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Tire Changer & Wheel Balancer Guide

Tire Changers

In many ways, tire changer machines are the most confusing pieces of equipment we sell. There are several features to consider and each brand seems to have their own jargon, which confuses things further. What follows is our attempt to simplify the discussion. We identify the features and offer our views on what tire changing machine we think you should have, depending on your type of business.

It's important to understand the steps involved with mounting/demounting a tire. As you move from the base tire changer machine to those with multiple assists and other features, what they are doing is making it less physical and adding the capability to handle specialty tires such as run flats and low profile. However, these features add complexity and are not necessary or a good fit for many shops.

1) Tower Type - Tilt-Back versus Rigid Column

Fixed Column

Ranger R980XR NextGen Tire Changer.The traditional and still most common tire changer machines are the rigid column. The tower is fixed, and the mount/demount head is on a swing arm. Advantages of a swing arm changer are that they have a smaller footprint in your shop and have fewer moving parts.

Tilt Back Column

Tilt back tower on tire changerWith the swing arm moving in from the side, it means the mount/demount head offset may need to be adjusted if you are changing a large variety of wheel sizes - i.e. the head needs to be more or less parallel to the rim. If you almost always stick with 15"-18" wheels, you probably would rarely need any adjustment. If the head needs to be adjusted, it is done manually by loosening a couple screws or the changer might have a quick change head, like on our R30XLT (optional on other models).

With a tilt-back, the mount/demount head is always where it needs to be, regardless of wheel size. On a tilt-back, the head is closer to the tower and there will be less flexing, and excessive flexing can lead to wheel damage.

 

2) Mount/Demount Head

Ranger NEXTGEN Tire Changer Mount and Demount HeadThe purpose of the mount/demount head is two fold. First, for demounting, the tool bar is leveraged on the head as you insert the bar under the tire and pull back on the tire bar to lift the bead up on to the mount/demount head. Then, as the turntable turns, the shape of the head forces the tire bead to lift off the wheel. Second, for mounting, the shape of the head guides the bead back onto the rim as the turntable turns.

Steel heads, with a tapered wheel to roll aroud the rim, are standard. These are fine for steel wheels, but for any aluminum wheel you must use optional polymer inserts or preferably switch out to a polymer mount/demount head. Both of these are wear items. All Ranger changers include both the steel and polymer mount/demount heads plus polymer inserts (except the R745 which has only the steel head and comes with polymer inserts).

R80DTXF Mounting HeadSome higher-end changers, like our R80DTXF, have a mount/demount head that eliminates the need for a tire bar. This "automatic bead lifter" is essentially a tire bar coming off the mount/demount head. This feature eliminates the potential damage from using a tire bar and a lot of effort.

3) Wheel Clamping

For each tire changer, an internal and external rim clamping capacity will always be provided. Internal clamping is where the jaws are fully collapsed, then expanded to clamp on the inside of the wheel. Internal clamping is easier and faster and can do a larger size wheel, but the teeth from the wheel clamp will leave a "dimple" on the inside of the wheel. Internal clamping is preferred for steel wheels but not recommended for aluminum wheels. Polymer clamp protection kits only protect wheels when using external clamping. External clamping is where the jaws are fully extended, then the wheel is clamped on the outside. This is recommended for aluminum wheels to avoid marking the wheel. Also, the polymer protection kits (included with all Ranger changers) are recommended.

R76ATR Adjustable Wheel ClampsAdjustable clamps are now pretty common. The image to the right shows some adjustable Ranger clamps...you can see how they have multi positions (except R745). These increase the range of the wheels you can handle. A newer feature is what Ranger refers to as "advanced clamp positioning". What this refers to is the ability to stop the clamps where you want, by taking foot off the pedal, rather than having them full cycle. This is a time saver.

4) Turntable Rotation Speed

Most commonly, turntables turn at a single speed only, which is about 6 RPM. Also available are variable speed motors, where speeds are controllable. The advantage is that you can go slow where you are mounting a difficult low profile or run-flat tire. Also, for easy tires, it is quicker. For our Ranger changers, the "F" denotes the variable speed models (note: requires 220V single-phase power). Something to confirm when choosing this feature is whether the turntable is true variable speed (Ranger) or just 2 speed as found on some competitors machines. Have a look at this video for an example:

5) Assists

This is where things can get confusing. Many features are covered here.

Rigid tower changers generally have a left-side assist tower. Because of the swing-arm on the right side, the assist-tower must go on the left. The tower has a pneumatic arm that controls what Ranger calls a "Travelling Drop Center Tool" and other brands might refer to as a Bead Pressing Tool or Robo-Arm, etc. The Drop Center Tool pushes the tire down into the drop center of the rim and travels with the tire as it rotates, during both mounting/demounting.

