• The Basics of Road-Force Balancing

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

    Here’s how it all works.

    Balance Sometimes Requires More Precision

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

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

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

    Hunter Road-Force Elite Balancer

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

    Equalizing Your Custom Wheels

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

    Find Balance at Les Schwab

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

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

    Schedule a Safety Check

  • What Are Tie Rods and When to Have Them Replaced

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

    Tie Rod Basics

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

    Rack & Pinion steering on a car.

    Symptoms Your Tie Rods are Failing

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

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

    Get Your Free Inspection

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

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  • What Causes Brake Lock-Up

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

    When Brake Lock-Up Can Happen

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

    Brake Drag or Self-Applying Brakes

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

    Brakes Lock-Up When You Hit the Pedal

    This can happen when you are both braking hard to avoid an accident, or braking gently to glide to a stop. Essentially, the force of applying the brakes (even lightly) can activate the full stopping power of your brakes – bringing you to an abrupt and less-than-safe stop. You might even skid. When this happens, you could lose control of your vehicle.

    See our Complete Guide to Disc Brakes and Drum Brakes as well as our Brake Service FAQ.

    Common Reasons Brake Lock Up

    There is a long list of reasons for brake lock up. These can include:

    • Overheated braking system
    • Using the wrong brake fluid
    • Damaged or broken parts (calipers, brake pads, pistons, rotors, or others)
    • Defective ABS components
    • Broken parking brake

    How To React When Brakes Lock Up

    When you’re on the road and your brakes lock up, quick action could help you avoid an accident and keep your family safe.

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

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

    What To Do After Experiencing Brake Issues

    The tires, wheels, shocks, struts, steering, and alignment all work in tandem to make driving safer and more enjoyable, but it’s the brakes that allow you to stop your vehicle and stay in control. While the cause of the lock-up could be simple, there could be other mechanical issues with your car or truck. Those issues could put you and your family at risk, not to mention others on the road.

    If you experience brake lockup, get to Les Schwab. If it’s safe to drive the vehicle, do so carefully. Otherwise, call a tow truck and have it delivered to one of our stores. We’ll perform a free visual inspection and share what we find. If your brakes need a more detailed diagnosis, we’ll chat with you about what needs to be done and any charges that may apply before starting any additional work.

    Free Brake Inspections at Your Local Les Schwab

    When you experience braking problems, or just want to have your brakes professionally checked or repaired, get to your local Les Schwab. Our technicians have been specially trained in both disc and drum brakes, as well as how all the interconnected components work together for your safety.

    During your Les Schwab brake inspection, we’ll look for brake pad wear, check hoses for cracks, and complete a full visual analysis.

    After your Les Schwab brake inspection, you’ll get a full report outlining the current condition of your brakes. If your brakes need any work, our service pros will make recommendations and show you all the costs and warranties.

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  • Understanding Camber, Caster, and Toe

    Proper alignment goes a long way, whether you’re getting behind the wheel of a family sedan or a 4x4. When the camber, caster, and toe are properly aligned to your vehicle’s specifications, your vehicle’s tires meet the road exactly as intended. But when any of the three are out of alignment, it can affect your driving safety, including gas mileage and tire wear. Let’s take a look at camber, caster, and toe and what each of these alignment settings means for your trips across town and overall safety.

    Camber Affects Tire Wear

    The Camber is the inward and outward tilt of the tire and wheel assembly (viewed from the front of the vehicle). Each manufacturer sets a specific camber alignment for every vehicle it produces, which might be either positive, negative, or zero (0º).

    When the camber is at the correct angle, the tire and wheel will roll straight. However, the camber can go out of alignment over time. When the top of the tire is leaning inward (toward the vehicle), it is a negative camber. Positive camber has the top of the tire tilting outward (away from the vehicle).

    What does it mean when the camber is out of alignment?

    Cornering performance is directly related to your vehicle's camber angle. However, the optimal camber angle varies depending on the vehicle you drive as well as manufacturer specifications for handling and tire wear. When the camber angle falls out of the intended range, your vehicle may not handle as the automaker intended. This can cause potential safety issues. It can also cause excessive tire wear, costing you money.

    Negative camber on car


    Positive camber on car

    Toe is the Most Important Angle for Tire Life

    When the toe is properly calibrated, all four tire/wheel assemblies will be pointing in the same, forward direction. The goal is to achieve a zero toe. A slightly positive or negative toe may be okay, depending on manufacturer specifications. A properly aligned toe leads to less friction between your tires and the road, and a smoother, safer ride.

    What does it mean when the toe is out of alignment?

    A toe that is out of alignment can cause excessive tire wear, stress on other parts of your vehicle, and less fuel efficiency. It can also reduce your safety on the road. Why? Because tires and wheel assemblies that are facing away from each other (toe-out) or toward each other (toe-in), are slightly skidding on the road surface.

    Negative toe on car


    Positive toe on car

    Caster Affects Steering and Handling

    After looking at your vehicle’s camber and toe, we also inspect the caster. When you come to Les Schwab, we’ll check the caster angle in your vehicle alignment, and adjust it to match manufacturer specifications on vehicles that require it. Additionally, we’ll take a look at your vehicle’s thrust angle (a measurement to ensure the frame or subframe of the vehicle are in line with the wheels).

    What does it mean when the caster is out of alignment?

    Most modern vehicles run a certain amount of positive caster with the steering axis tilted rearward toward the driver. The steering axis is the imaginary vertical line that runs through the center of the tire and wheel assembly from the ground toward the steering wheel or away from it. (A Negative caster has an axis tilted toward the front of the vehicle. A zero or neutral caster has a steering axis line that is straight up and down. And if the axis is tilted toward the driver, it is a positive caster.) While caster doesn’t affect tire wear like camber, it does have an impact on steering and handling.

    Overall, the caster is the negative, neutral, or positive slope of your steering axis. To give you the best handling, rarely will vehicle specifications call for a negative or zero caster. Specific caster angles for the year, make, and model of your vehicle have been established to ensure your safety. Les Schwab has the expertise to get yours done right the first time.

    Negative caster on car


    Les Schwab Does Alignments

    At Les Schwab, we’re here to help you get the most out of your tires. That includes a full alignment with every set of new tires you buy, because good alignment can add up to long tire life. If you haven’t had your alignment checked in a while, or you suspect an issue, stop by any of our stores. Our experts will get your camber, caster, and toe back within your manufacturer’s specifications for prolonged tire life, improved safety and handling, and increased fuel economy.

    Schedule An Alignment