When Do You Need a Wheel Alignment? How to Know

  • By Discount Tire Centers
  • 25 Jan, 2017

As a vehicle owner, you know that the quality of your tires affects handling, gas mileage, and safety. But what about the positioning of your tires?

Wheel Alignment - Discount Tire and Service Centers

Aligned tires are in the best position, relative to the road and your car's frame, to maintain traction while driving. When your tires become misaligned, the poor positioning can undo a lot of the good that high-quality tires do.

In this blog, we provide you with symptoms and qualities to look for that can let you know when it's time to schedule a wheel alignment service.

Appearance

In most cases, your tires won't look tilted or crooked when they're out of alignment. Most misalignment happens in small increments. In fact, wheel alignment experts may measure misalignment with as small of a unit of measure as millimeters.

While you won't see the misalignment itself, you may start to see signs that your tires aren't in their proper position fairly soon after the alignment changes.

Take a look at your tire treads. When correctly aligned, your tires should wear evenly individually and wear about the same amount as a set. If you notice excessive wear on only one tire or on one section of the tread on all of your tires, this issue could be due to misalignment.

The wear usually appears near the edge of the tread, either on the inside (closest to your car) or the outside (farthest from your car's frame). However, misalignment can also cause deep wearing in the center of the tread without affecting the edges of the tread.

All tires experience wear over time, and that uneven wear can occur due to poor road conditions and other factors. But if you notice significant abnormalities in tire tread wear, you should have your alignment inspected, especially if you notice any of the other symptoms on this list.

Driving Conditions

While your car as a whole is fairly strong, individual pieces can be moved with relatively little pressure. Misalignment can happen during normal driving, and you may not be able to identify when the issue occurred exactly.

However, your car is much more likely to go out of alignment if you frequently drive in the following conditions:

  • Construction areas
  • Parking lots with multiple speed bumps
  • Poorly maintained stretches of road

Misalignment can even occur due to a single driving incident, such as running over a curb, bumping into the edge of a parking stall, hitting a pothole, or experiencing a collision. After one of these incidents occurs, pay attention to the way your car handles to get a sense of whether or not the alignment has changed.

Handling

One of the easiest-to-recognize signs of misalignment is a change in handling and steering accuracy, especially when the change happens suddenly. Your car has likely developed an alignment problem if you notice one or more of the following handling issues:

  • The steering wheel seems to pull in one direction.
  • The car drifts to one side or the other when you drive in a straight line.
  • Your steering wheel feels loose or unstable and the vehicle is harder to control.

You may also notice these handling related problems:

  • Screeching or squealing tires when turning sharply
  • Steering wheel appears crooked when driving straight ahead
  • Steering wheel doesn't return to center position after turning
  • Steering wheel vibrates or shakes while driving

If these problems occur almost every time you drive, your car may be far out of alignment. It's critical to have your alignment checked and repaired as soon as possible to ensure that your car remains safe to drive.

Maintenance Record

Unlike oil changes, your car doesn't need an alignment service at a specific interval. However, you should take note of when your last alignment service was to ensure that your car doesn't go too long without an inspection.

Generally, you should have your alignment checked once every one to three years. If your daily commute includes navigating around potholes or through construction sites, schedule annual alignment checks. If you prefer to have a numeric guideline for car maintenance, have your alignment checked every 6,000 to 12,000 miles. Many mechanics can perform this check when you bring your car in for another routine service.

We recommend having an alignment check performed after you install new tires on your vehicle.

Have you noticed warning signs that your wheels are out of alignment? Come in to any Discount Tire and Service Centers location for an inspection and an expert service. We offer one-time, three-year, and lifetime wheel alignment services  to ensure that you can maintain your car's performance over time.

Discount Tire Centers Blog

By Discount Tire Centers 06 Jul, 2017

Whether you live in an area with all four seasons or in perpetually sunny Southern California, spring is a crucial time for car maintenance. Not only does spring maintenance help your vehicle recover from winter driving, but these tasks also prepare your car for the hot summer road ahead.

In this blog, we list eight fundamental maintenance measures your car will most likely need this spring.

