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.
Excited by all these wheel options? Overwhelmed? Learn more about how to shop for custom wheels in our blog, or just come on in with your questions.
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 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 fluid with distilled water if the battery has removable caps. 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 450-plus locations across the West. Not sure if you need a new auto battery? We'll check your battery's charge while you waitfor free.
For a quality battery backed by a great warranty, come to a Les Schwab Tires near you.
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.
Choosing Custom Wheels is About More Than Good Looks
Putting custom wheels on your vehicle can spice up your ride to bring back some of that new-car excitement. New wheels can also improve driving performance.
But choosing tires and wheels for today's automobiles is a lot more complex than it used to be, given all the smart technology built into modern vehicles and the huge variety of tire types now available.
Before you buy, it's good to know about the tradeoffs that come with changing your wheel and tire size. Your choices may affect handling. In some vehicles there could be a sacrifice in all-season traction, in others it may enhance it. You'll likely get more responsiveness, with your ride more sensitive to road conditions than what you felt with OE (original equipment wheel and tire package). Your tire tread life could be improved or shortened.
It's also good to have a basic understanding of fitment, meaning what wheel-tire sizes can be properly mounted on your vehicle. Without knowing, you risk a setup that could affect vehicle clearance, cause vibration issues and alter your ride quality. The wrong package can cause contact with fenders, inner fenders, struts, shocks, tie rods, brake calipers and other suspension parts.
Here's what to know about choosing wheel-tire packages that will meet your driving goals and correctly fit your vehicle.
First, some terminology: are wheels and rims the same?
People often refer to wheels and rims as the same thing. The rim is actually part of the full wheel. It's the outermost part of the wheel. It supports the tire and creates an airtight seal.
The wheel refers to the whole shebang. It's a metal disc with spokes and a specific bolt pattern (the pattern of holes) where fasteners called lug nuts or lug bolts attach the wheel to the vehicle's hub.
The rim and wheel can either be manufactured as one unit or a multi-piece assembly. For this article, we'll assume the wheel and rim are one unit, and call it the wheel.
Know Your Fitment to Choose Custom Wheels
Any vehicle will have a range of wheel/tire diameter sizes of several inches that will fit properly. This gives you some flexibility when you want to tailor wheel size for looks and performance.
Wheels are measured in inches, by diameter and rim width. The wheel diameter is how wide the wheel is across the center in inches. Rim width is the measurement from bead seat to bead seat (how wide the wheel is looking at it head on). For example, here's a graphic showing sizing for a 17" x 8.5" wheel:
To find wheel and tire packages that will work for your vehicle, start by collecting wheel diameter, tire width and tire aspect ratio.
1. Find your wheel diameter.
This is the distance between the two bead seats, the flat spots where the edges of the tire get hugged securely onto the wheel. This measurement will be stamped on the wheel, item E in the graphic below.
2. Find the width of your existing tires.
Tire width is the measurement in millimeters (mm) from side to side looking at the tire head on. It's marked on the tire sidewall, item B in the graphic below.
You'll note that this measurement is often offered in millimeters. If so, use this Tire Size Calculator to convert it to inches.
3. Find your tire's aspect ratio.
This number is branded on your tire sidewall, item C in the graphic. The aspect ratio is a percentage. It's the sidewall height divided by tire width. More specifically, it's the height of the sidewall measured from wheel rim to top of the tread, expressed as a percentage of tire width. Our example tire has an aspect ratio of 65.
A change in the aspect ratio usually means the tire sidewall height changes. This will result in driving performance differences.
Wheel Size and Driving Goals
With these three measurements, you have a baseline of what tire-wheel package sizing works on your vehicle. Now consider your driving goals and style preferences.
"I'm just after chill looks."
Say you just want to personalize a vehicle to make it your own. If you're all about the aesthetics but don't want to change your current ride performance, it's easy: You can keep the same sizing but swap out your wheels for something showier.
"I want better acceleration and cornering."
