These 3 Useful Driving Tips Will Help Extend Your Brake Life
Follow these good driving habits to help you get the most mileage between brake service:
1. Plan Ahead
Instead of stomping on the brakes just before the stop sign, traffic light or turn, slow down well before the stop. Then the engine does some of the work, reducing wear and tear on your brakes. On the highway, lift your foot off the gas pedal as soon as you see brake lights ahead.
2. Use the Right Braking Method in the Mountains
If headed downhill or over the pass on dry pavement, drive in lower gears. Here’s how: Put your vehicle in the gear that allows you to travel at the safe speed when you start down the incline. Then apply the brakes intermittently with light pressure for about five seconds if your car speeds up, so you maintain the right speed. As in #1, this will let the engine do some of the work.
Note: This only slightly increases wear and tear on your engine. In normal driving, the “front face” of the gears and transmission wear down. With this kind of engine braking, the “back face” of the transmission does the work. You rarely engage the back face, so it’s a good trade between transmission and brake wear.
By balancing engine braking and pumping your brakes, you allow your brake system to cool. Riding the brakes down a long hill generates friction (which creates the stopping power you need). It also creates heat as your brake pads are in constant contact with the rotor. The longer the hill, the more friction and heat you generate, and the greater the wear on all brake system components — pads, shoes, fluid, brake calipers, rotors or drums and hoses.
It’s also a safety issue: Too much heat can also heat brake fluid, causing brake pedal fade, right when you need your brakes most.
Don’t use this technique when you are driving downhill in icy or slick conditions. Start at the top of the hill as slowly as possible and double the distance you’d normally give between you and the driver ahead. Assuming you’re driving a passenger vehicle (not a big rig), leave your auto in normal drive gear and use light, steady pressure on the brake pedal to maintain the right speed.
This allows your antilock braking system (ABS) to kick in instantly if you lose traction. When you use your engine for braking by downshifting, only your drive tires slow the car. (Your drive tires are the front two in a front-wheel-drive auto, back tires in a rear-wheel drive, and all tires if you’re driving an AWD or 4WD vehicle). If the drive tires lose traction and your car starts to slide, the ABS won’t engage and you can lose control.
If you use the brakes instead, the ABS is ready to engage. ABS maintains traction by making sure all four tires slow at the same rate when you apply the brakes. You’ll minimize fishtailing and be able to steer in the proper direction. (Read more about how ABS works.)
3. Follow the Three-second Rule
Pick a stationary object even with the car in front of you — a sign, a building, or a side road all work well. Then count to three. If you pass that object before you get to three, you need to back off and leave more space.
Remember driver’s ed? It was all about defensive driving and safe following distance. This style of driving is not only safest; it’s the easiest on your brake system. Stop-and-go traffic puts high demands on your brakes and decreases brake pad life. You can reduce the wear on your brakes by leaving enough space between you and the car ahead so you don't have to tap the brakes as often.
Save Your Brakes: Drive Smart
Brake pads, shoes, drums and brake rotors will eventually need service for regular wear and tear. Be sure to follow your owner's manual guidelines. If you think something’s wrong with your brakes, or one of your dashboard brake indicators is lit up, don’t wait to get your brakes checked.
Bottom line: Drive defensively, drive smart, and you’ll extend the life of your brakes.
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A Simple Guide to Wheel Finishes
Custom wheels and rims come in a dizzying number of designs to suit just about any style or performance you’re jonesing for. There are thousands of combinations of metal finishes, spokes, colors, polishes and sizes.
A good start to narrowing down your choices is to understand the types of wheel finishes, how the wheel surface is treated to achieve the color and polish type that suits your style. Each has its own attributes and different degrees of maintenance. Here are the six most common types.
This is the classic, mirror-reflective wheel style. Chrome plating has been the traditional method for creating that bling look many drivers want for their ride. Wheels are coated with several layers of copper, nickel and chromium for a highly reflective appearance. This provides the brightest, showiest look of all finishes, nearly as reflective as a mirror.
This finish doesn’t need a protective topcoat to prevent rust. Chrome wheels can also be treated with translucent paints for a variety of color choices.
Care: Chrome wheels require regular cleaning with mild soap and water and soft rags (never an abrasive like steel wool, which will scratch the finish). Maintain the finish with Mothers® Chrome Polish or Instant Detailer. If you are running chrome wheels in wintery locations where deicers like salt and magnesium chloride are used, you should clean them frequently. This will head off finish problems like pitting and corrosion. Clean brake dust off regularly to prevent damage to the finish.
A dry paint and heat technique is used for a durable, attractive wheel that resists rust, heat, chips and scratches. Fine ground particles of color and resin are electrically charged and sprayed onto the surface. Then the wheel is heated in a curing oven which bakes on the finish.
There are loads of color choices for powder-coated wheels. However, this finish is “one and done.” Recoating in a new color later isn’t recommended.
Care: Use soap and water or a mild, non-acidic wheel cleaner and a microfiber or terry cloth. Never use tarnish or rust removal products or bleach. Clean brake dust off regularly to prevent damage to the finish.
Machined, Clear-coated Finish
Clear coating is used as an additional touch for many wheel finishes. It can be used on raw aluminum wheels or painted wheels.
Some bare metal wheels are machined and then clear coated: A thin layer of metal is shaved off the wheel face for a bright shine, leaving small lines like what you see on a CD. Then the wheel is coated with a clear sealant for protection from corrosion. The clear-coated finish can be appealing for those who like a combination of a machined look with painted accents while providing a protective topcoat. It also assures the wheel paintwork will stay as good as new for years, as long as it’s not nicked or scraped.
Care: Use only mild soap and water or water-based wheel cleaners, not metal polish or any acidic wheel cleaner. Clean brake dust off regularly to prevent damage to the finish. Use Mothers® Foaming Wheel and Tire Cleaner.
PVD (physical vapor deposition) wheels come with a shine that rivals conventional chrome plating. First, the wheel is coated with primer. Then a very thin metallic coating is applied to the wheel in a vacuum chamber using an advanced electrical bonding method. Last, a clear acrylic powder coating is sprayed on to seal and protect the finish.
There are some benefits to a PVD finish. These wheels are much lighter than chrome-plated wheels, which may get you more nimble driving responsiveness and better fuel economy. They’re available in lots of color tones. The clear coat helps to seal out winter deicing road chemicals, so with proper maintenance, these wheels are a good year-round choice.
And they offer meaningful environmental benefits. The process doesn’t use hexavalent chromium, contains 100 percent of emissions and consumes less energy.
Care: Drive-through car washes, high-pressure washing and chrome cleaners, which contain very harsh acids, could damage the topcoat — and void your wheel warranty. Wash with mild soap and water only and a soft cloth, sponge or microfiber towel. Follow with Mothers® All-Chrome Quick Polish Detailer and Protectant. Clean brake dust off regularly to prevent damage to the finish.
Bare-polished Finish, With or Without Top Coating
Raw aluminum wheels can be hand-polished with a buffer so the surface is completely smooth, then clear coated for a rich shine. Wheels can also be machine-polished to a near-mirror shine with no top coat applied. These are popular finishes for street rod and car enthusiasts who like to show off their ride.
These finishes offer some advantages over chrome-plated wheels since they don’t add weight to the wheel, which could improve fuel efficiency and handling. Polished wheels can also easily be repolished to restore their like-new condition if they lose their luster over time.