1. Change Vehicle Filters

Spring provides the perfect opportunity to change out your vehicle filters. Dusty wind storms can leave your cabin air filter obstructed. Have these filters cleaned or replaced during the spring so that both your interior and engine cooling systems are ready for summer.

You may need a mechanic to complete these tasks since many automotive filters are located in hard-to-reach places like the area behind the glove compartment.

2. Check Tire Pressure

Temperature fluctuations, especially cold spells, can have a significant impact on tire pressure. If your vehicle doesn't have an automatic pressure sensor, you could start your summer off driving on low tires. Gauge the pressure and adjust as needed to avoid the wear and tear of improper tire pressure.

You may also need to have your tires rotated or your alignment tested to maintain good vehicle handling.

3. Have the Battery Tested

Like your tires, your car battery is vulnerable to temperature changes. As the weather warms up, your battery won't have to work as hard to power your vehicle. However, the decrease in battery strain won't matter if the battery was weakened during the winter.

Have the battery tested, especially if you live in or visited a cold area recently. If necessary, replace the battery right away to avoid issues during the coming year.

4. Have the Coolant Exchanged

During the winter, your engine probably didn't generate as much heat as it will during upcoming warm weather drives. In summertime heat, your coolant system is your vehicle's first defense against the damage and inconvenience of overheating.

Schedule a coolant system service  this spring at a trusted auto shop such as Discount Tire & Service Centers.

5. Replace Windshield Wipers

Winter and spring can both manifest with high levels of precipitation. The sleet or fog of winter can cause irreparable damage to your windshield wipers, leaving them incapable of keeping your windshield clear in spring showers.

Check both your front and rear wipers for signs of damage, such as pitted or warped rubber. Replace the wipers if necessary.

6. Schedule a Brake Inspection

Most drivers spend more time on the road during the summer. If you're planning on taking day trips or a vacation, it's smart to have your brakes checked. This step is particularly crucial if your winter travels took you anywhere where snow melt was used since salt can corrode your brakes.

If you have noticed any brake problems, such as a fluid leak or unresponsive pedal, have your car towed to the mechanics to ensure your safety.

7. Spring Clean the Interior

While the cleanliness of your car's interior may not affect how the vehicle drives, it can affect how you drive. As you spring clean your home, take time to clear out and freshen up your car's interior.

It's particularly important to remove any food waste or scented items that could attract pests during the summer. Additionally, eliminate any lightweight loose objects, like grocery bags, that could be distracting if they came loose while driving with the windows rolled down.

8. Wash and Wax

Depending on the climate you live in and frequently drive to, your car can collect a lot of grime over the winter. Certain substances, like airborne pollution, can cause corrosion if left sitting on your car's undercarriage or paint.

Wash your vehicle thoroughly and apply a layer of automotive wax to protect your paint job. Waxing can prevent tree sap, bird droppings, and other common spring hazards from scratching, corroding, or etching the paint. Waxing is more important if you park outside more often than you park in a garage.

In addition to the general maintenance measures listed above, take care of any issues you've been putting off. This proactive spring upkeep ensures that your car can safely transport you wherever you go during the summer, whether you're taking your usual commute or road tripping to a dream vacation destination.
By Discount Tire Centers 15 Jun, 2017

You come out of your home to start your day, car keys already in your hand. But as you approach your vehicle, you notice an odd puddle underneath it that doesn't appear to be precipitation.

In a moment like the one just described, the unexpected puddle can be surprising and a little scary. To the average driver, a leak just looks like one problem: a major car repair.

In reality, vehicle leaks can occur for a number of reasons. The first step to determining the severity of the leak is identifying the liquid. In this blog, we list seven common vehicle fluids that may leak from your car and their individual characteristics.

1. Antifreeze

Antifreeze or coolant helps regulate engine temperature when you drive. If your engine becomes too hot, especially if you drive an older model vehicle, a puddle may form under the car as it cools off.

Antifreeze is the most common vehicle fluid leak and usually isn't serious, but you should take your car in if the leak happens more than once. Antifreeze is brightly colored, usually green or orange. If you notice a green or orangeish leak, keep your pets away from the car since antifreeze smells appealing but is highly toxic if ingested.