If you love driving and are looking for performance enhancements, aftermarket wheels can play a role. Choosing a larger-diameter wheel will decrease the tire's sidewall height. This adds responsiveness. You'll notice higher stability and better cornering. You'll achieve that low-profile style you're after. Done correctly, larger wheels can improve acceleration and reduce braking distance. You'll feel more road feedback.
Bigger diameter wheels can also mean shorter tire life and higher price points than conventional sizes. You may feel bumps in the pavement a bit more. On full-sized pickup trucks, a larger tire and wheel package can mean you may not get as tight a turning radius as before.
Another consideration for truck owners could be weight. The maximum plus size wheel-tire package for light trucks and SUVs may make the setup heavier than OE, depending on the type of wheel you pick. A heavier setup could mean longer stopping distances along with increased suspension and brake wear.
"I want something sporty looking but I still want the smoothest ride."
Smaller wheels are mounted with tires that have a higher aspect ratio, resulting in a more comfortable ride with less road feedback. With taller sidewall tires, you'll feel more flex when you turn corners, and you may notice a difference in handling. This sort of package manages impacts like potholes, speed bumps and debris better, protecting the wheels from damage.
Getting into smaller wheels isn't possible with every vehicle due to fitment. If you do have some room to go smaller, you'll have lots of tire tread design possibilities.
"I'm planning to run my wheel-tire package year-round."
Some wheel finishes require more maintenance in climates where winter deicing chemicals on the road are a factor. Be sure to ask about care before you buy.
Wheel Plus Sizing Explained
When you're shopping for wheels you'll come across some standard sizing terms. OE (original equipment) is the base wheel size. It's what came standard on the vehicle from the factory.
Plus sizing is when you boost wheel diameter. Minus sizing means you're getting into a smaller wheel. Plus 1 sizing is increasing wheel diameter by an inch. Minus 2 sizing is downsizing wheels by two inches.
You can also keep the wheel diameter the same but mount a lower-profile tire (the tread gets wider, the aspect ratio changes, but the height of the sidewall remains the same). This is called Plus 0 sizing.
Here's a comparison of how two wheel-tire packages of different sizes look on the same vehicle.
Don't Overlook Wheel Offset and Backspacing
Offset and backspacing are two more considerations likely to come up during your search for the perfect wheel-tire package. They're critical for proper fit.
Without getting into lots of detail, offset and backspacing make sure there's enough room for the new package to sit properly in your wheel well, so nothing interferes with your braking components and suspension, there's no rubbing against bodywork and your car doesn't become unstable around corners or when braking.
One More Wheel Sizing Issue: Bolt Patterns
Don't buy those wheels yet. You need to verify that the bolt pattern will work.
The bolt pattern is how many lug holes are on the wheels you're buying and how far apart they are. It has to be compatible with your vehicle, so the lugs mate up with the studs on your suspension.
You can look for bolt patterns in wheel descriptions, but just because your vehicle may have five lugs it doesn't mean that all five-lug wheels will fit. There are multiple bolt pattern possibilities on today's vehicles, generally with four to eight lugs. And there are different ways of measuring between lugs, depending on the number.
Even if the wheels you like have the right bolt pattern there's a possibility they might not fit, so get answers on this before you buy.
Test Fit New Wheels Before You Buy
The easy way to find out what wheel sizes, bolt patterns and styles are right for your driving and vehicle is to talk to a pro and try wheels on before you buy.
A good tire store will consider your preferences then factor in all the issues:
- Proper clearance, so wheels or tires don't rub against bodywork, brakes or parts of the suspension
- Compatibility with tire pressure monitoring
- Proper traction control and stability
- Maintaining accurate speedometer and odometer readings
- Keeping tires within speed and load capacities
Once this is nailed down, you can pick some options you find attractive and try them on for size virtually. Some tire retailers have computer tools that show how a wheel-tire package will look on your specific make, model and color vehicle. You can look at different spoke styles, lift or lower the vehicle and see what plus and minus wheel size options look like.
When you've narrowed down your choices, tire stores with large inventories and knowledgeable staff can then put your vehicle on a lift and show you how the wheel and tire assembly you like really looks, to be sure it's what you want. It often helps to see two combinations of wheels mounted at the same time for comparison.