Care: If they have no protective top coating, these wheels require regular cleaning, polishing and waxing to keep them from oxidation and pitting. Wash with Mothers® Wheel and Tire Cleaner and polish with Mothers® Polish. Clean brake dust off regularly to prevent damage to the finish.
Wet paint is used for this finish, followed by a clear topcoat to protect the paintwork. The color tones and polishes available in painted wheels are pretty much endless, from silver tints to matte black to hot pink, or matched to your vehicle’s body paint color.
Care: Use mild soap and water and a microfiber or terry cloth. Follow up with Mothers® Foaming Wheel and Tire Cleaner. Clean brake dust off regularly to prevent damage to the finish.
Wheel Shine Options
Finally, in case these aren’t enough options for you, you can customize the type of shine you like. Wheels can be made with matte (a flatter shine), gloss (high shine), satin (in between matte and gloss) and mirror (reflective) options. You can mix and match these on different parts of the wheel face.
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Brake Servicing 101 - Advice on Making Sure it Gets Done Right
In recent focus groups, people who had paid anywhere from $50 up to $1500 for brake repairs on their cars were interviewed about their level of satisfaction. Regardless of cost, none had complaints.
Why? Because their brakes worked afterward. But there’s more to it.
Here are some basics about brake servicing and what to look for in a reputable shop, so you’re treated fairly — and so the work gets done right the first time.
Brake Service: No Hard and Fast Rules on How Often
It’s hard to pin down the proper interval between brake service. But there are some basic tests:
- Don’t take chances with brake performance. You should never wait to get a brake check if you think something isn’t right with your brake system.
- Understand that you can't easily have a look yourself, because inspecting brakes means putting the vehicle on a lift, removing the wheel, and sometimes taking apart the components.
- You can’t plan on needing brake service on a set schedule, say every 20,000 or 50,000 miles. Brakes can wear out after 18,000 or 60,000. It depends on individual driving habits and road conditions.
Factors in Brake Wear
Driving habits. Are you regularly hauling a trailer or heavy loads? Or do you tend to be a prudent driver who keeps lots of distance between you and the car ahead?
Where you drive. If you’re in stop and go traffic in a daily commute, or regularly driving mountain roads, your brakes will wear more quickly. Off-road travel also puts high demands on brakes. Dirt and grime can degrade brake parts. The quality of parts previously installed. Just like any product, brake parts vary in durability and price. And even premium parts won’t last if they’ve been installed wrong.
Six Questions to Ask When Deciding on Brake Repairs
Recommendations and costs for brake service can be all over the map. So don’t be afraid to ask questions about just what you’re getting for your money. For example:
- What’s included? Some shops advertise a low price to just replace brake pads, but if any other problems are discovered the cost goes way up. A good brake job should include flushing old brake fluid, adding new, resurfacing rotors, and adjusting braking mechanisms.
- Turn-around time. How many days will it take for the garage to get you on their schedule? Can they offer same-day service for the work?
- Quality of parts. If your garage buys from an auto parts house, quality control for parts is in the hands of those who aren’t working on your car. These suppliers may buy from one manufacturer with a special on price today, and another tomorrow. Ask what kind of quality control measures the shop has for parts. You just don’t want to skimp on brake components.
- Approach to replacing parts. There are big differences in how brake service and repairs are done. It’s pretty common at most brake repair shops to pull the calipers off, replace the brake pads, and reinstall the unit.
- Warranty. With people holding onto cars longer, a brake repair warranty can mean a lot. Brake pads are going to wear as the brakes are applied, so at some point, your car or truck will need them replaced.
- Trust. You should feel you’re getting straight talk. A good mechanic is always happy to explain repairs by showing you what’s being done, and more than willing to save the parts removed for you to look at.
But there are many parts of the brake system that work just as hard as the brake pads that may need attention. Built-up grit on pistons can result in brake pads not disengaging when you take your foot off the brake pedal — then your brake pads are going to wear faster, or unevenly.
Heat from the action of the piston can break down the rubber seals, creating a leak in the braking system. And that could result in the brakes fading — or not working at all — when you hit the brakes.
The problem is that it’s not easy to inspect all of these parts — like boots, seals, bushings — without full disassembly. Taking everything apart is time-consuming. It also increases the number of things that can go wrong. Shoddy reassembly is a common reason cars have to come back to the shop following a brake job.
Disc Brake Caliper Assembly
A better option is replacing all the brake components with a unit made to your vehicle’s original specifications. This heads off any problem with other parts wearing out before your next brake pad job. Ask your mechanic which approach he uses.
Ask your shop for specifics on the brake warranty before the service. If it’s a lifetime warranty, does that cover only the parts, or the labor, too? Are free brake inspections included?
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Do I Really Need an Alignment?
Alignment assures your tires meet the road at the proper angle, your wheels are pointing straight and your tires are centered in the wheel wells. It adjusts the angles of your vehicle’s wheels to original specs for best gas mileage, proper road contact, a smooth ride, and the longest tire life.
Common Signs of Wheel Misalignment
An alignment service is important to do when:
- You get new tires.
- You lower or lift your vehicle.
- Suspension parts that affect the tire angles are replaced or adjusted.
- You’ve had a fender-bender or a hard impact with a curb or road debris.
- It’s been a year since your last one.
- You notice uneven tire wear, steering pull, or an off-center steering wheel.
We recommend an alignment after the installation of new tires. This helps you get the most life from your new tires. Wheel alignment checks are always advised after a significant impact or uneven tire wear is detected.
Also, get a check annually, or twice yearly if you typically travel on rough roads. Regular checks are important because alignment issues aren’t always obvious. The wrong toe angle can go unnoticed and so can atypical tire wear. Cars usually go out of alignment gradually, so you may not realize how much it was impacting drivability, gas mileage or tire wear until it’s corrected.
The most common signs of misalignment are pulling to one side while you’re driving, unusual tire wear and/or a steering wheel that’s off-center even though your vehicle is pointed straight. But these symptoms can have other causes, sometimes simpler and sometimes not.
Steering pull can be caused by road conditions. If the asphalt has grooves that are slightly farther apart than your car’s axles, you may feel a pull as the tires on one side ride slightly higher. If the road is noticeably higher in the center, the vehicle may veer as the tires try to find a level surface.
Torque steer is a pull that happens during acceleration, from a difference in power being delivered to the wheels. A pull only during braking is probably from a caliper on one side sticking and not fully disengaging from the brake disc. A failing tire and improper tire rotation are two more causes of steering wheel pull.
Poor alignment may not be the issue if your steering wheel sometimes tugs in one direction and then the other. A bent or worn suspension part — ball joints, strut bearings or tie rods — could be to blame.
Atypical tire wear may be the result of worn shocks or struts, bushings or springs, or from carrying heavy loads (all of which can also put your vehicle out of alignment). Uneven wear can also be caused by driving on over-, underinflated or imbalanced tires.
An off-center steering wheel can be caused by worn steering or suspension parts. Just getting an alignment won’t fix the root cause.
One last common point of confusion: Vibration while underway is often a symptom of out-of-balance tires, not bad alignment.
Lifting or lowering a vehicle will affect your toe, camber or caster angles. So will repair or replacement of suspension and steering parts — struts, shocks, ball joints, tie rods, bushings or control arms. If one of these components is damaged, it’s a pretty good bet your vehicle’s alignment is out of spec. If you don’t fix them before your vehicle is aligned, you’ll soon have the problem recur.
