• 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 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.

    Find Your Store
  • 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. If you haven’t had your alignment checked in a while, or you suspect an issue, stop by any of our stores for a free visual inspection. If you do need a full alignment service, we’ll show you what it will cost to get your camber, caster, and toe back within your manufacturer’s specifications for prolonged tire life, improved safety and handling, and increased fuel economy.

    Schedule An Alignment
  • What Are Tie Rods and When to Have Them Replaced

    One of the most essential features for safety and control in any vehicle is the steering wheel and every part attached to it. That includes the tie rods. As those tie rods wear down and need to be replaced, it can affect your steering and the overall control of your vehicle. Let’s look at what tie rods are, what they do, how they work, and how you can spot issues before you’re left stranded.

    What Are Tie Rod Ends?

    Your car’s tie rods, located at each front wheel, link the steering gear with the steering knuckle. All steering systems rely on the tie rod end for proper steering function. That includes rack and pinion steering systems as well as recirculating ball types.

    Rack & Pinion steering on a car.

    How Do Tie Rods Work?

    Tie rods, including the inner tie rod under the rubber boot as well as the outer tie rod, are a critical component of your steering system. They connect the steering gear to the steering knuckle. Their health is directly tied to your vehicle’s alignment, tire wear, and overall handling. That’s why it’s so important to get yours visually inspected with every tire rotation or at least a couple of times a year. This can help catch issues early before other damage occurs.

    How Do You Know if Your Tie Rods Are Bad?

    Identifying failing tie rods early can help prevent steering failure and expensive repairs. If you notice any of these symptoms while driving, book an appointment at your local Les Schwab.

    Steering Wheel Wandering

    A loose steering wheel, often described as "play," can signal worn tie rods. If your steering wheel feels loose, get to Les Schwab for a free visual inspection of your tie rod ends.

    Unusual and Uneven Tire Wear

    Uneven wear on your front wheels could mean your vehicle is out of alignment. It could also be a loose tie rod.

    Strange Sounds

    Quick, sharp sounds from the front wheels while turning could be an indication of failing tie rod ends.

    Alignment Issues

    Tie rods that are too worn can cause your alignment to go out quickly — even weeks after a full alignment.

    Vibrating Steering Wheel

    A loose tie rod can cause a steering wheel to shake or vibrate.

    Maintaining Your Tie Rods

    Les Schwab offers free visual inspections to evaluate your steering and suspension components. That includes your tie rods. Our trained professionals can take a look and determine if your vehicle requires an alignment or the replacement of worn tie rods or other parts.

    What To Expect During A Visual Inspection at Les Schwab

    Our trained professionals do more than come running when you pull into our parking lot. Right away, they’ll ask all the right questions to fully understand what you need and how they can help.

    When it comes to tie rods, we look for:

    • Abnormal tire wear on the front wheels
    • Worn or broken tie rod ends (including rust or deterioration)
    • Loose tie rod ends
    • Leaking tie rods
    • Damaged outer tie rod covers
    • Damage to other parts of the steering system

    What We Look For: Key Indicators

    Damaged tie rods can affect your overall steering. Worse yet, a broken tie rod can cause one of your wheels to completely turn to the right or left. Usually, this results in your vehicle quickly slowing to a permanent stop. Les Schwab checks tie rods for rust, deterioration, as well as loose parts that can impact your overall control and safety. Book an appointment today and we’ll start with your alignment as well as tire wear to pinpoint possible tie rod issues.

    Book Your Free Visual Inspection
    Book Your Free Visual Inspection
  • What’s the Difference Between a Two-Wheel and Four-Wheel Alignment?

    Every trip to the store, highway adventure, and dirt road expedition can cause your car or truck to go out of alignment. It’s just part of owning a vehicle. What’s the big deal? Misaligned tire and wheel assemblies can impact your fuel and range efficiency, cause tires to wear out a lot faster, and reduce overall drivability and safety. Let’s look at the differences between a two-wheel alignment and a four-wheel alignment and which one is right for your ride.

    What is a Two-Wheel Alignment?

    Also called a thrust angle alignment or a front-end alignment, a two-wheel alignment is for larger trucks and some SUVs with solid rear axles. This means only their front ends can be adjusted.

    During a thrust-angle alignment, the front suspension and steering, as well as the camber, caster, toe, and thrust angle may be adjusted to bring your vehicle into alignment.

    Trust Les Schwab to get your thrust angle alignment done right the first time.

    Two wheel alignment

    What is a Four-Wheel Alignment?

    Four-wheel alignments are needed on most of today’s front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, passenger cars, SUVs, and crossover vehicles. A four-wheel alignment adjusts the front suspension and steering, as well as the rear suspension and steering (if needed), of your vehicle. These alignments may include the camber, caster, and toe on all four of the tire and wheel assemblies.

    Once your vehicle has gone through a four-wheel alignment, and as long as there aren’t other unresolved issues with your suspension, you’ll notice your steering wheel is centered, your vehicle won’t pull to the right or left, and you have an easier time driving. Plus, you’ll save money on fuel and recharging and help your tires last longer.

    At Les Schwab, we’re happy to give your alignment a free visual inspection. If it needs an adjustment, we’ll suggest a more comprehensive check. If there’s nothing wrong, we’ll send you on your way.

    Four wheel alignment

    What is a Rear-End Alignment?

    If you drive a vehicle with dynamic steering or independent rear suspension, a rear-wheel or rear-end alignment may be necessary. This type of alignment may help adjust the camber, caster, and toe on the rear of the vehicle with the front wheels. Once complete, a rear-end alignment can help improve fuel and range efficiency, ride, performance, and safety.

    Two-Wheel or Four-Wheel Alignment: Making the Right Choice

    A properly aligned vehicle drives better, maximizes your tire life, and achieves optimal fuel and range efficiency. When your car or truck is out of alignment, your vehicle could pull or wander to one side, making it harder to drive, which can cause safety issues.

    Get your alignment checked if you’ve been in a fender-bender, hit a curb or pothole, or notice any of the following:

    Unever wear on tire

    Tires showing uneven wear. This can look like the tread is wearing down faster on the inside or outside of the contact patch.

    Steering wheel pulling

    Vehicle pulls or drifts. If your car or truck pulls to the right or left, it’s time for an alignment.

    Steering wheel pulling

    Steering wheel is off-center or vibrates. The next time you’re on a straight stretch of road, take a look at your steering wheel. Is it straight? If not, get to Les Schwab for an alignment check. And while a vibrating steering wheel is not typically an alignment issue, get to Les Schwab and we’ll take a look.

    What kind of alignment is needed for your car or truck? That all depends on the steering and suspension system in your vehicle and what is recommended by the manufacturer. To make life easier for everyone, most of today’s cars and trucks require a four-wheel alignment. This includes SUVs, trucks, passenger cars, crossovers, vans, as well as all-wheel and four-wheel drives. If you drive a classic car or a large truck, a thrust angle alignment may be necessary.

    Check out the article Do I Really Need an Alignment for a more in-depth look at the causes and parameters of a properly aligned vehicle.

    Les Schwab Alignment Services: Book Your Visit Today

    If you haven’t had your alignment checked in a while, get to Les Schwab. Our specially trained alignment technicians will ensure everything is lined up, as well as check and adjust your air pressure, steering, and suspension. They can even update your Advanced Driver Safety Systems (ADAS), which include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, and automated emergency braking.

    Book Your Free Visual Inspection
    Book Your Free Visual Inspection