• What Are Tie Rods and When to Have Them Replaced

    Steering is an important part of any vehicle. If you can’t steer, chances are you aren’t going to get very far. That’s because every time you use your steering wheel, you’re engaging the tie rods on your car or truck. Whether you’re turning left, right, or going straight, the tie rods help you stay in control of your vehicle. Here are some tips to help you keep an eye (and ear) on your vehicle’s tie rod ends.

    Tie Rod Basics

    In many vehicles, tie rods connect your steering gear to the steering knuckle. Tie rods are an integral part of your vehicle’s steering system that if worn can cause tire wear and handling problems. That’s why a visual inspection can be worthwhile.

    Rack & Pinion steering on a car.

    Symptoms Your Tie Rods are Failing

    Before your tie rods wear out, you’ll likely see, feel, or hear some of these symptoms.

    • Steering wheel wandering. You might notice some ‘play’ in your steering wheel. In other words, if you feel a bit out of control, you may want to have your front-end parts checked, including your tie rod ends.
    • Unusual and uneven tire wear. Look at the tread of your tires for uneven wear. This could simply mean your vehicle is out of alignment, but could also indicate loose tie rods that should be addressed before doing an alignment.
    • Strange sounds. In some cases, if you hear quick, sharp sounds or thuds from your front wheels as you turn, you might consider having things checked out.

    Get Your Free Inspection

    The pros at your local Les Schwab can perform a free visual inspection of your steering and suspension components. All to help you decide if your vehicle needs an alignment or if your tie rods, or other steering and suspension components are worn.

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  • What Causes Brake Lock-Up

    The brakes on your vehicle are certainly one of its most important safety features. So, when they apply on their own or lock up when you need them most, it can be both dangerous and send your heart racing. Here’s why some brakes lock up and what to do if it happens to you.

    Why Brakes Lock Up

    There is a long list of reasons that one or all of the brakes on your vehicle might lock up. These can include an overheated braking system, using the wrong brake fluid, damaged or broken parts (calipers, brake pads, pistons, rotors, or others), a defective ABS component, broken parking brake, and more.

    While diagnosing a brake issue is important, nothing else matters in the moment when you’re dealing with a lock-up. When your brakes lock up, it often boils down to two scenarios: locking up when you least expect it (and have not applied pressure to the brake pedal), or when you hit the brakes hard.

    We’ll call the first scenario brake drag or self-applying. Even though you may not have pressed on the brakes, residual hydraulic pressure can cause the brake calipers to activate and lock. This is the most common form of lock-up on the road today. Don’t ignore this problem as it can quickly lead to mechanical failure of other parts of your braking system.

    The second type can be called brake lock-up. This can happen when you are both braking hard to avoid an accident, or braking gently to glide to a stop. Essentially, the force of applying the brakes (even lightly) can activate the full stopping-power of your brakes – bringing you to an abrupt and less-than-safe stop. You might even skid. When this happens, you can expect steering and control of your vehicle to be extremely difficult.

    See our Complete Guide to Disc Brakes and Drum Brakes for more on these types of systems, as well as our Brake Service FAQ.

    How to React With a Lock-Up

    Whether you’re experiencing brake drag or brake lock-up, get to your local Les Schwab as soon as safely possible. Our technicians will ask what wheel or wheels seem to be locking up and when. Any information you can provide will help with the diagnosis and repair.

    But, when you’re on the road, and a lock-up happens to you, you have three choices that could help you avoid an accident.

    1. Apply pressure to the brakes and try to gain as much control as possible. If your vehicle has an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), you’ll feel some feedback in the pedal and could hear a mechanical-type noise as your vehicle comes to a stop. The feedback is the ABS working to keep the wheels from locking up and preventing you from skidding.
    2. Take your foot off the brake pedal so your wheels can get enough traction to possibly unlock momentarily. Then reapply pressure to the brake if needed.
    3. Repeatedly (and quickly) press the brakes over and over until the brakes either disengage or bring you to a safe stop.

    Les Schwab Knows Brakes and Safety

    When you experience braking problems, or just want to have your brakes professionally checked or repaired, get to your local Les Schwab. Our technicians understand both disc and drum brakes, as well as how all the interconnected components work together for your safety. Schedule your appointment, or just stop by and we’ll help you get safely back on the road.

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  • The Basics of Road-Force Balancing

    No wheel and tire assembly is ever perfect, and vibrations can happen. A road-force balance machine uses a load-roller to simulate road pressure as an efficient way to identify even the slightest inconsistencies. This, in turn, easily provides a technician with a diagnosis of those variations in the tire and wheel assembly, allowing them to make adjustments that mitigate any vibration issues.

    Here’s how it all works.