Tips Before Getting Service
Because the measurements are very fine, misalignment is not something you can see by just eyeballing whether the wheels and tire angles look right. But an experienced tire technician will usually know if you’re overdue for an alignment just by looking at your tire wear.
Here’s what to know if the service is recommended:
- If you have a damaged suspension part, replace it first. Worn or bad parts will put your vehicle right back out of spec.
- The technician may recommend a thrust alignment or a four-wheel alignment. Here’s a primer to understand what they’re talking about.
- Before service, let the tech know you’d like a printout showing what your alignment measurements were prior to the work being done and the final settings for your records. You can verify the job was truly necessary. Here’s an example of what you’ll see.
Measurements Before Alignment:
Measurements After Alignment:
While looking at existing tire wear is one way to identify misalignment, It’s ideal to have your vehicle aligned annually to help catch and correct any misalignment issues before you experience early and unnecessary tire wear. Regular alignments are part of basic maintenance that help you get full mileage out of your tires.
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Do I Really Need Brake Service?
Brake problems can be confusing to figure out. Some are harmless with little to no repair needed, such as dust in the braking system that causes squeaking. Other issues indicate likely problems with different car parts, such as a worn belt causing a shrill squeal. Not every sound, sensation or smell means you're due for a brake overhaul, but some do.
In order to diagnose, a mechanic will want to know:
- The nature of noises you’re noticing. Are they squealing, squeaking or grinding? Does it sound metallic?
- Exactly where the noises are coming from.
- What causes a noise to start and stop: Revving the engine while in park? Braking? Accelerating? Going over a bump?
- If there are any smells.
- If you feel a vibration.
- Any changes in brake pedal firmness.
No need to worry about taking the time and paying the money for a brake job before you know whether you need it. Here are some symptoms and their possible causes.
Squealing, Squeaking or Grinding
A continuous grinding squeal when you’re underway that came on suddenly could just be a rock caught between the brake pad and the disc. Some types of brake pad material can cause harmless squeaking. The sound could also be from moisture or dust in the braking system that isn’t doing damage. Or hardware may be in need of lube.
But a constant, high-pitched screech coming from the wheel area while you’re driving, which came on gradually and stops while you brake, is likely the brake pad wear indicator. This is a metal tab that contacts the rotor surface once pads are reaching their minimum. This means you’re due for service.
If it’s a shrill squeal coming from the engine area that varies with engine speed, it could be a worn belt (alternator, power steering, fan, water pump, A/C) that’s slipping on a pulley. However, squealing could also mean a failing alternator or bearings. It may take an expert to tell the difference. Squeaking sounds coming from the wheel area can also indicate worn shocks or other suspension parts.
If you’ve got drum brakes in the rear, excessive brake dust or badly worn shoes can cause grinding sounds.
Vibration or Pull
An unbalanced tire can cause vibration in your steering wheel. It costs little to nothing to fix.
Vibration in the brake pedal or steering wheel felt only during braking points to a brake system issue, such as an uneven rotor surface. If you’ve just gotten brake service, it may be that the rotors weren’t resurfaced. Rough braking could also be from the brake caliper not releasing back into a full off position when you let up on the pedal. A less likely cause is a worn suspension part.
Steering pull to one side during braking could be a stuck caliper, bad brake hose, worn-out brake pads or loose suspension parts. If you’re noticing a vibration right after you’ve had a tire rotation or seasonal swap-out, it may be related to tire rebalancing.
A brake pedal that seems too soft when you hit it can mean either air in the hydraulic system, worn-out brake pads or a fluid leak somewhere in the brake system.
A pungent smell could be from oil burning, especially if you’ve recently had an oil change and some overflowed, or you might be driving with the parking brake engaged.
But if the smell is coming from near your wheels — especially in hot conditions while you’re driving in the mountains — it’s possible you’ve been riding the brakes and they’ve overheated. Or, a brake pad or caliper could be stuck, which often comes along with smoke. (Stop immediately in a safe place and figure out what’s going on so you don’t have brake failure.)
Tips Before Getting Service
Ask questions, read your owner’s manual and be aware of the following if brake servicing is recommended.
Be wary if the mechanic says you need brake service when you have 50 percent pads left. If your shop uses percentages to tell when brakes are due, wait until your pads are down to 15 to 20 percent before scheduling. (Les Schwab Tires measures brake pads in millimeters, not percentages. This helps us be more precise about when service is due.)
Find out what’s included. Make sure they do a thorough inspection and get a written quote that includes pad and rotor measurements.
Ask if rotors should be resurfaced or replaced. This service is necessary if you’ve gone too long between brake servicing and grooves have formed on the surface, brake pad material has collected there causing rough braking or the rotor thickness has become uneven. The technician should measure using a micrometer and inform you of rotor thickness. If rotors are getting down to the minimum, it may be better to replace them.
Yes, brake fluid needs to be replaced. Draining old and adding new fluid extends brake component life. It’s common for moisture to get into the brake system. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and retains water. When water gets into this sealed system, there’s more risk of corrosion of metal parts and poor braking.
Be cautious about cleaning and lubing. Today’s brake systems typically don’t need to be taken apart and washed. The exception is when you’re experiencing brake squeal or squeaking when your pads still have plenty of life in them and no other cause is evident. It could be glazing, the brake pad’s friction surface getting hardened from heat. In this instance, cleaning and lubing moving components can reduce noise and extend brake life.
Bottom line: Brake sounds, smells, vibration or a dashboard light are not things to guess about and hope you’re right. But you’re not in for an expensive repair job for every problem. Get them checked out pronto by a service shop you trust. (Les Schwab Tires does brake inspections for free.)
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How to De-Winterize Your RV
Time for camping and summer road trips? While your owner’s manual likely has a list of items specific to your vehicle that should be checked, here’s a checklist of 22 things you should be certain to take care of before your first ramble in your motorhome. The advice will apply to travel trailers, too.
Inspect the Outside
- Check beneath the vehicle for signs of leaking fluids. If you see any stains or puddles, you should take it in for service.
- Look carefully at the tires. When a vehicle is parked for long stretches, tire condition can degrade. Tires can be damaged by sun exposure, weather and pollution. Sitting in one place for too long can also cause a flattened spot to develop on the portion of the tires that has been supporting all the vehicle’s weight. If there’s any cracking or bulging, a tire may need to be replaced. Also, top off the air pressure and test to make sure the lug nuts are secure.
- Even if the tires appear in good condition, repack wheel bearings with grease. It’s important for safety, since the vehicle’s weight rides on the wheel bearings. Do it yourself or come to us.
- Make sure headlights, tail lights, high beams and blinkers are working.
- Clear the exhaust pipe if you blocked it to keep out mice.
- Look over the full exterior, including the roof. You’re looking for peeling paint, cracks and gaps at seams, or rust, all of which will need repair. Don’t forget to check the A/C air filter in case it needs to be cleaned or replaced.
- Roll out and clean your awning, and check them for holes. Don’t wait to repair them; they’ll expand and become a bigger problem if you delay.
Under the Hood
- Tend to the batteries. (Les Schwab Tires does free battery charges and checks.) If your motor home was stored someplace warm, look for corrosion around the battery connections. Clean it off carefully. If your battery fluid is low, get it topped off. If you live someplace that freezes a lot in winter, you probably removed the batteries before storage. Reconnect them, making sure clamps are snug and there's no corrosion.
- Check for rodent damage, cracks and loose hose and wiring connections.