The tower will usually also have something that goes by different names, but is essentially a bead lifting disc. This operates off the same pneumatic controls, and is used to pull the lower bead up into the drop center, so that the tire can be removed.

Finally, the arm will have a centering cone, which centers the wheel and keeps it there while clamping. Ranger models R980AT and R980ATF are left-side assist.

For rigid tower changers, Ranger engineered an exclusive design that allows much of the functionality of having a left and right side assist, but at a much lower cost. Ranger models R980NXT and R30XLT are examples.

Basically, an arm comes off the tower, and this arm is pneumatic and holds the travelling drop center tool, an upper bead roller, and has an interchangeable centering cone / bead lifting disc. So, the extra feature is the upper bead roller and this is generally only avaliable on a tilt-back changer with both left and right assists. The upper bead roller is in a fixed position near the mount/demount head and holds the bead down during tire mount/demount. This is a very useful feature for low-profile and run-flat tires.

R980AT_Mounting_Tool_Tire_ChangerThis is a good place to mention a feature on the R980AT / R980ATF changers that does a decent job of simulating what the upper bead roller does. The mount/demount head has a roller attached to it that pushes down on the bead.

Ranger tire changer featuresOn tilt-back changers, if a single assist tower, it can be either a right-side or left-side tower. Ranger has chosen to put on the right as most users find it easier to use and it allows for an upper bead roller which is not possible if a left-side tower. Features on these towers generally include the travelling drop center, the upper bead roller, the centering cone and the bead lifting disc.

Finally, tilt-backs can come with both the right and left assist towers. Our Ranger R80DTXF is an example. The let-side assist tower has the travelling drop center, a bead lifting disc and the centering cone. The right-side tower has dual upper bead rollers, a lower lifting bead roller, and a second bead lifting disc.

A good way to understand these features is to watch the videos that are often provided for each changer. In our case, these are provided under the Videos tab for each item.

9) Air Blast

Air blastThe purpose of the air blast is to help seat the bead. Filling a tire through the valve stem will often not generate enough air to seat the bead, so the air just leaks out. The air blast provides a short burst of air to help seat the bead and prevent the air loss.

Commonly, the air blast is provided through holes in the jaws. Disadvantages of this are that these small holes don't provide the volume of air necessary and they seat the bottom bead, which gravity has essentially done for you.

CH-5AL_1Many users have purchased something like a Cheetah bead seater to work around this - see image.

Ranger NEXTGEN Tire Changer TurboBlast Bead SeaterRanger's solution is the Turbo Blast. Ranger changers have a large tank, either incorporated into tower or mounted to the back, that hold the air for use by the Turbo Blast only. The tank is connected via a large diameter hose to a non-marring nylon barrel that securely fits onto the edge of the rim. Then, you get a huge blast of air into the top bead.

The are many internal components in a tire changer, not often considered when purchasing, and their quality can make a huge difference to the reliability and life of the changer. Consider the following when comparing brands.

Ranger uses machined, die cast aluminum control valves for their foot pedals. They are rebuildable! Other brands may use cheaper plastic valves.

Ranger Foot Pedal - Die Cast Aluminum Competitor's Plastic Valves
Ranger NEXTGEN Tire Changer Rebuildable Control Valves

Ranger uses grease filled gear boxes vs other brands that use oil which are prone to leaks.

Ranger NEXTGEN Tire Changer Baffles

Linkages between the foot pedals and control valves vary. Ranger uses non-binding multi-link rod connections vs just a cheaper metal or plastic rod that bind or break.

Ranger - Non Binding Multilink Rod Connections Competitor's Rod Connections Prone to Breaking
Ranger NEXTGEN Tire Changer Foot Pedal Valves

So, now that we have an understanding of features, which tire changing machine is right for me? If you work on low-profile or run flats, we recommend a changer with at least one assist tower. To some extent, user preference for rigid column or tilt-back comes into play. If you prefer the tilt-back, check to make sure you have the foot print room. The variable speed models are faster which can be good, but they do require 220V power. This would be our preference as we like the extra control. Make sure the changer can handle the wheel sizes you require. Consider your budget.

Finally, why Ranger is a good choice? They have a pretty broad product line, including some innovative models like the R30XLT/R980NXT, which should allow you to find a model that fits your needs, without being overkill. Purchasing a more complex changer than you really need is a mistake. We believe the quality of the internal parts used by Ranger matches up well to those used by other top brands, but Ranger is more affordable. We like to look at warranty as an indicator of how much the manufacturer believes in their product.