2. Battery Acid

If your battery casing becomes damaged, the battery may break and begin to leak acid. These leaks will usually appear under the front end of the car since that's where the battery is commonly located.

Battery acid has a distinct sulfur smell that you may mistake for rotten eggs. If you find a leak with this odor, do not touch the liquid or get any on your clothes since battery acid is highly caustic. Your battery will most likely need to be replaced.

3. Brake Fluid

Modern vehicle brakes use hydraulics to bring your car to a stop. Like any hydraulic system, your brakes need an adequate fluid level to function. Brake fluid leaks tend to happen less often than most leaks on this list, but can be far more dangerous since a leak could lead to sudden loss of brakes while driving.

Brake fluid looks oily and yellowish in color. If you see a puddle with these characteristics, have your car towed to the mechanic because, if the culprit is a brake fluid leak, the vehicle is not safe to drive.

4. Differential Fluid

Differential fluid or gear oil lubricates the moving parts in your car's axles. When differential fluid leaks occur, they tend to drip continuously, so you may hear and see the problem immediately.

Differential fluid leaks can appear in either axle, but are more likely to occur in the rear axle. This fluid is thick, dark yellow to black, and smelly. The fluid may smell like a truck stop or mechanic's garage.

5. Fuel

Whether your vehicle runs on gasoline or diesel, it's possible for leaks to develop in the fuel tank. If the leak appears near the back of the car, your gas tank is probably leaking. If the fluid puddles near the front of the car, you may have a faulty fuel pump.

These leaks are among the easiest to identify because the liquid will smell like gasoline no matter how long it sits. Fuel-related problems can lead to a lot of wasted money on gas or diesel, but almost never result in combustion accidents despite their scary scent.

6. Motor Oil

Motor oil may seep out of your engine as you drive, especially if your vehicle has a large number of miles on it. If you notice that oil has escaped the engine block while your car was parked, do not attempt to drive the vehicle since it may not have enough oil pressure to run properly.

The color of a motor oil leak depends on when your last oil change was. If you recently changed your oil, the fluid will look light yellow or amber. If your car is almost due or overdue for an oil change, the liquid will appear dark brown or black and have particles floating in it.

7. Water

If the fluid coming from your car looks like water, it most likely is. This water is generally the result of condensation in your cooling system. If you recently turned on the air conditioner in your car, there probably isn't actually a leak, just excess moisture.

If the amount of water coming from your car seems abnormal, have a mechanic look at the cooling system during your next routine service.

If you notice a fluid leak, take action immediately. Some leaks can lead to serious problems for your car and major safety hazards for you and your passengers.

To reduce the risk of fluid leak development, stay on top of routine car maintenance, including oil changes  and fluid exchange services. To schedule your next service, contact the Discount Tire & Service Centers location nearest you.

By Discount Tire Centers 15 May, 2017

Getting a flat tire is something every driver dreads, but you might not be able to avoid it forever. According to one estimate, there are 220 million flat tires every year.

Fortunately, following the right steps can help you minimize the impact of a flat tire. You can even lower your risk of getting one in the first place.

Here are several important steps you can take both before and after getting a flat tire.

Before the Flat Tire

You shouldn't wait until your tires are in terrible shape to prepare for a flat tire. Have a plan in place now for what you'll do if you get a flat tire. Make sure you have a spare tire and the necessary tools to change your tire. You'll need a lug wrench, jack, wheel wedges, gloves, and a flashlight.

The first time you get a flat tire shouldn't be the first time you've ever changed a tire. Practice changing your tire at home in your driveway so you're prepared to change your tires in a more dangerous scenario.

Basic prevention tips can help you avoid getting a flat tire. Check the tire pressure frequently and make sure it matches your tires' recommended pressure requirements. Also, inspect your tires regularly for cuts, bubbles, cracks, punctures, and other damage. These problems should be fixed immediately by an auto mechanic.

Remember that front tires wear down faster than back tires. After all, front tires bear more weight and handle more stress from steering and braking. Getting your tires rotated can help you maintain even wear on all four tires. Your owner's manual will give you a good idea of how often to get your tires rotated, but a general recommendation is to rotate them every six months.

