How do you mount and balance tires safely?

Mike Manges
Posted on May 12, 2009
Never remove the hood on a wheel balancer. “The hood is there to retain the tire should it come loose and to keep things from flying off,” says Hunter’s Meyer.
Never remove the hood on a wheel balancer. “The hood is there to retain the tire should it come loose and to keep things from flying off,” says Hunter’s Meyer.

Volumes have been written about how following proper mounting and balancing procedures will ensure optimal tire and wheel performance.

Ensuring operator safety during the mounting and balancing process is equally important — not just for your employees’ well-being but for the bottom line of your business, as well.

“As you move through the operational steps of mounting, there’s a ton of things (you can do) to maximize safety,” says Kevin Keefe, vice president of marketing for Hennessy Industries Inc.

The key is awareness. Here are 10 tips and concepts to keep in mind while mounting and balancing passenger and light truck tire and wheel assemblies. Adhering to these principles will keep your techs safe and healthy — and keep your workers’ comp claims down.

1. Inspect your machines. Inspect your mounting and balancing machines on a regular basis “and make sure you’re performing all the maintenance that’s required,” says Keefe. “You should be looking for any obvious air leaks and that all the operating parts are working correctly, from the bead loosening system to the tool arms.” The goal is to prevent surprises during operation. “We tell our customers to keep all the instructions with the unit. Make sure all the decals, labels and notices are clean and visible to the operator, especially around potential pinch points.” Operators should never attempt to over-ride a machine’s built-in safety features.

2. Use protective equipment. Make sure operators wear safety glasses, durable clothing, steel-toed shoes and other safety gear. “Anything hanging or loose-fitting should be avoided. You don’t want to get caught up in the moving parts of the equipment.” Keefe recommends wearing mechanics’ gloves, “especially if you’re handling worn tires or wheels.” Ear protection is important, as well. Getting into the habit of using protective equipment “is a function of the shop owner’s policies.”

3. Match tires to rims correctly. “Make it part of your standard operating procedure on every tire you service to look at the size of the new tire before mounting it. Make sure it’s the proper size for the wheel.” Mismatching tires and wheels can lead to injury during inflation. “With enough oomph, you can get a 16-inch tire on a 16.5-inch wheel and certainly a 16.5-inch tire will slide pretty easily onto a 16-inch rim.” Always verify tire and wheel sizing. “In a lot of shops, the tire tech is not the guy who’s pulling the tire from inventory.”

4. Examine the wheel closely. “Inspect it for cracks, rust or any other damage from curbing or a pothole, which can deform the rim.” Because seating can become difficult when working with a structurally compromised rim, operators may be tempted to use more air than is recommended, which can result in injury, according to Keefe. (He says most manufacturers recommend 40 psi).

5. Body positioning. When mounting, techs should keep their fingers away from the bead seat area to avoid injury. “The finger can be caught between the bead and the rim.” Furthermore, operators should avoid positioning any part of their bodies over the tire and rim assembly during the inflation process. Keefe says Hennessy offers a device called an Inflation Guard that’s an option on all of its rim clamp machines. “It’s almost like a little fence that the operator stands behind.”

6. Don’t loosen beads before the tire has been fully deflated. “This causes a lot of movement against the bumper and excessive wear on the machine. You can have a blast of air that the tech isn’t expecting and that can certainly cause the wheel to jump.” Don’t smoke while loosening beads either. Tires can contain flammable substances. “You don’t know what will come out of that tire,” says Keefe.

7. Don’t force the issue when mounting. “If you can’t seat a bead, something’s wrong. Deflate the tire completely, inspect the tire and the wheel, and re-lubricate both beads. If you take it apart and don’t find any problems and still can’t get it to seat, you need to think about contacting the manufacturers.”

8. Never remove the hood on a wheel balancer. “The hood is there to retain the tire should it come loose and keep things from flying off as the assembly is spinning,” says Greg Meyer, product manager for balancers, Hunter Engineering Co. Also make sure the assembly doesn’t fly off the shaft. “We have a wing nut that tightens the assembly on the balancer shaft,” Meyer explains. “We also have an auto-clamp option.”

9. Use the right weights and apply them correctly. It may seem like a minor point, but an inattentive operator can run the risk of injuring himself by pounding on incorrectly sized wheel weights. Make sure you use the appropriate weights, says Meyer.

10. Slow down. Don’t let your machine operators skip steps in an effort to speed up the mounting and balancing process. No matter how busy your shop is, make sure they take the time to do the job correctly. “

When you look at the benefits of cutting corners to go faster, the saving are very minimal,” says Meyer.

“These machines are designed to run properly — whatever second or two you gain, it just isn’t worth it.”

How to protect your investment in equipment

For best results in both safety and performance, mounting and balancing machines — especially state-of-the-art models — must be kept in good working condition. Here are some mounting machine maintenance tips from Hennessy’s Keefe:

“All the tool arms — and anywhere there’s metal-to-metal joints or movement — should be cleaned with a vaporizing solvent and then lubricated with chassis grease. The table top, the clamps and all of your work surfaces should be wiped off with a vaporizing solvent once a month.

“You should inspect the clamps, looking for any worn or damaged grips.

“Check the tire pressure gauge function daily and check its accuracy monthly. The gauges in our machines are adjustable. We recommend checking the function of the pressure limiter on a weekly basis. You also want to check your oil level weekly.

“And on a daily basis, before you get going, inspect and make sure all of your systems are operating normally.”

There’s less to check for on balancers thanks to fewer moving parts, according to Keefe.
“Keep the display clean and clear. Wipe the display down with a damp cloth. You want to keep your adaptors and cones clean.”

In a high volume shop, a good mounting machine, if maintained properly, can last up to five years, while a balancer can last up to seven years, says Keefe. “What we normally see is more like seven years for a changer and 10 years for a balancer.

“Maintenance is inextricably tied to safety. It’s almost a precursor to safety. If you don’t maintain your equipment, any safety initiative you undertake will most likely be for naught.” ■

Related Topics: Tire balancing, Tire mounting, tire service

Mike Manges Senior Editor
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