When you decide which you're happy with, you can be on your way with a new wheel and tire package that day.
Top 3 Custom Wheel Buying Tips
Choosing an aftermarket wheel-tire setup is about more than just picking a style you like. Issues like proper clearance for brake system components, potential rubbing on body parts like fenders and mud flaps, offset spacing and bolt patterns can be overlooked.
Your driving goals are just as important. Do you want enhanced handling? Are you willing to sacrifice some driving qualities for others?
Remember these three tips as you're shopping around.
- For most SUVs, CUVs and cars the overall diameter of the aftermarket package (wheel and tire combined) should be within 3 to 8 percent of the overall diameter of your OE setup.
- Bumping up to a larger wheel for a low-profile look? A plus-sizing rule of thumb is to increase tire width by 10 mm and decrease sidewall height by 5 to 10 percent for each one-inch increase in wheel diameter.
- Buying new wheels should be fun. The easiest way to make sure you get what you bargained for is to talk with a good tire dealer.
Learn more about how to shop for custom wheels in our blog posts on wheel finishes, aluminum versus steel, and more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What Do Dashboard Brake Lights Mean?
Dashboard brake warning lights might be nothing, or they might mean you need to go straight to the shop. Here's what those glowing dashboard lights mean:
- My car's ABS (antilock braking system) light is on. Your car's ABS has an electrical problem. Go straight to a brake technician. Don't ignore it, even if you haven't noticed any change in your car's handling. The ABS reduces skidding and stopping distance in emergencies, so you want it working perfectly.
- My car's brake service light is on. Check your parking brake. If it's engaged, disengage it and see if the light stays on. If the service light goes out, you can drive normally. But keep an eye on it for a while.
- My parking brake isn't engaged, or the light stayed on when I disengaged it. There may be a problem with hydraulic brake components or brake fluid in the master cylinder may be low. Get your car to the shop without delay.
Pay attention to those warning lights! They can vary by make, model and year, so if you're just not sure what they mean, get your vehicle in to get checked. You'll be safer and avoid potentially costly repairs later on.
What’s the Difference Between Aluminum and Steel Wheels?
Wheels and rims are made with several types of alloys, or blends of metals, with different handling characteristics, maintenance needs and upsides. Here's a short guide to the two main types of automotive wheel materials and how they differ, for those shopping for aftermarket wheels.
Aluminum Alloy Wheels
Aluminum wheels (sometimes called alloy wheels) are built with a blend of aluminum and nickel. The majority of wheels today are cast aluminum alloy, meaning they're made by pouring molten aluminum into a mold. They are lightweight but strong, withstand heat well and are generally more attractive than steel wheels. They come in a very wide variety of finishes and sizes. Aluminum wheels are a good choice for a balance of performance, cost, aesthetics and gas mileage.
Steel wheels are made with an alloy of iron and carbon. They are heavier but they're more durable and can be easier to repair and refinish. Because of the way they're made?cut out on a press and welded together?they don't offer all the aesthetic spoke choices of other wheel types.
Though their heavier weight may dampen acceleration, agility and fuel efficiency, steel wheels can offer more resistance to impact cracks. They can also be more resistant to damage from deicers, gravel and brake dust, making them more popular for winter driving. Steel wheels are generally less expensive than aluminums.
Here's a breakdown comparing the characteristics of the two wheel material choices.
Wheel material is only one factor of many in selecting custom wheels and rims. Learn about wheel finishes and other tips on shopping for wheels in our blog.
Or just stop by any Les Schwab to talk to an expert.
Wheel Alignment FAQ
What's a Wheel Alignment?
Though it's sometimes so subtle you won't notice, the alignment of your wheels can get out of whack from the jolts and mishaps of everyday driving. This reduces your vehicle's drivability, lowers gas mileage and causes early tire wear. An alignment is the process of adjusting the angles of your vehicle's wheels back to original specifications
Are Alignments Necessary?
An alignment improves driving safety by keeping the right amount of the tire in contact with the road and preventing your vehicle from pulling to the left or right. A properly aligned vehicle has a smoother ride and optimal gas mileage. Keeping the wheels aligned also extends tire life.