- Check the oil. Moisture can get into the fuel system in cold weather, so consider changing the oil and filter even if you’re not due.
Prepare the Plumbing System
- If you used RV antifreeze to protect the water system from freezing, drain it from everything, including the water heater and holding tanks. (Dispose of it properly to protect fish and waterways.)
- Flush the plumbing thoroughly with clean water: Fill up the fresh water holding tank, turn the water pump on and run all faucets. Make sure water cycles through everything, including the washer, icemaker, outdoor shower and water heater (if it wasn’t bypassed when you added the antifreeze). When you see clear water running through the system, turn off the pump and shut off the faucets.
- Now sanitize the plumbing. Chlorine-free water system cleansers are available, or you can use one-quarter cup household bleach per 15 gallons of water. Close all drains and put drain plugs in place, pour the cleaner into the fresh water tank and fill with water. Turn on the water pump and run water through all hot and cold faucets until you detect the cleanser, then turn off the faucets and pump. Let it sit for 12 hours before draining and refilling with clean water. Repeat until any remaining cleanser is flushed. Make sure to cycle through all tanks.
- Reinstall any water filters that were removed for winter storage.
- Go to a waste disposal site to empty the dirty water you’ve flushed through the system from your gray and black water holding tanks.
Check the Living Quarters
- Once the water system is clean and the water heater is full, check the electrical systems. As your house batteries recharge, you can make sure the fridge is cooling, flip lights on, plug in the toaster, microwave, and coffeemaker, run fans and check power outlets. If something’s not working, try resetting your breaker switches.
- Run the slides out, listening for any cracking or popping sounds. If so, your seals or the slide mechanism may need lubrication or hydraulic fluid may need to be topped off. Also, make sure slides look centered. If not, they may need to be adjusted.
- Open the main propane gas valve, then check to make sure gas appliances are working, including all stove burners. (Also, get a leak test and gas operating pressure test done annually.) Check the water heater, upping the thermostat until the furnace turns on. Try running the refrigerator on gas to make sure it will keep working when you’re underway.
- Inspect the cabin for any signs of mold, rodents, and insects. You may have to wash bedding, cushions or window treatments if there’s been a strong odor trapped inside. If there’s been a pest invasion, find areas they may have gotten in and cover them.
- Verify your safety systems and kits are in working order: smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, flashlights, fire extinguisher, emergency road kit and first aid kit. Replace batteries as needed.
Check Fuel & Brakes
- Start the engine. If you filled up and added stabilizer before storage, you’re probably good to go. Fuel stabilizer can keep fuel fresh for around two years. But if you didn’t, or the vehicle sat for more than a year, it may not want to start. Try adding starter additive to the stale fuel.
- While parked, tap your brakes, making sure you feel the right amount of pressure and the pedal doesn’t sink to the floorboard. If anything seems amiss, have brake pads and shocks examined.
Now you’re ready to hit the road and make some summer memories.
How to Jump-Start a Car
There’s a right way and a wrong way to jump-start a vehicle. Doing it wrong can damage your battery or other electrical components. Learn how to do it correctly in this Les Schwab Quick Tips step-by-step video. We show you:
- The proper order for connecting and disconnecting jumper cables.
- How to keep the cables clear of hot engine areas.
- What to do once the dead car starts.
The main safety concern around jump-starting isn’t the electrical current. Jump-starting your battery in the rain, for example, doesn’t put you at risk of shock. Passing vehicles are a bigger issue. Be sure to stay out of the path of traffic and use flares or reflective triangles if you have them when it’s rainy or dark out.
How to Tell If Your Shocks or Struts Are Bad
It’s difficult to know just when it’s time to replace shocks and struts. For one, they go bad slowly, so the reduced ride comfort and road control you’re getting don’t seem out of the ordinary.
Also, there’s no set time or mileage for when aging shocks or struts are due for replacement. You won’t find a set service interval in your owner’s manual.
Third, these parts can be hard to get at, and seeing precisely how worn they are requires expensive disassembly. That’s just not practical or cost-effective.
Bad shocks and struts are diagnosed through other methods. Here’s what to look for as telltales:
- Cupping on tires, especially if a rotation was performed on schedule but abnormal wear is still occurring.
- Suspension bushings problems — cracking, peeling, off-center.
- Active leaking of oil on parts.
- A rougher ride.
- Bottoming out (your vehicle’s body or suspension hitting the ground) when going up a parking garage ramp or backing out of a driveway.
- Longer stopping distance.
- Swaying after a turn or lane change or in cross winds.
- Noticeable bounciness (more than one or two bounces) after going over dips or bumps.
- Nose-diving when you apply the brakes.
What Do Shocks & Struts Do?
Shocks and struts in good condition help your car handle whatever comes at you on the road — bumps, debris, sudden stops, swerving, potholes, wind gusts or sharp turns. They control the side-to-side, front-to-back and up-and-down shifts of the car’s weight and maintain optimal tire contact with the road.
Shocks or struts are hard-working parts. They can go through 75 million cycles over the course of 50,000 miles. Even on well-paved roads, they can move up or down 1,500 to 1,900 times every mile. They are partners with the brakes, steering, suspension, tires and electronic safety systems — anti-lock brakes, stability control and crash avoidance systems — in keeping a vehicle traveling safely on the road. They:
- Maintain tires’ good contact with the road by preventing them from moving up and down too much.
- Contribute to stability as you accelerate, stop and turn.
- Add to ride comfort by absorbing jolts and bumpiness from irregular road surfaces.
- Control a vehicle’s body movement (side-to-side roll, bouncing).
- Help the tread wear evenly for longer tire life.
They don’t help support the vehicle’s weight or any loads, contrary to what many think. The springs do that. But having worn-out shocks or struts creates more work for the springs as well as other important suspension parts. Without the control that a good shock or strut provides, these other parts get overworked, causing fatigue and premature wear.
Shocks and Struts Aren’t Just About a Smooth Ride
Today’s vehicles have highly engineered electronic safety systems: vehicle stability systems, ABS (anti-lock brakes), traction control, collision prevention control and automated braking. These all work together to keep tires in proper contact with the road and provide the most stability.
When you have an unexpected hard stop or swerve, your vehicle’s crash avoidance systems send instant electronic signals to the brakes and other critical components. If ride control parts like shocks and struts are worn, they may not properly respond.
Then the crash prevention systems can’t function as designed and you have less control behind the wheel. Stopping distance increases and brakes and tires wear more quickly. There’s added strain on the springs, which have much more up-and-down and side-to-side action to control.
How Long Do They Last?
It all depends on the amount of wear and tear they get, and that depends on the quality of roads you drive, if you haul loads and how aggressive you are behind the wheel. That’s why periodic inspections are important.
Have a technician check every 12,000 miles, if you get an alignment, when you get new tires, at least once a year and whenever you notice the symptoms above. (Les Schwab Tires typically does visual inspections each time tires get rotated and during pre-trip safety checks.)
You may not notice your ride control has been compromised when these parts are wearing out, because it happens gradually. But shock absorber or strut failures aren’t just bad for comfort. Replacing them when it’s time keeps your auto’s electronic systems and suspension working as they should, extending your vehicle’s life — and keeping you safer on the road.
