Wheel weight debate?

April 21, 2010

European wheel weights have been lead-free since 2005. Japan and South Korea are trying to follow suit. The United States is phasing out lead weights state by state.

The Environmental Protection Agency has started a National Lead Free Wheel Weight initiative that it hopes will encourage “the transition from the use of lead for wheel weights to lead-free alternatives.”

Lead wheel weight manufacturers are aware of the trend, and are preparing for what they believe is inevitable, at least in the U.S. and Canada. Even J.M. Nault Inc., which does business as J.M. Nault Wheel Weights Manufacturing (www.jmnault.com), is on board, though reluctantly.

“I’m not convinced it’s the best way to go, but we’re doing what the industry does,” says Steve Godbout, co-owner, vice president and general manager. “By the fall, I will have steel wheel weights.”

Lead is denser than steel, and more pliable, which makes it almost the perfect material for wheel weights. However, lead is toxic.

“You have to look at the environmental issues,” says Godbout. “All we needed to do was make sure all the (lead) wheel weights were coated.” J.M. Nault powder coats 70% of its lead wheel weights.

“Lead was a much bigger deal in Europe,” says Robert Fogal Jr., CEO and president of International Marketing Inc. (IMI). “In the U.S., we found the lead-free message did not resonate with the U.S. audiences until late ‘08 and ‘09.”

IMI (www.imiproducts.com) introduced its XACTBalance lead-free adhesive wheel weights in 2005. They feature steel particles that move freely inside a thermoplastic shell.


New wheel weight alternatives

Wheel weights made of steel, zinc and polymer composite materials are more environmentally friendly than lead weights. They are readily available, especially for passenger and light truck tires.

Aside from California, where the non-lead legislation has already come into effect, the bulk of the transition to lead alternatives has been in consumer tires, according to Kevin Keefe, vice president of marketing for Hennessy Industries Inc. (www.greenwheelbalance.com).

“Now that there are economically viable, environmentally friendly lead-free weights for truck applications, we expect that we will see an acceleration in the movement to lead free weights among fleets and commercial tire dealers,” he says.

Hennessy recently launched a line of Bada steel wheel weights for truck tires.

The medium- and heavy-duty truck steel wheel weights are designed for trucks weighing more than three-quarters of a ton.

Like all Bada steel wheel weights, the new line of truck weights features the following:

• a special metallic coating that the company says enhances corrosion resistance;

• a patented clip-in-mass design “which puts the clip in the mass of the weight for superior fit.”

[PAGEBREAK]Hennessy also recently introduced several new styles of Bada steel Tape-A-Weights designed “to fit the needs of soft-line wheels that do not accept traditional clip-on weights” says the company.

Plombco Inc. (www.plombco.com) recently completed its full range of steel wheel weights with the addition of the LHFe weight, a style specific to Chrysler LLC vehicles. “It’s a specific contour for a rim flange Chrysler makes,” says Mark Aiken, vice president of sales.

Plombco began manufacturing steel weights nearly two years ago, and now has a full range of both steel and zinc alloy wheel weights.

The company also is selling a new steel adhesive weight at the same price as a lead weight “in order to promote a lead-free alternative in the marketplace,” says Aiken. “We’ve also developed a full series of lead-free, heavy-duty truck weights.” (Plombco supplies the zinc alloy weights to Navistar Inc. for its International trucks.)

The 3M Wheel Weight System (solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Automotive/OEM/Prod_Info/Catalog/Wheel_Weight) has a new look. The surface color of the adhesive weight has been changed to make it less noticeable on the wheel. “The lighter migration of color is going to allow it to be more aesthetically pleasing for the vehicle owner,” says Jeff Varjabedian, sales operation manager for the 3M Automotive Market Center.

The second generation weight is made of a highly flexible, conformable polymer composite material.


Earlier this year, Perfect Equipment Inc. (www.perfectequipment.com) began selling an uncoated zinc version of its P-series steel wheel weights. It has been very successful, says Scott Flynn, sales and marketing manager.

“All other non-lead wheel weights are coated. This series is very cost effective, making it an easier transition from lead to non-lead products.”

A one-half-ounce incremental adhesive steel weight will be introduced later this year.
Perfect Equipment sells steel, zinc and lead wheel weights.

Currently lead wheel weights make up the majority of the company’s sales, but Flynn says it will “adjust accordingly” over time.    ■

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.