Monday, May 20, 2024

Does investing in tire mounting and balancing equipment actually save money?

If you spend any time on track, then you know you’re going to go through tires at an accelerated pace. It just comes with the territory. And the expense of mounting and balancing those additional tires starts to add up.

In our case, we’d been paying a local tire chain about $130 to mount and balance a set of tires. We always got great service, but we still had to take the time to load up the wheels and tires, drive them to the shop, head home to wait, and then, finally, fetch the tires when they were ready.

We also noticed we were missing opportunities in the name of frugality. While $130 doesn’t seem like a lot of money, multiple expenditures of $130 add up quickly. Plus, we noticed that it becomes easy to not mount a set of tires when we probably should for testing, competition, or just a track day when we’re trying to produce consistent editorial. So that $130 you think you’re saving is a false economy, as it results in inconsistent results and frustration.

Obviously, we know our situation as a motorsports magazine is unique, but we have plenty of “civilian” friends who run two or three track days a month and go through even more tires than we do. This problem is not particular to our experience.

So we decided to explore our options for DIY mounting and balancing. The result was a set of BendPak mounting and balancing machines delivered to our shop: the R980AT mounting machine, featuring a single assist tower and swing-arm mounting head, along with a DST-2420 balancer.

The Practical Realities

Want to mount and balance your own tires? First, you’ll need some space. Each machine needs a good couple of feet on each side to operate comfortably, and a bit of a standoff from a back wall is handy as well.

Next, you’ll need power. Both machines run on 220V from a 30-amp service.

You’ll also need a good, dry compressed air source. Dry is a key word here. The mounting machine has a moisture separator built into its air inlet, but we added another one at the air source to further combat our dense, humid Florida air.

The mounting machine is extraordinarily heavy. The floor of your shop isn’t so much holding it up as the machine is holding down the floor. You’ll need a flat, level concrete surface and some help-human or mechanical-to unload the machine from the crate. The balancer is easier to move but does require proper anchoring to a concrete floor.

Finally, you’ll need a few consumables, like wheel weights, valve stems and cores, lubricant for mounting tires, and a few specialized tools to deal with the aforementioned bits.

Mounting and Balancing 101

Operating a tire mounter takes some skill, but anyone comfortable doing basic maintenance on their own car should be able to get comfortable using this equipment.

We hadn’t mounted a tire since 1987, and the equipment was far less specialized back then, but the basic physics of the operation came back to us pretty quickly. Add in the more modern machinery, the absolutely invaluable assist arm, and a good online knowledge base with tips and suggestions, and you should be up and running in no time.

The best advice we can give you? Your first few mounts and dismounts should be on a set of wheels and tires that you absolutely don’t care about, as the machine has the power to destroy anything improperly positioned.

One recommendation that we hope you’ll absolutely take to heart is to spring for the assist arm option, particularly if you’re on the short side (5-foot-6 kings represent) or routinely mount wide tires that are difficult to wrap your arms around. Our R980AT came so equipped, and the assist arm is a mechanical third hand that takes a lot of the physical effort and awkward motion out of mounting. It makes difficult fitments reasonable and simple fitments downright easy.

The DST-2420 balancer, meanwhile, is simple and intuitive to operate. It can handle wheels up to 30 inches in diameter, so your donk friends have a place to go to shed the shimmies. The simple display and interface make setup and operation smooth and easy as well.

Let’s Do the Math

Before you say, “I saw a set of this equipment on Craigslist the other day from a shop that had been hit by a derailed train for $400,” allow us to justify our decision to spring for the new gear-$5280 for the mounter and then $2615 for the balancer. (Note that BendPak occasionally runs specials or has promotions, but we’ll use the full list price for our math.)

The machines come with pretty comprehensive starter kits, including an assortment of stick-on and clamp-on weights. Consumables for each tire-assuming you use a new valve stem and core each time you mount, which we don’t always do-usually run under a buck.

So that’s $7895 for two machines to perform a $130 service. Just on hard costs alone, that means the machines will pay for themselves with the 61st set of tires we mount-in well under two years at our rate. Then figure in the time and hassle savings plus the convenience of being able to mount and balance anything at any time, and the investment starts to seem very reasonable indeed. And yes, there is quality used equipment out there for less, but it doesn’t come with a warranty or a factory tech line.

The Ranger R980AT mounting machine’s assist arm greatly facilitates the process, while the brand’s balancer is easy to use.

For an individual who wants to purchase the equipment for their own use, certainly some of these costs could be offset in the form of favors, chicken wings, or beverages from friends who now have a buddy with tire mounting and balancing equipment. For clubs or small groups of people who want to go in together, the math gets even more economical.

We figure we’ve made plenty of other specialized tool and equipment purchases that didn’t offer this kind of usefulness or payback. If you’ve been on the fence about adding equipment like this to your own shop-and you have the infrastructure, budget and space to support it-our experience is showing that this gear is an extremely useful addition.

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