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How Your Auto Battery Works
Here’s a simple guide to understanding how car batteries work, from the alternator to cold cranking amps to different types of car batteries. Find out:
- How a battery starts your car
- How the battery provides power
- What cold cranking amps are
- How the battery recharges
- Why car batteries die
- What the different types of auto batteries are
How a Car Battery Starts a Car
The first purpose of an auto battery is to provide power for starting your vehicle. It also acts as a surge protector for the car's computer and provides power for short-term use of things like lights, stereo, GPS or wipers when the engine is off.
The car battery is part of the starting system. There are three main components in this system:
- The ignition switch is either the starter button you press or where you insert your key.
- The switch controls the starter relay (also called a solenoid). When you turn the ignition, it sends a small electrical current to the starter relay. This causes a pair of contacts to close.
- When those contacts close, the battery sends voltage to the starter motor, which turns some gears to start the car.
How the Battery Provides Power
The two types of auto batteries — flooded and AGM batteries — use lead-acid technology. A typical lead-acid car battery contains plates of lead alternating with plates made up of other materials, all immersed in an electrolyte solution of about one-third sulfuric acid and two-thirds water.
Turning the ignition triggers the acid in the liquid electrolyte solution to react with the active material on the plates (active material refers to any substance in the battery that reacts with the solution to discharge or recharge the battery). This generates a bigger electrical current. The current travels through the starting system in a chain of reactions that cues the engine to start.
What Are Cold Cranking Amps?
Cold cranking amps (CCA) refers to the amount of power a battery can supply for 30 seconds even at low temperatures. Larger engines require more power to start, as does starting the car for the first time on a cold day.
A high CCA rating is important for standard auto batteries in areas with subzero temperatures, since deeply discharged wet cell batteries can freeze solid in such weather.
How the Car Battery Recharges
The alternator is responsible for recharging your car battery as you drive. This part also supplies power for your car’s electronics when you're underway. It is driven by the alternator belt from the engine. As the belt goes around, it generates electrical current to run your vehicle's electronics. It also sends some current back to the battery to recharge it.
A voltage regulator controls this flow of electricity to keep it even and deliver the right amount of charge to meet needs like running the AC or heater. It also protects the battery from overcharging, which can damage it.
Why Does My Battery Die?
Over the life of a battery, discharge-recharge reactions happen thousands of times. Each cycle wears out the plates a bit, and over time the lead deteriorates. As your car battery loses capacity, cold cranking amps decrease.
Deep discharging, which happens when you use the battery to run the stereo, lights or other electrical systems in your car when the engine is off, is responsible for a good portion of battery failures. Discharging most of your battery's capacity by using it in this manner for too long and then recharging it through driving can cause the sulfur in the electrolyte solution to stick to the lead and create other damage to the plates in the battery.
What Are the Different Types of Auto Battery?
The two most common auto batteries for sale today are standard wet cell batteries and absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries. Both use lead-acid technology. The differences are in the needs of the car.
Standard Wet Cell Batteries
These are also called flooded, conventional or SLI (starting, lights, ignition) batteries. Some standard batteries have vents that allow for airing out corrosive gases, steam, and condensation (these may be called vented batteries). They have removable caps for adding fluid. Other wet cell batteries are closed systems, with no removable caps.
- Service needs: Occasional simple maintenance including cleaning off corrosion on terminals and topping off the fluid with distilled water if the battery has removable caps. The battery should be visually checked every year. Battery charge should be checked before road trips and after summer before temperatures fall.
Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) Batteries
These are a type of VRLA battery, which stands for valve-regulated lead-acid. They’re sometimes called regulated valve, dry cell, non-spillable or sealed batteries. They are called sealed because they have no removable caps, don’t vent gases and can’t leak any acid. They do have pressure-activated relief valves that open only if the battery overheats during recharging.
Some newer cars, such as those with start-stop technology, require AGM batteries. These batteries will continue to deliver power to a car’s computer and electronics even when the engine isn’t running.
AGM batteries hold a charge longer than standard wet cell batteries. They can tolerate periods of disuse and repeated deep discharging and recharging cycles better than flooded batteries. They have a short recharge period but they can be easily damaged by overcharging. They also perform well in harsh climates with extreme heat or cold.
- Service needs: Charge should be checked before road trips and after summer before temperatures fall.
Wet cell batteries and AGM batteries are not interchangeable — your car requires one or the other.
Batteries for Anything You Drive
Les Schwab is well known for having the West’s largest selection of tires. Here are four reasons to come to us for batteries as well.
1. Vast Selection
We have an inventory of quality batteries to power just about anything that rolls:
- Cars, light trucks and SUVs
- Commercial vehicles and heavy-duty trucks
- Motorhomes/RVs, fifth-wheels and other campers
- Boats, including personal watercraft
- Off-road vehicles (four-wheelers/quads and side-by-sides)
- Farm tractors and equipment
- Golf carts
2. More for Your Money
What we say about tires also goes for our batteries: If we can’t guarantee it, we won’t sell it. Our best-in-the-business battery warranty includes a replacement program. We’ll replace standard batteries that are deficient absolutely free for a period between 12 to 24 months, depending on the battery. For motorcycles, golf carts and the like we provide replacements for failed batteries up to six months after purchase. The period for RV, commercial and marine battery replacements extends for one year.
And if your battery fails any time before its expected life after that, we'll refund you the difference. For some batteries, that can mean coverage extending up to seven years.
You’ll also get free auto battery and charging system inspections with your purchase. And you can stop by for a free battery charge at any Les Schwab whenever you want.
3. Expert, Friendly, World-class Service
Our technicians are equipped with state-of-the-art battery diagnostic tools and are well trained in batteries and charging systems. A problem you suspect is being caused by your battery may actually be something wrong elsewhere in the charging system. (Read more.)
We check any vehicle battery charge for free, whether you bought it from us or not. We’ll give you an honest answer on whether you need a new battery. If you do, one of our service techs will help you decide what battery is best for the job, the vehicle and your budget. Then we’ll install it quickly so you can get on your way without delay.
4. Hundreds of Locations
You can buy, get service on or redeem a warranty for Les Schwab batteries at any of our 480-plus locations across the West. Not sure if you need a new auto battery? We’ll check your battery’s charge while you wait — for free.
For a quality battery backed by a great warranty, come to a Les Schwab Tires near you.
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Brake Service FAQ
The Basics on Brakes
Why are your brakes squealing?
If your brake light is on, your brakes are squeaky or grinding, if they feel like they are pulsing or grabbing, or they feel “soft” when you hit the brake pedal, don’t wait on a brake check. It not only can be dangerous to ignore such warning signs: small brake problems that are left unrepaired can lead to expensive damage to other parts of your braking system.
The only way to determine if brake noise is harmless or hazardous is to have a thorough brake inspection.
Les Schwab offers the latest diagnostics and repair equipment in the industry for most types of brake systems. Our technicians are trained to get disc or drum brakes working properly on whatever you drive — passenger car, SUV, or light truck, old or new models.
Disc Brake Repair and Services
- Install professional-grade brake pads
- Install Professional Grade Raybestos calipers*, or the equivalent
- Resurface rotors
- Repack wheel bearings when serviceable
- Install new front seals when serviceable
- Replace brake fluid
- Adjust brake components as needed
* PG PLUS™ PROFESSIONAL GRADE Premium loaded calipers are built to be consistent with Federal Safety Standards for quality, performance and safety. Raybestos provides their loaded calipers with Professional Grade premium disc brake pads to satisfy your braking needs.
What do brake pads, rotors and calipers do?