Even with rotation, tires wear down over time and actually come with an expiration date. Getting new tires when necessary can help you avoid a flat tire. Most tires can last up to 60,000 miles, but you might need to replace them earlier. Look at the wear bar on your tire, which is positioned in the middle of your tire tread. If the wear bar is even with the tire tread, your tires have worn down significantly and you should replace your tires.

Also, pay attention to warning signs that your tire might blow out. If your car vibrates while you drive it, there might be a problem with the tires. A hissing sound from your tires is a sign of a leak that could cause a flat tire. If you notice these signs, bring your car to a tire specialist right away.

After the Flat Tire

You'll notice you have a flat tire if you hear a grinding or groaning sound coming from your car. Your car might start slowing down, and your car's steering will feel off. Continuing to drive with a flat tire not only damages your car but it also compromises your safety and the safety of other drivers.

When you get a flat tire, turn on your emergency lights and slow down. Pull over as soon as you see an open stretch of road away from traffic. You don't want to change your tire too close to oncoming traffic.

Now, follow these steps to change your tire:

  1. Position the wheel wedges to prevent your car from rolling. Place them behind the back tires if you're changing a front tire. Place them in front of the front tires if you're changing a back tire.
  2. If you have one, remove the wheel cover or hubcap from your flat tire.
  3. Loosen the lug nuts on your flat tire by turning them counterclockwise with the lug wrench.
  4. Use the jack to lift the flat tire about six inches.
  5. Remove the lug nuts.
  6. Hold onto the tire and pull it toward you to remove it.
  7. Insert the spare tire by aligning the tire rim with the lug bolts.
  8. Replace the lug nuts and turn them clockwise until they are tight.
  9. Lower your car until the tire returns to the ground (but doesn't yet support the car's full weight).
  10. Tighten the lug nuts with the wrench.
  11. Lower your car completely and remove the jack.
  12. Make sure your spare tire has adequate tire pressure before you drive.

Remember that your spare tire is not a permanent tire, and it can handle only about seventy miles of driving. Thus, you'll need to take your car to a tire shop right away to select a new tire. When you take your car to the shop, ask the mechanic to check your other tires for signs of wear.

Follow these tips to prevent flat tires and to resolve a flat tire problem if it does occur. If you need new tires, visit Discount Tire & Service Centers . We'll help you select the right tires for your vehicle.

By Discount Tire Centers 15 Apr, 2017

Many common tire issues are easy to identify, such as cracks in the sidewalls that are visible almost immediately.

However, the tire problems that are often the most difficult to deal with are also the hardest to spot. For example, many drivers do not know how to prevent, detect, or address a slow leak in one or more of their tires.

In this blog, we walk you through the fundamentals of slow tire leaks and how you can protect yourself and your vehicle if one occurs.

What Is a Slow Tire Leak?

Slow tire leaks are exactly what they sound like: small vulnerabilities in a tire that cause it to lose air gradually over a long period of time. Slow leaks differ from typical tire leaks because you may not be able to spot them unless you know what you're looking for.

Unlike other tire leaks, slow leaks rarely cause hissing noises or dramatic and sudden changes in tire pressure. Slow leaks can also appear anywhere on the tire, which can make them more difficult to find.  Your tire may develop a slow leak:

  • Around the valve
  • In the tire bead (where the tire touches the wheel)
  • In the tread
  • On the sidewall
  • On the valve stem

While slow leaks are not particularly obvious, they can be hazardous. Like any other kind of leak, slow leaks eventually decrease the tire's air pressure to dangerously low levels. If this decrease in tire pressure occurs while you are driving, the tires will generate more heat than normal.

This excess heat and friction can wear through the rubber unexpectedly, causing a blowout. This risk is particularly common while driving at freeway speeds.

What Causes Slow Tire Leaks?

Slow tire leaks can appear for a number of reasons, including the same reasons as typical leaks. For example, a nail getting caught in your tire could potentially cause a slow leak if the puncture leaves a smaller hole behind.

