I didn't really expect there would be an iPhone app that would tell me if my new set of winter tires/wheels were out of balance. But I searched anyway. And there was!
So I'm really happy that I spent a whole 99 cents to buy the app. Here's why I needed it.
I bought a 2017 GTI last November, a great car that I'm super pleased with. It came with quasi-performance all season tires. Since we live in rural south Salem, Oregon, and have a steep driveway, I decided to get some performance winter tires for the GTI -- which I'd also had for the 2011 Mini Cooper S that I owned previously.
After researching tires via TireRack and reading a bunch of reviews, I settled on a set of Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 tires. I chose to order them through a local tire store, Les Schwab, because they have excellent customer service and have treated me really well over the years.
(If you ever buy tires from Les Schwab, which I had a few times, they will do mounted winter tire changeovers for free even if the tires were bought from TireRack, which I also have done a few times. So I figured it was time to reward Les Schwab with a purchase of the Michelins, even though I had to pay more than the TireRack price.)
I picked out some winter wheels, so after the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4's arrived and were mounted/balanced, I figured I was all set.
Except, as soon as I drove off from the Les Schwab store I could feel that something wasn't right with my GTI. I've driven on numerous sets of winter tires, various types of Blizzaks. I knew that winter tires make a car handle a bit differently, but I'd never experienced an almost-constant vibration.
Plus, I could tell that just as the reviews I'd read had said, the Michelins were indeed performance winter tires. The GTI cornered almost as well with the Michelins as with the OEM all-season tires.
But I kept thinking, "Is the vibration really a problem, or is it a quirk of the new tires?" Some Googling led me to a few discussion groups where people had the same question. Like this guy:
I had the tires balanced when they were first mounted, then balanced a second time when I thought something was wrong. I just came back from driving around the highway to see if I found any pattern and it doesn't seem to be super consistent. It's just kind of...bouncy but It's so subtle I think I'm imagining it half the time. It think it might just be the winter tires being a little less smooth than the stock F1s. If there were a wheel issue I'm going to guess any vibrations would be much more pronounced. I might just need to get out of my own head...
That was when I had the bright idea of searching for a wheel balance app. Which got me to trying out WheelCheck. Here's a screen shots of one of my first WheelCheck results.
The green bar on the left side shows that the WheelCheck app got enough data to make a valid vibration assessment at that speed. I simply laid my iPhone flat on the GTI dashboard and drove at varying speeds for about 20 minutes. (I also could have put the phone in a cupholder.) The white rectangles indicate vibration at various frequencies (higher speed, higher frequency).
Thus the diagonal line of white/light grey bars showed that, indeed, my GTI had some vibration problems. The WheelCheck guys in Germany confirmed this after I emailed them a photo of the results and asked for their reaction.
Reassured that I wasn't imagining the problem, I took my car back to Les Schwab. At this point there was some miscommunication, since the manager guy who had sold me the tires/wheels later told me that the employee who rebalanced the tires should have done some other things also.
After the employee rebalanced the tires, and informed me that two had been out of balance, I figured the problem was fixed.
Except I still felt some vibrations, just not as bad. Now there wasn't much, or any, vibration in the steering wheel at freeway speeds (symptom of an unbalanced front tire), but I could still feel a rhythmic vibration in my butt/back (symptom of an unbalanced rear tire).
Here's a WheelCheck screenshot of a test after the Michelins were rebalanced.
This result was better, but still not perfect. I was both feeling a vibration, and WheelCheck was showing some moderate vibration. Curious, I did a WheelCheck run on our Toyota Highlander.
No discernible diagonal vibration line, which is the mark of a car with properly balanced tires. So back I went to Les Schwab. This time the manager-guy handled the work. He put on some hub rings, which solved the vibration problem.
We've gotten quite a bit of snow and ice this winter, and a lengthy spell of freezing temperature, so I'm glad I bought the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 tires. The more I drive with them, the more I like them. As I said before, my GTI handles almost as well with these performance winter tires as with the all-season tires. And I feel way more comfortable driving around in cold wintry weather with the Michelins.
So the story of my new tires/wheels ends happily.
The WheelCheck app helped with this. It gave me confidence that I wasn't imagining the vibration and provided a quantitative visual way of assessing the degree my tires were unbalanced, along with how well the hub rings fixed the problem. Well worth 99 cents.
Here's their ad. In German.