Brake pads are metal plates bonded with sturdy cushioning friction material. The pads are located on each side of the brake rotors — the flat, rotating discs that are attached to the vehicle’s wheels. When you press the brake pedal, the caliper — essentially a clamp housing the pistons and pads — activates the brake pads, sandwiching the rotor. As the pads come into contact, they slow the spinning rotor through friction, which in turn stops the wheels.
Why install Professional Grade® calipers?
Raybestos Professional Grade® remanufactured calipers include new seals, hardware, and brake pads. This provides better caliper operation for proper brake performance.
Why do we use remanufactured calipers in repairs?
Remanufactured brake calipers use a thoroughly cleaned and inspected original equipment metal caliper housing with new brake caliper hardware and seals. Les Schwab uses Raybestos PG PLUS™ Professional Grade® premium loaded calipers or the equivalent, because they are remanufactured to be consistent with Federal Safety Standards for quality, performance, and safety. This caliper comes with Professional Grade® premium disc brake pads.
Why resurface brake rotors?
Whenever possible, we resurface rather than replace rotors, to save you money when new parts aren't necessary. Resurfacing provides a proper finish for new brake pads to mate with, helping prevent brake vibration and pulsation. When a rotor is worn beyond specifications, we install Professional Grade® replacements.
Why replace the brake fluid when performing a brake repair?
Brake fluid naturally attracts moisture, which can penetrate even sealed systems. When it does, it causes the brake fluid boiling point to lower, increasing the chances of corrosion and poor braking. We replace the brake fluid to help reduce this risk, and to prolong the life of brake components.
Drum Brake Repair and Services
- Professional-grade brake shoes
- Resurface drums
- Replace drum brake hardware
- Install new wheel cylinders
- Adjust parking brake
- Replace brake fluid
How do drum brakes work?
Drum brakes work much like disc brakes, by applying friction to a spinning surface to slow and then stop the vehicle’s momentum. In drum brakes, brake shoes press against the inside of a drum instead of a rotor to create this braking action.
Why replace the drum brake hardware?
Drum brakes work using springs which hold brake components in place and return them to position when the brakes are released. Heat affects the spring tension over time. Drum brake hardware is replaced so the brake shoes are held in the proper position, evening out wear and reducing brake drag (failure of the brakes to release completely when the driver’s foot is removed from the pedal).
Why resurface brake drums?
Whenever possible, we resurface rather than replace drums, to save you money when new parts aren’t necessary. Resurfacing the drums provides a proper finish for new brake shoes and helps prevent brake vibration and pulsation. We also offer Professional Grade® replacement drums if they are needed.
Why replace the brake fluid when performing a brake repair?
Brake fluid naturally attracts moisture, which can penetrate even sealed systems. When it does, it causes the brake fluid boiling point to lower, increasing the chances of corrosion and poor braking. We replace the brake fluid to help reduce this risk, and to prolong the life of brake components.
Get the Most Out of Your RV Battery
Les Schwab is here to help you get the most out of your RV batteries, whether you need to recharge, replace, or you have questions about the best battery setup for your needs. Getting a charge out of your RV and trailer adventures begins and ends with the right battery.
Keeping Your Batteries Charged
During the winter months and long stretches where the battery will not be used, be sure to take your batteries out of your RV or trailer and hook them up to a trickle charger. These small units plug directly into a 110-volt outlet and allow you to keep your batteries fresh and fully charged until you’re ready for your next outdoor adventure.
Les Schwab Tip: It’s a good idea to get your RV and trailer batteries fully charged every year. If your 12-volt battery reaches just 11.2 volts, it’s considered completely discharged. Your local Les Schwab does free battery charging and visual inspections.
12-volt vs. 6-volt
Almost every RV and trailer will come equipped with one or even two 12-volt batteries running in parallel. There’s nothing wrong with this setup. The battery boxes and enclosures are built for those size of batteries. But with a few changes, and a switch to a series of 6-volt batteries, you might get more reserve capacity, which means you can draw power for a longer amount of time between charges.
The benefits of a standard 12-volt battery include the uniformity (your RV or trailer will most often come with 12-volt batteries), cost (12-volt batteries can be less expensive), and simple installation. However, 12-volt batteries may not recharge as quickly as a 6-volt. When it comes to power and longevity, it can take up to three 12-volt batteries running in parallel to match the amp hours in a series of two 6-volt batteries.
Other benefits of running 6-volt batteries in series include a larger amp hour capacity (the amount of time you can use the battery), and a longer battery lifespan. The only real downside is that there may be size differences. 6-volt batteries can sometimes be taller. This can require changes to your battery box or battery storage area.
Les Schwab is Your Battery Expert
Stop by your local Les Schwab before you head out on your first RV or trailer outing of the season. Our team of professionals is here to ensure your batteries are properly charged and installed correctly with our best-in-the-business warranty.
Complete Guide to Disc Brakes and Drum Brakes
When it comes to driving safety, nothing is more critical than your tires and brakes. Here’s a guide to the two types of passenger-vehicle brakes, disc and drum. We explain how they work, how they’re different and alike, why you may have both types on the same vehicle, what kind of wear to expect and what parts will need maintenance.
Braking System Basics
Disc and drum brakes are both based on a hydraulic pressure system. Braking starts with a mechanical force — your foot pressing the brake pedal.
- A piston compresses brake fluid inside the master cylinder located under your vehicle’s hood near your engine. This creates a lot of hydraulic pressure, generating a much bigger force than that of the small effort of pressing down on the pedal.
- The pressure is transferred via the brake fluid through the brake lines then through brake hoses (flexible tubes) that connect the lines with brake assemblies at each wheel.
- There, wheel cylinders convert that hydraulic pressure back to mechanical force. Brake friction material is pushed against the brake disc or drum, slowing or stopping your vehicle.
Basics of Disc Brakes
Disc brakes are found on most vehicles today. They are mounted on the front axle and often the rear as well. To stop a wheel (and your car), a disc brake uses a caliper fitted with brake pads to grab a spinning disc, or rotor.
The caliper is an assembly mounted to the vehicle with a bracket so it frames the rotor. It looks and functions like a c-clamp. It contains:
- Brake pads: metal plates bonded with material that provides stopping friction.
- One or two pistons to push the brake pads against the rotor when you brake.
- A bleeder screw to allow for servicing the brakes and replacing the fluid.
- A rubber piston seal that prevents brake fluid leakage and retracts the piston when the brakes release.
- A dust boot to keep contaminants out of the cylinder.
- Anti-rattle clips that keep the brake pads stable.
The rotor is made of cast iron or a steel/cast iron composite. It’s attached to the wheel hub and turns with the wheel. It’s the surface the brake pads contact. When you step on the brakes, pressurized brake fluid pushes against the pistons inside the caliper, forcing the brake pads against the rotor. As the brake pads press against both sides of the disc, the friction stops the wheel’s rotation.
Rotors can either be solid or vented. Vented ones have more surface area and can more easily dissipate heat.
Two Types of Disc Brakes
There are two types of disc brakes, named after the type of brake caliper used: floating and fixed.
A floating caliper (also called sliding) is the most common type. It has one or two pistons. When the brakes are applied, the inner brake pad is forced against the disc while, at the same time, the caliper body moves closer to the rotor. This action forces the outer brake pad against the rotor.
The fixed caliper design has one or more pistons mounted on each side of the rotor. The caliper itself doesn’t budge: It’s rigidly fastened to a brake caliper bracket or the spindle. When the brakes are applied, only the caliper pistons move, pressing the brake pads against the disc.