What Affects Wheel Alignment?
Over time, normal settling of the suspension – plus fatigue of springs and bushings (rubber cushions that dampen the amount of movement and noise) – will gradually change alignment. Impacts like hitting a pothole, going over big bumps, rubbing up against a curb or rolling over debris can push the wheels out of alignment. Aggressive driving, carrying heavy loads, bent or worn suspension parts (tie rods, ball joints, strut mounts and bearing plates) or a slight fender-bender can trigger misalignment.
How Can I Tell If My Wheels Are Misaligned?
Diagnosing misalignment isn't always clear-cut. Because the measurements can be very fine, you may not see it with a quick look at the tires and wheels. You may notice the steering wheel is off-center, feel a pull or drift or notice your handling isn't up to par. The only way to know for sure is to have a trained technician run a check on an alignment machine.
Will it Affect My Tires?
Yes. If they show moderate-to-severe edge wear or feathered wear, it likely means they're being dragged along rather than rolling smoothly. This is often an indicator that the toe or the camber angle is off.
How Are Alignments Done?
They're done using an alignment machine to measure the wheel angles. These are calculated and compared against your vehicle's original specs. Then the technician makes adjustments as needed. A real-time computer readout shows when the target angles are met. A report will show the incoming and corrected alignment measurements.
What Are the Types of Alignment?
Your technician will advise what kind of alignment is best for your vehicle type:
Known as a front-end alignment, the front wheels are adjusted so they are parallel to the centerline of your vehicle. This is the simplest and most basic alignment BUT it's not recommended for any current model vehicle. It's less accurate. You may not get a centered steering wheel, because front-end alignment doesn't account for rear wheel angles.
A thrust alignment is the most accurate alignment for vehicles without adjustable rear suspension. Only the front wheels are adjusted. Here's how: There's no guarantee both rear wheels are pointed straight ahead as they should be. One may be pointed exactly forward and the other slightly off. Or both their angles could be off. Since this can't be adjusted, the front wheels are aligned as closely as possible to the thrust line, which is the average of where the two rear wheels point. This compensates enough to get a centered steering wheel.
This is done on vehicles with adjustable rear suspension, to bring all four corners of your vehicle back in spec. All four wheels are aligned to the center of the vehicle. First, the rear axle angles are measured and adjusted, then the front. This is the best, most accurate, manufacturer-recommended alignment for vehicles with adjustable rear suspension.
Should I Get an Alignment When I Get New Tires?
Yes. Getting an alignment when you replace tires is one of the best ways to get the most mileage out of them. Be sure to ask for an alignment, since it's not generally part of the purchase price.
What Other Times Should Alignment Be Checked?
- After you hit a curb, collide with an animal, or run over a pothole, bump or debris.
- When tires are wearing unevenly.
- You lower or lift your vehicle.
- Steering or suspension parts that affect the tire angles are replaced.
- You notice your vehicle drifts or pulls to one side.
- The steering wheel is off-center when you're pointing straight.
- Following a fender-bender.
- At least once a year.
- Twice annually, if you regularly drive rough roads.
(Les Schwab does free visual alignment inspections. If we recommend an alignment but find during the course of the work that your alignment is good and can't be improved, there's no charge.)
How Often is it Needed?
Regular alignments are part of basic auto maintenance. Catching misalignment early means you can correct your wheel's positions before you have premature tire wear. Cars usually go out of alignment gradually, so it's important to check it at least annually, or twice a year if you travel roads that are washboard, rutted or have lots of potholes.
Is Four-Wheel Alignment Only for 4-Wheel-Drive Vehicles?
Regardless of whether they're 4WD, front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive, most cars and many SUVs today are four-wheel alignable. These vehicles should get a four-wheel alignment because the rear is just as likely to be out of alignment and cause uneven tire wear as the front.
Does Misalignment Affect Gas Mileage?
Yes. When your wheels are properly aligned, there's less rolling resistance. Tires roll with less friction so your vehicle is more fuel efficient. When wheels are misaligned, tires will drag slightly, causing a loss in fuel efficiency. If the situation continues, the tires will wear unevenly and lead to worse gas mileage.
