Winter Driving Tips: Winterize Your Vehicle
Like unpacking your heavy winter clothes that got boxed up in the spring, winterizing your car is a quick and easy process that can make any trip or commute a lot less stressful. Here’s what you need to know.
- Check your battery. A good battery is one of the unsung heroes of your daily commute. When it fails, everything comes to a screeching halt. Check your battery condition and ensure it’s still holding a charge before you need it this winter.
- Winterize your ride. This guide from Consumer Reports shares all the tools you’ll need to get your vehicle ready for the cold months ahead.
- Be ready for any weather. Winter driving conditions are rarely ideal, so it makes sense to give yourself extra time whether you’re driving across town or across the state. Also, be sure to keep the tank full, or nearly full, just in case you get stuck in a winter storm that takes hours to maneuver.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 longest tire life.
The most common signs of misalignment are pulling to one side while you’re driving, unusual tire wear and 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.
When We Recommend an Alignment
An alignment 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.
Tire stores strongly recommend an alignment after installation of new tires because they want you to get what you pay for: full tread life. They also want to be sure that any defect that becomes apparent during the warranty period is from a manufacturing issue, not from wear that could have been avoided with basic vehicle maintenance.
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.
Alignment checks are always advised after any significant impact with a bumper, a curb, a big pothole, an animal or anything else. It may have knocked your vehicle off spec.
Also, get a check annually, or twice yearly if you typically travel on rough roads. Regular checks are important because off alignment isn’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.
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:
Looking at existing tire wear is one way to identify misalignment but the ideal is to correct your wheel’s positions before you have early and unnecessary tire wear. Regular alignments are part of basic maintenance that helps you get full mileage out of your tires.
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 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 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 a 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.