Basics of Drum Brakes
Drum brakes are an older style of brake, not common on today’s vehicles. When they are used it is only on the rear axle.
They don’t use brake pads as the friction material. Instead of a caliper that clamps brake pads against a rotor, a drum brake system has a wheel cylinder with pistons that push brake shoes out against the inside of a spinning drum. This contact slows and stops the rotation of the brake drum and the wheel.
Which Is Better?
Although they both operate with the same basic hydraulics, the two types of brakes perform differently. Disc brakes are more efficient, provide better stopping power, dissipate heat easier and work better in wet conditions, all while being less complex.
Most of today’s vehicles have disc brakes at all four wheels. Some base models have disc on the front axle and drum on the rear, to keep costs down. In these models, why are disc put on the front and drum on the rear? It’s due to weight factors. A typical, unloaded vehicle is already about 10 percent heavier in front due to the engine. Then when you hit the brakes, the weight of the car transfers to the front. More braking power is needed there, making it a job for disc brakes.
Here’s more on how disc and drum brakes compare.
Stopping power. Disc brakes apply more braking force faster, resulting in shorter stopping distances.
Heat management. Since they are exposed to air, disc brakes cool better. Drum brake components aren’t as exposed to the air so they take more time to cool down after braking. This can cause brake fade, a loss of stopping power when friction material overheats.
Wet performance. Disc brakes perform better in wet conditions because they are open to the air and can sling water off easily. Plus, the rotors get dried by the pads dragging across them. When water gets inside a drum brake it tends to get trapped inside the drum, so it takes longer for the friction material to dry out.
Weight. Discs are lighter than drum brakes designed to apply the same force.
Emergency brake. A vehicle’s emergency brake is usually applied to the rear axle. This feature is easier to install on a drum brake than to a caliper or inside the hub of a disc brake rotor.
Cleaning. Disc brakes are self-cleaning. The brake pads “wipe” the rotor off when they’re engaged. Drum brakes are closed and are prone to brake dust collecting from the shoes, so they need periodic cleaning.
Repairs. Drum brakes have more hardware and can be more complex to service. But drum brake shoes and wheel cylinders typically cost less to replace than disc brake pads and calipers.
Since a lot of heat is generated by the braking system, plenty can go wrong. The act of braking converts kinetic (moving) energy of the vehicle into thermal energy (heat), subjecting many parts to very high temperatures.
This means a lot of wear and tear even in normal conditions. Some brake components will need to be replaced over the life of a vehicle. There’s no set interval for this since it depends on your driving style, climate and road conditions.
The solution is simply to get regular checks and replace pads, shoes and other components before braking is compromised or other parts get damaged.
Disc brake pads slow the rotor through friction and they wear with normal use. Eventually, they become too thin to function properly. Same thing for drum brake shoes. The friction material on the shoe gets worn out and braking is compromised.
These components should be inspected regularly. You don’t want to wait until pads/shoes wear down to the metal and grind against the rotor or drum.
Other items in the braking system are just as important to keep in good repair. Routine brake service should also include the following.
The brake system should be checked regularly for leaks and fluid should be replaced every few years (usually when the brakes are serviced). Any leak in the master cylinder, the brake fluid reservoir, the wheel cylinders, lines or hoses will reduce the hydraulic pressure that’s created when brakes are activated. Basically, the system can’t generate sufficient force needed to create braking power. You’ll notice you have to push your brake pedal a lot further in order to slow or stop.
Changing out brake fluid occasionally is also essential. This liquid is specifically formulated to prevent corrosion of the brake hydraulic components. But time and moisture contamination can damage its ability to do this important job.
Moisture that infiltrates the fluid will mix with the brake fluid, lowering the boiling point. Even though it resists evaporation, brake fluid will then be more likely to boil and turn into vapor when it gets hot. There will be less pressure in the hydraulic system, causing a low — possibly very low — brake pedal.
Along with moisture, it’s also very common for impurities like rust, road grit or brake dust to get into the fluid, causing internal damage to parts and reducing braking performance.
These rubber rings keep the hydraulic fluid from leaking and protect it from moisture and contaminants. They also cause the piston to return to its off position so the brake pads disengage properly when you release the brake pedal. If this doesn’t happen, you could experience brake drag and premature wear and the vehicle may pull to one side when you brake.
Brake lines are steel tubes that connect the master cylinder to the brake hoses. A spongy brake pedal could mean air has gotten into a line.
Brake hoses carry the hydraulic pressure from the brake lines to the wheel cylinders and calipers. The rubber brake hoses flex, allowing the wheel cylinders and calipers to move up and down with the wheels in relation to the vehicle's frame. If the rubber wears out, your vehicle may pull to one side during braking or you may even get fluid loss and brake failure. If there’s wear inside the hose, small rubber particles can restrict the flow of fluid, causing a brake pull or drag.
The rotor surface can thin unevenly from the brake pad not releasing, leaving the pad in contact even when the brake pedal isn’t activated. When this happens, you’ll experience shaking or wobbling in the steering wheel when you brake.
Brake components are constantly exposed to road debris and brake dust. The dust boot prevents grime from entering the caliper piston. If it fails and can’t do its job, piston damage can occur, causing brake drag, pulls and premature wear.
Failing master cylinders can leak internally. In this case, you may get a low or fading pedal without visible fluid loss. Regular fluid maintenance is important for prolonging cylinder life.
NOTE: There are different approaches to brake service. Get informed about why it’s important to maintain more than just the brake pads or drum brake shoes.
Disc and drum brakes are built differently, with somewhat different advantages. Your vehicle may have both or just disc brakes. Both work as part of the hydraulic brake system. This is a system that’s under high pressure, is subject to lots of heat and can be compromised by road grime, air, brake dust and moisture.
It’s important to get regular brake inspections to keep everything in proper working condition. Refer to your owner’s manual for a recommended schedule. Remember that funny brake sounds, smells or performance are indicators you need to get your vehicle to the shop right away.
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Shock and Strut Service and Repair FAQ
The Basics on Shocks & Struts
What do shocks and struts do?
Shocks and struts help the tires maintain traction, by keeping the car from bouncing or the tires from losing contact with the road when you hit a bump or apply the brakes. As part of the suspension system, they help control car motion and keep the weight of your vehicle balanced even around sharp curves, so you have better stability and a more comfortable ride.
A shock or a strut operates the same but mounts differently. Each of the four tires has either a shock or strut connected to that corner’s suspension and vehicle body or frame. These hydraulic cylinders provide motion damping by restricting fluid flow through a series of internal valves. As the wheel and suspension move up and down, the shock valving slows and stabilizes these movements.
How are shocks and struts related to control behind the wheel?
Shock absorber or strut failures can be a driving safety hazard. Along with tires, shocks and struts are key factors in ride control. Ride control is how well a car handles whatever comes at you on or off road — bumps, debris, sudden stops, swerving, potholes, wind gusts, sharp turns. The ability to control your vehicle is reduced when shocks and struts aren’t properly controlling the side-to-side, front-to-back, and up-and-down shifts of the car’s weight that come with everyday driving. This is an even larger concern when the road is slippery, wet or rough.
How do I know I need new shock absorbers or struts?
Shock absorbers and struts that are working well mean more stable driving in every condition. When these components are worn, you may notice a rougher ride, longer quick-stopping distance, nose-diving when you apply the brakes, dripping fluid, tires that are cupping, excessive bounce after a bump, or swaying after a turn or stop.