Compare Warranties

Let's start with Ranger's warranty. It's pretty simple as all their tire equipment has the same warranty. An extract of their warranty is shown below. We really like that they provide on site warranty and freight charges for any warrantied parts.

Ranger Warranty AdvantageWHEEL SERVICE EQUIPMENT LIMITED WARRANTY

  • Two Years (24-Months) Warranty on equipment structure*
  • One Year (12-Months) Warranty on operating components
  • One Year (12-Months) Labor Warranty on site or at factory
  • One Year (12-Months) Free-Shipping** on ground‐freight charges related to warranty performance

*Equipment structure is defined as any non‐moving permanently affixed frame or main body, or sub‐structures that are non‐moving and permanently affixed or attached to any main equipment structure or frame.
**Free‐shipping applies to direct shipping points within the 48 continental United States. Rural area shipping surcharge may apply for remote addresses.
***For all Ranger brand tire changers, wheel balancers or brake lathes manufactured on or following 11/1/2011.

We have included extracts of some top competitors warranties for your comparison. We include links to the complete warranty for Ranger and the competitors noted below where available. We remind you these are guidelines only and subject to change at any time. Please ensure you contact the manufacturers for complete and current warranty information.

The various Snap-on brands - John Bean, Hofmann, Snap-on, Sun - seem to keep their warranty coverage to themselves. It seems that John Bean is commonly one year on parts and labour and Hofmann is 6 months on labour and travel, and one year on parts. We have not been able to secure the actual warranty documents for these brands, but check out the link - www.snaponequipment.com/productinfo/category.asp?category=wh. You can pull by brand and model and in some cases they indicate the warranty, and in others, no luck.

Please refer to the following for complete warranty information:

Wheel Balancers

As with tire changers, wheel balancers are available as inexpensive, entry level units up to much more expensive, technologically advanced machines. These are typically good profit makers in shops, but you should only invest in what you need. Identify your needs, and purchase accordingly.

Prior to balancing any wheel, specific data relating to the particular wheel must be entered into the computer. If the information captured does not match the wheel, the wheel cannot be balanced accurately. The three data requirements are Offset, Wheel Width and Wheel Diameter.

  • Offset is the distance from the side of ther balancer to the inner edge of the wheel.
  • Wheel Width is the width of the wheel at the inner edges.
  • Wheel Diameter is the diameter of the wheel at the rim flanges. This measurement is recorded on the tire sidewall when manufactured by the tire company.

Probably the most significant difference between balancers is how this information gets captured into the computer. An entry level balancer such as the Ranger DST2420 requires these measurements to be manually entered.

  • For the Offset, the user pulls the index arm from the side of the balancer and touches the edge of the wheel. The distance is noted and manually entered.
  • Wheel Width is distance is measured with calipers and the measurement again manually entered.
  • Finally, the Wheel Diameter is read off the sidewall and manually entered.

Clearly this manual entry would take longer than automatic entry. These entry level machines are great for general repair shops doing up to 12 or so balances per day. Watch the video for an example of capturing and inputting this data:

More expensive balancers have automatic data capture for all three of these data requirements. A unit such as the Ranger DST64T has an inner data arm and an outer "DataWand" that captures the offset, wheel diameter and wheel width with a single touch of each. All three settings are captured in less than 3 seconds. A balancer such as the DS64T will handle most wheels very nicely and is great for a tire shop.

There is really no limit to the sophistication and complexity available in balancers. For example, Hofmann has a balancer that uses non-contact laser technology with CCD cameras to automatically capture measurements. Pretty cool, but unecessary for most users and very expensive!

Some other considerations when purchasing a balancer:

Size of wheels you will be balancing - if you are balancing a lot of larger wheels - 18" to 30", spending a bit more to get a more accurate balancer is recommended. For example, the DST64T divides the wheel into twice as many sections as the DST-2420.

Will you be balancing wheels needing stick on weights? - An entry level unit like the DST-2420 can do this, but it may require more than one spin. If you need to do this often, you should upgrade to a unit comparable to the DST64T. The inner data arm will tell you exactly where the weights need to placed on the wheel.

Will you need to place stick on wheel weights behind the wheel spoke? - an entry level unit such as the DST-2420 does not have this capability.

Need to balance ¾ ton and four-wheel drive vehicles with large center holes? - makes sure you add an optional light truck adapter set.

As always, our knowledgeable staff are available to help you to choose the right product for your needs - click on the "Live Help" button to the right or Contact Us by phone or email and we will be happy to help.

Also, please be aware that all comparisons to other brands, and other representations such as warranties, etc. are accurate to the best of our ability but are subject to change. They are intended as a guide and please consult directly with manufacturers' websites for the most current information.