I had a leaky tire, so I took it in to be checked for a puncture. The guy found no puncture but found it was leaking air where this clip met the tire:

enter image description here

That clip had been there since I bought the car, I never really paid it any heed. The tire guy had limited English, he got across that he strongly thought I should remove it and that it was causing the leak, but couldn't explain why it was there in the first place.

To show what they look like before removal, there's what looks like one more still on a non-leaky wheel, but it's a bit smaller:

enter image description here

Some image search suggests these might be called "Metal Clip Tire Rim Wheel Balance Weights" but I can't find a good explanation of what they're for, or how I'd go about figuring out if I need them, which wheels need them where, etc.

I've removed it, and the tire seems to no longer leak, but I don't like removing things without understanding why they might have been there in the first place! What's the benefit of adding these to a wheel?

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    If your tire guy recommends that these should be removed and couldn't explain what they are for, I would find a new tire guy. – KevinDTimm Dec 8 '16 at 18:17
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    @user568458 I guess it depends on where exactly you live, but even in very primitive environments it should be possible to find someone with access to an old fashioned "bubble balancer" like this. It sounds like you might want to look for a different tire guy! That said, it used to be pretty common to skip balancing rear wheels on heavy trucks, as the vibration from the front is much more noticable through the steering wheel. Maybe you should switch the affected wheel to the rear, if it is not already? – jkf Dec 8 '16 at 18:54
  • Ditto what Kevin said above, after a facepalm. – Martin Argerami Dec 9 '16 at 2:52
  • Oh my god. Kids these days. – Jamie Hanrahan Dec 9 '16 at 12:05
up vote 38 down vote accepted

They are exactly what you stated: wheel weights. They are used to balance the tire so when you are going down the road you don't get an out of balance condition. These are VERY important for several reasons.

  • Ride Comfort: If a wheel/tire is not balanced correctly, it will cause a vibration through the vehicle which is really unnerving as you drive.
  • Safety: With a wheel being out of balance and causing the vibration, your tire may not maintain constant contact with the road (yes, they can bounce that much). This can become problematic during the need to brake and corner, plus the basic control of the vehicle suffers.
  • Vehicle Wear: When a tire is out of balance and is vibrating, there becomes an issue with wear on the suspension components which do their best to dampen the vibration. Since the vibration is unnatural, this causes extra wear on the shock/strut, suspension bushings, steering components, tire and other things.

As pointed out, those little weights are important. While it may have been causing the slow leak, the real fix should be to re-seat the tire on the rim and then re-balance it.

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    It is a mixture of tire/wheel imbalance they are correcting for ... if you've had a tire changed, they absolutely have done the wheel balancing. Consider it a given for them to do the work even though it costs you extra for it. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Dec 8 '16 at 14:03
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    My apologies ... I'm assuming the States. They look at it as an opportunity to make more money (I mean besides the fact it's actually needed), so it's a given. They'd look at you as though you were daft if you told them not to balance the tires. Then you'd think yourself daft once you'd driven on the tires at speed. It would be NUTS! :o) – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Dec 8 '16 at 14:31
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    @user568458 The weights compensate for imbalance of whole rim-tire system. It should be rebalanced after any part of the system is changed, eg swapping tires or hitting a curb or a hole hard (which deforms the rim) or installing/removing covers. Or after events that might have disturbed the weights themselves, like driving hard on uneven surface, driving through deep snow/mud. Or once per year at least, just to be safe. Balancing is not very important in vehicles that never drive fast, like tractors or off-road. BTW, for alu rims the glued on weights are preferred, at least in Europe. – Agent_L Dec 8 '16 at 15:58
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    @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Ordinarily you would think that wheel balancing would be a given when getting tires changed, but under the circumstances, if the OP's "tire guy" didn't seem to understand what the wheel weight was for, them maybe not, in his case. – shoover Dec 8 '16 at 16:58
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    @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 "if you've had a tire changed, they absolutely have done the wheel balancing." Not where this guy works .... youtube.com/watch?v=FeBOfD7R2G8. (Hey, working in flip-flops can be dangerous - but bare feet are safe enough.) – alephzero Dec 9 '16 at 3:52

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