Monotube, gas charged, foam cell — how do I know which shock is right for my vehicle?
With so many choices, selecting the proper shock can be confusing. Just stop by and we’ll give you our best advice, based on your vehicle and how and where you drive it.
Use our Store Locator to find the Les Schwab nearest you.
How often should I have shocks or struts checked?
Even on well-paved roads, shock absorbers or struts can move up or down 1,500 to 1,900 times every mile. Because handling performance tends to decrease gradually, a driver doesn’t always realize how much ride control has been lost. If you notice abnormal tire wear, or more vehicle movement than in the past when cornering, accelerating and stopping, pay Les Schwab a visit. It is a good idea to have your suspension checked on a regular basis, and when you get new tires.
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Starting Problems? How to Tell If It’s the Battery or Alternator
If your vehicle won’t start, it’s usually caused by a dying or dead battery, loose or corroded connection cables, a bad alternator or an issue with the starter. It can be hard to determine if you’re dealing with a battery or an alternator problem. Here’s how to know which one is the culprit.
Bad Battery Symptoms
If the cranking of the engine is sluggish, like your vehicle is harder to start on cold mornings, it starts inconsistently, or there’s no sound and interior lights when you try to start, suspect a failing battery, a loose or corroded connection or electrical draw. A low battery that has visible corrosion on the terminals is probably damaged.
If jumpstarting works, then you know you’ve got a battery problem. But you also need to figure out whether it’s simply at the end of its life or there are underlying issues. A dead or low battery can be caused by a failing alternator. It can also result from additional draw from auxiliary lights, fuses, sound systems, alarms and such.
Signs of a Bad Alternator
Some of the things to look for are no-starting and trouble starting, dimming lights and problems with stereo system output. If your car starts but stalls when you’re underway, your battery is probably not being recharged due to a faulty alternator. A squealing sound coming from the engine that gets louder when drains like the heater or sound system are on may be your alternator bearings.
Another telltale is turning the AM radio to a low number on the dial without music, then revving the engine. If you hear a whine or the sound goes fuzzy when you hit the gas, your alternator is probably failing.
If the vehicle won’t crank or start but the headlights are still working, look to problems with the starter or other parts of the engine.
If you have a check-engine or battery indicator light illuminated on your vehicle, it could indicate a problem with an automobile charging system, or if your vehicle gets a jump-start and immediately stops running, it could be an indication that the alternator is malfunctioning. It’s important to bring this into a professional for a proper diagnosis.
What the Battery & Alternator Do
An auto battery supplies a big electric charge that travels through the starting system and turns some gears to start the car. Once the car is running, the alternator sends current back to recharge the battery as you drive. It supplies power for your car’s electronics when you’re underway and makes sure the right amount of charge goes back to the battery.
If Your Car Won’t Start
The common signs above should help pinpoint what exactly is going wrong.
If you’re not wanting to do your own diagnostics, get a jumpstart (and keep your vehicle running) and take it in for a technician to check your electrical system. Both the starting and charging systems should be inspected.
Battery checks on standard wet-cell batteries should include inspection of fluid level, the posts (the terminals marked + and -) for corrosion, and cables for snug connection and no corrosion.
An electronic battery test should be done, which gives more information than a standard load test. It measures the voltage and cold cranking amps (CCA). (Battery inspections and charges are free at Les Schwab Tires.)
The shop should also check the alternator’s voltage and current output and look for signs of bad diodes, the components that convert electrical current from AC (alternating current) to DC (direct current). If it’s time to replace it and your vehicle has been customized with power-hungry aftermarket accessories like a sound system, ask if you need a higher-capacity alternator.
If the alternator is working fine, the search for the problem will move to other parts of the starting and charging system.
Got a Bad Alternator?
It may have damaged your battery. Since the alternator regulates how much electric current gets fed back to the battery during recharging, the battery may have overheated due to overcharging. This shortens its expected life and can make it unreliable. Ask whether you need a replacement if you’re having alternator repairs done.
If it’s your battery that’s bad, it won’t damage the alternator.
Benefits of Proper Alignment, Suspension Maintenance
Why Alignment Matters
In its simplest form, alignment is keeping all of the tires on your vehicle moving in the same direction and at the same angle to maximize control and driving efficiency.
A vehicle with proper alignment handles correctly, achieves optimal fuel efficiency and maximizes tire life.
On the other hand, a vehicle with poor alignment pulls or drifts on the road, wastes fuel, and causes premature and uneven tire wear. Poor alignment puts your safety at risk.
Here’s another way to think about alignment. In a poorly aligned vehicle, each wheel may be pointing in a slightly different direction, which means each tire will be skidding just a little whenever you drive. If your tires are perpetually skidding, they not only wear out prematurely but also make it harder for your vehicle to move. This puts extra stress on your vehicle, consumes more fuel and costs you money.
How does your car get out of alignment and what’s needed to get back into alignment? A car comes aligned by the factory when it’s purchased new. Its alignment can change over the course of normal driving. Poor alignment might happen faster from driving on rough roads or hitting potholes, curbs and other obstacles.
There are a number of different procedures and techniques to align a vehicle. In general, they all work toward getting your car’s wheels and tires to do two basic things:
- Get them all traveling in the same direction.
- Get the tires to strike the road at the proper angle.
There are several different types of alignments available today. Your Les Schwab alignment professional will review with you all the types of alignment appropriate for your vehicle.
Not sure if your vehicle needs an alignment? Just ask. If we inspect your vehicle and find your wheels are within the factory specified range, we won’t charge you a penny. If you do need it aligned, however, our work is backed by our Les Schwab warranty.
Why Suspension Matters
Now let’s talk about suspension. Your car is suspended by a unique combination of springs, shocks or struts. Shock absorbers aid in ride control by keeping the tires on the road and preventing excess bounce after hitting a bump.
Keeping your tires on the road is the only way you keep control of your car. Worn or damaged shocks don’t keep your tires on the road like they’re supposed to, which means you have less control over your vehicle. This is especially dangerous on rough and winding roads.
Because worn or damaged shocks aren’t doing their job, additional problems can happen, including accelerated wear on other parts of your suspension system and tires, costing you even more money in the future.
Is My Suspension Bad?
Because shocks and struts wear slowly over time, it’s sometimes difficult to know if they’re working properly or not. Not sure if your suspension needs work? Here are a few symptoms to look for:
- Does your vehicle feel like it rolls or sways on turns?
- Does the front end of your car dive when braking, then bounce when stopped?
- Does your car bounce or feel like it’s sliding on winding or rough roads?
- Does your car bottom out on bumps?
- Can you feel your car shimmying back and forth through the steering wheel when you drive?
If so, you’ll want to have one of our trained suspension experts take a look at your vehicle.
Following industry inspection procedures, we’ll check to see if any of your suspension parts need to be replaced. If so, we’ll provide you with a complete cost estimate free of charge, so you can make an informed decision. Les Schwab Tires uses only professional grade parts. And, they’re backed with Les Schwab’s Parts and Labor Warranty.
Alignment, suspension, shocks and struts are all important parts of enjoying a safe, comfortable ride in your vehicle. Properly maintained, they will not only help to keep you safe but will also save you money in increased fuel efficiency and lower repair and replacement costs.
If you have questions about your suspension or your alignment, ask one of our helpful trained professionals at a store near you.
Schedule an Alignment