra wobbly, you may be tempted to just run down to the hobby shop. Sure, tires aren’t likely to cost you more than twenty bucks or so, but if you’re racing your RC car regularly, prevailing wisdom says you should replace them every three months, so replacing unbalanced tires when they’re only a month old seems wasteful.
Also, a tire balancer isn’t going to cost much more than a set of new tires, so if the purchase of one tool can keep you from having to buy more things more often, why wouldn’t you use it?
And for those of you thinking, “But I’m not mechanically inclined,” I say these things:
- You’re at least a little mechanically inclined because you are into RC cars.
- One look at those instructions above will tell you that balancing tires is not difficult.
Investment in Tools Is Worth It
There’s no substitute for having the right tool for the right job, so take the time to learn what tools you need, invest in them, and bask in the reward of being able to fix things as needed and do so well.
If you’re into RC cars and racing them, you need a tire balancer, and whether you opt for a standing unit or a handheld version doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have something to help you balance your tires.
If you’re eleven years old and driving your car on your neighborhood sidewalks, balancing tires may be a little overkill. It may be over your head. In your case, no, a balancer probably isn’t something you’ll die without.
Adult RC, though, is a little more serious. If you’re racing, you’re after every sliver of time you can shave off your laps, and an out-of-balance tire can cost you. In a racing scenario, even a few hundredths of a second can be the difference between winning and losing.
You selected the car you wanted, you may have tricked it out this way or that way, and you’ve gone to the trouble to tinker with elements of your racer to make it better. Why wouldn’t tire balancing be part of that?
While this can be a time-consuming undertaking, can we all admit that we spend lots of time on our cars, anyway? So this is no different from any other work you might do on your RC car, other than the fact that a lot of people don’t bother with it. Those who do, though, quickly recognize the benefits of balancing those tires.