Can Misalignment Cause Steering Wheel Vibration?
Vibration in the steering wheel, the floorboard or the seat that gets worse at faster speeds is often a sign of out-of-balance tires, not bad alignment.
Is Alignment the Same as Balancing?
They are two different repairs. Rebalancing tires is a process of attaching small weights, just fractions of ounces, to the wheel so that weight is even around the entire unit. Although they're round, tires have manufacturing imperfections and wear that create lighter and heavier areas. The weights compensate for this.
Rebalancing is done in a tire shop by putting the wheel-tire unit on a tire-balancing machine that takes weight measurements and shows where to make adjustments for any differences. It's most often done during tire rotations and isn't part of an alignment.
What's Included with an Alignment?
Here's what's included with an alignment at Les Schwab Tires: tire inspection, test drive before, steering and suspension inspection, tire pressure check and adjustment, alignment angles measured and adjusted, test drive after, and a printed report showing before and after measurements. (Alignments done at Les Schwab Tires are covered by a 30-day guarantee, which includes labor cost.)
Can Misalignment Cause Noise?
Generally, any noise from misalignment is caused by abnormal tire wear. If tires are the source of road noise, an alignment correction may be needed but won't solve the noise problem.
Will an Alignment Fix a Crooked Steering Wheel? Loose Steering?
An off-center steering wheel is one sign of misalignment. Alignment will restore the steering wheel to a centered position if there aren't other undiagnosed problems.
When alignment angles are out of spec, steering can feel slightly loose. This condition can be corrected by an alignment. But if you're noticing you need a lot more steering wheel movement than normal, there may be worn steering or suspension parts that are allowing way too much play. In this case, the loose parts should be identified in the pre-alignment inspection and repairs should be recommended before aligning. Some parts to suspect are ball joints, tie rods, idler arm, Pitman arm, rack, and pinion or steering box.
Is It Covered Under Warranty?
Check your vehicle's owner manual for the original warranty.
How Much Does a Wheel Alignment Cost?
It varies according to vehicle type, shop, region and type of alignment. A quality shop will advise in advance what type is best and what it will cost before performing the work. A great shop only charges for work that is actually needed once the job is underway.
Who Does Alignments?
Tire stores and any good mechanic. Les Schwab Tires offers full wheel alignment services - including adjustments and free inspections - usually without an appointment.
What are the Les Schwab store hours and holiday hours?
Our normal business hours are: Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and closed on Sunday.
We are closed for the following holidays. New Year's Eve: may close at 3:00 p.m., New Year’s Day: closed, Memorial Day: closed, Independence Day: closed, Labor Day: closed, Thanksgiving Day: closed, Christmas Eve: may close at 1:00 p.m., Christmas Day: closed.
Extended hours during peak service times in the winter and spring vary by location. Please contact your neighborhood Les Schwab for details.
Can I make an appointment? Do I need to make an appointment?
We're excited that within a few months all of our stores will be able to take appointments. But, as always, walk-ins will continue to be welcome, so we’d love to see you whenever it’s most convenient for you—with or without an appointment.
Which tire brands does Les Schwab carry?
We have a variety of tire brands in our stores and have access to an even wider selection. This includes brands such as Michelin, BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Continental, Cooper, Falken, Goodyear, Pirelli, and Toyo. Les Schwab stocks products that perform at or above original equipment and name brand products. We stand behind every product we sell. If you’ve entered your vehicle’s make/model/year or your tire size tire size and don’t see what you’re looking for, please contact your store for more information.
Does Les Schwab carry run flat tires?
We do! All of our 480+ locations carry run flat tires in a variety of sizes. Reach out to your favorite Les Schwab and we'll be happy to answer your questions and get you the information you need.
Can I get my oil changed at Les Schwab?
We typically focus on services that extend the life of your tires and wheels. However, a handful of Les Schwab locations do offer oil changes. Check with your local Les Schwab Tire Center for more information.
Does Les Schwab offer roadside assistance?