    Balance Sometimes Requires More Precision

    Even when you buy four new wheels or four new tires, there will be small differences in their weight, stiffness, and balance. Low and high points in the wheel and tire construction are called lateral runout or radial runout. Stiff spots on the tire are referred to as force variation.

    What does this mean to you? It means no two tires or wheels are exactly alike. When new tires are installed or standard balancing has not remedied an issue, a road-force balance machine can be used to counteract unresolved runouts or variations by identifying what a technician needs to properly balance your wheel and tire assembly.

    How does this machine work? Once a hood closes on the road-force balancer, the wheel and tire assembly begins to spin. A second diagnostic wheel or load-roller pushes against the tire to test and record its balance as if it were on the road.

    Hunter Road-Force Elite Balancer

    That test tells a technician where inconsistencies can be found and how to properly balance the wheel and tire assembly. Fixes can involve adding weights to the wheel, remounting the tire to find a better match, and bead massaging to push the new tire into the rim for a better fit.

    Equalizing Your Custom Wheels

    Today’s vehicles come with some impressive wheel sizes. Plus, you can add custom wheels for an enhanced design and look. But with bigger wheels come shorter tire sidewalls, which can be more sensitive to road vibration forces. A road-force balance can help alleviate those issues.

    Find Balance at Les Schwab

    Keep in mind, some vibrations cannot be resolved by any type of balancing. These include, but are not limited to, a bent rim, irregular tire wear, wheel and tire defects, and other mechanical issues with your vehicle.

    However, if you’re experiencing a vibration, the pros at Les Schwab have the technology and knowhow to pinpoint the cause. Stop by or schedule a free, pre-trip safety check. Our pros will give your vehicle a quick inspection and show you all the options.

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  • Understanding Camber, Caster, and Toe

    Whether you’re getting behind the wheel of a family sedan or a 4x4 with plenty of ground clearance, proper alignment goes a long way. You want to be able to go around a corner without spilling your latte or energy drink, and you certainly want to be able to drive in a straight line without fighting your way through every mile. When the camber, caster, and toe are properly aligned to your vehicle’s specifications, it’s easy to forget about those settings. But when any of the three are out of alignment, you’ll notice it in your steering wheel, gas mileage, and tire wear.

    Here's how camber, caster, and toe help you get the most from your tires and fuel economy, and improve your safety and handling.

    Camber Affects Tire Wear

    The inward and outward tilt of the tire and wheel assembly (viewed from the front of the vehicle) is called camber. When the top of the tire is leaning inward, it is a negative camber. Positive camber has the top of the tire tilting outward. Each manufacturer sets a specific camber alignment for every vehicle it produces, which might be either positive, negative or zero (0º). When the camber is at the correct angle, the tire and wheel will roll straight.

    Generally, camber plays a key-role in cornering performance. If the camber is out of the manufacturer’s range, it can cause handling issues and excessive tire wear, which costs you money. If a vehicle has rear-camber adjustments, adjusting the rear camber plays a big role in straight-line stability and cornering.

    Illustration of Camber
    Image: Hunter Engineering Company

    Caster Affects Steering and Handling

    Ever tried to ride a bicycle without using your hands? The fact you could meant that your bicycle had a positive caster. If the caster had been zero (0º) or negative, riding that way would be nearly impossible. The same can be said for your vehicle.

    Modern vehicles run a certain amount of positive caster with the steering axis tilted rearward toward the driver. While caster doesn’t affect tire wear like camber, it does have a big impact on steering and handling.

    The higher the caster, the more stability a vehicle will have at higher speeds. Lower caster equals more responsive handling.

    Illustration of Caster
    Image: Hunter Engineering Company

    Toe is the Most Important Angle for Tire Life

    Of all the angles, the toe can fall out of alignment the easiest. A toe that is properly calibrated to manufacturer specifications (which can be either slightly positive or negative) will be at zero (0º) when on the road. This means all of the tire and wheel assemblies (front and rear) are pointing in the same direction.

    What does it mean when the toe is out of alignment? It means your tires are wearing out faster than they should and you’re burning more fuel than is necessary. When the toe is at the correct angle, there’s less friction on the tires as they roll. When they are facing away from each other (toe-out) or toward each other (toe-in), they’re essentially scrubbing on the road ever so slightly with every passing mile.

    Illustration of Toe
    Image: Hunter Engineering Company

    Les Schwab Does Alignments

    At Les Schwab, we want to help you get the most out of your tires. If you haven’t had your alignment checked in a while, or you suspect an issue, stop by any of our stores. Our experts will show you what is needed to get your camber, caster, and toe back within your manufacturer’s specifications for prolonged tire life, improved safety and handling, and increased fuel economy.

    Schedule an Alignment