Some of our locations are able to send a technician out to help you with a flat tire or dead battery during business hours. For details in your area, please contact your nearest location.
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
1. Check beneath the vehicle for signs of leaking fluids. If you see any stains or puddles, you should take it in for service.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Make sure headlights, tail lights, high beams and blinkers are working.
5. Clear the exhaust pipe if you blocked it to keep out mice.
6. 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.
7. 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
8. 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.
9. Check for rodent damage, cracks and loose hose and wiring connections.
10. 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
11. 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.)
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Reinstall any water filters that were removed for winter storage.
15. 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
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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
21. 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.
22. 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 Take Your Car Out of Winter Storage: a Checklist
Summer will be here soon. Sports car, classic car and hobby car owners, start your engines.
Actually, before you do, you’ll want to follow some simple steps to bring your summer ride out to play after a long winter.
Here’s a checklist of what to do—either on your own or at the shop—if you’ve had your vehicle stored.
- Check the battery charge. Make sure battery terminal connections are snug and there’s no corrosion.
- Inspect wiring and hoses. Check for rodent damage, cracks and loose connections.
- Make sure your oil level is normal. Get an oil change as soon as possible.
- Top off air in tires and make sure the tread is intact (no bulges, cracks or balding areas).
- Look under the vehicle for signs of fluid leaks.
- Have brake pads and shocks examined.
- Verify that headlights, brights, taillights and blinkers are operating.
- Clear the exhaust pipe, if you plugged it to keep out mice.
- Air out the interior.
Under the Hood
If you used a battery tender to maintain proper charge during storage, your battery should be ready to go. Check the tender to be sure the battery is fully charged.
If you’ve had the battery hooked up to a cheaper trickle charger, the output voltage may have gone high enough to cause overcharging. This can result in off-gassing and damage if you have a standard wet-cell lead acid battery.
If your vehicle has been sitting for months on end with no recharger at all, your battery may be weak or drained.
Check the charge with an electronic tester. (Les Schwab Tires does two-part battery inspections free, any time.) If it’s low, you’ll need to get it charged. If it’s dead, and you need it replaced, your onboard computer system may need to be reset.
Look at the terminals to see if there’s any corrosion from off-gassing/overcharging. You can gently clean any residue off the posts and cable clamps with a solution of water and baking soda and an old toothbrush. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection.
Make sure there are no cracks or signs of wear on the cables; jiggle them at the terminals to be sure the connections are snug.
Also look for vermin nests or chewed hoses, belts or cables. Verify air filters are clean. Check the oil dipstick to be sure the level is good enough to last until you can get an oil change. When you get service, have the technician check your spark plugs, cylinders and PCV and fuel filters.
Check windshield wiper fluid and coolant and add as necessary.
Check your air pressure. If it’s low, top it off with a home air compressor, or get to a tire store or filling station first thing and inflate to the pressure indicated on the driver side door placard.
Also look at your tread wear and inspect all tires for cracks and bulges. Be sure to look on the sidewalls facing the axles as well as the street side. You may need a flashlight.
While you’re looking at the wheels, check under the car for any sign of fluid leaks. Even if you don’t see any, you’ll want to have the transmission, power steering, and brake fluids checked.
It’s also time for an oil change. Though your vehicle hasn’t been driven in months, the oil is old and may be contaminated by condensation or acids.
If you neglected to add fuel stabilizer to your gas tank before storage, fill up with high-octane gas and add some octane booster.
Brakes & Suspension
When you’re ready to start up, first make sure your tailpipe is clear. Give your vehicle some time to warm up. Let it run for a bit, until you hear a smooth idle, before putting it into gear. Don’t rev the engine.
Before you set out, tap the brake pedal to make sure it feels right. Make your first drive leisurely and listen for unusual noises. Watch the dashboard for any warning lights indicating something needs attention.
You may notice some noise while braking at first. This could be caused by rust that's accumulated on the surface of the brake rotor or drum. If the noise is constant or recurring, have your brakes and pads inspected. Don’t ignore it. Be sure to have shocks checked as well.
Then enjoy the summer driving season.
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.
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?