Slow leaks can also develop due to poor tire maintenance and extreme driving conditions. Common causes include:

  • Corrosion, especially of the metal air valve
  • Tire aging, which can cause cracks in the rubber
  • Wheel wear, which may cause the tire to wear abnormally since they don't fit together as they should

To prevent slow leaks, keep your tires properly inflated, especially when driving in particularly warm or cool weather. Additionally, you should replace your tires as recommended by your manufacturer, since driving on an older set can lead to wheel and tire problems alike.

What Are the Signs of a Slow Tire Leak?

To identify a slow leak, you'll need to pay close attention to how your tires perform. It's possible you have a slow leak if you notice:

  • Frequent flats after you have one or more of your tires replaced
  • Low tire pressure after your car is parked for a long period of time
  • Low tire pressure in just one tire while the other tires maintain adequate pressure

If you suspect that one tire has a slow leak, you can perform a basic check in your own driveway or garage. Simply use water to test for escaping air. Perform this test after your car has been at rest for at least 30 minutes.

Then, use a hose or a container of water to wet down the tire. Observe the surface of the tire closely. If there is a leak, you should notice bubbles that break through the water where the air is escaping.

However, not all slow leaks are detectable in this way. If you experience the signs of a slow leak as outlined above, have your tires inspected by an expert, even if you don't notice air bubbles during a water test.

How Are Slow Tire Leaks Repaired?

The repair method for a slow leak depends on where the leak is located and how advanced the damage is. For example, a leak in the tread of the tire may completely disappear when patched by a mechanic.

However, a leak caused by a bent wheel may require that both the wheel and the tire be replaced. Similarly, a leak caused by corrosion to the air valve may either necessitate the removal and replacement of the valve or replacement of the entire tire.

Because slow leaks are so difficult to find, it's important to bring your car into a shop for evaluation. Home patch kits rarely work to completely stop the damage caused by a slow leak because the leaks are so often related to more serious tire or wheel issues.

 

Suspect that one of your tires has developed a slow leak? Come to the Discount Tire & Service Centers location nearest you  for expert automotive service and high-quality new tires when your current set needs replacement.
By Discount Tire Centers 01 Apr, 2017

If you're going on a long car ride with young children, you may be worried. Kids are great at exploring and finding things to play with and learn about. But children can find it difficult to stay cheerful during long drives to fun destinations.

If you can keep the children entertained, the ride will be much more relaxing for you. If you have a family road trip coming up, plan now to make the car ride enjoyable for everyone. Keep reading to discover five ideas for keeping your kids happy in the car.

1.  Audio Books

Even if your child is just three years old, he or she can understand a story. Your child may already love certain books, but you may not be able to read out loud if you're the only adult in the car. Even if you switch off driving with a partner, you may not want to read books at the top of your voice for very long.

Audio books can be checked out for free at most public libraries, and if you pick the right book, your children will be enthralled for hours – and you won't have to do any work. If you don't want to listen to the same book your children want, or your children disagree about what book to listen to, you can always give them individual audio players with headphones.

2. License Plate Acronyms

If your children are a little older and like creative games, try this. Watch passing cars' license plates, and read out the letters you see on them. Then everyone decides what those letters should stand for. For example, one of your children might decide "MHY" stands for "mighty hippos yawning." The object of the game is to see if you can get everyone else to laugh at your interpretation.

3. Sing-Alongs

When everyone is getting cranky and fidgeting, a sing-along can be a good way to lift the mood and get some wiggles out. Your children probably have some favorite songs that they would love to listen to, but you can also introduce new music. Streaming services like Pandora or Spotify have children's music, and you can also find CDs at your local library to try.

Make sure to match the mood of the car to the songs you pick. If you want background music to settle your children down, pick quieter, slower songs. If you're looking for an in-car dance party to get rid of excess energy, grab the catchiest, most upbeat tunes you know.

4. Creative Toys

Kids tend to love art, crafts, and interactive toys. Many of these messy items can't be taken in the car, like a watercolor set. However, with the right preparations, you can bring some along.

Toys like coloring books, stickers, pipe cleaners, and silly putty can be brought if you put them in a cookie sheet. The sheet's edges will keep items like crayons from getting lost and will contain the mess. Additionally, the hard surface makes a kind of travel desk for your child.

If you use a cookie sheet, you can experiment with other toys. Many kids love bringing magnets along to play with since they stick to the cookie sheet so well.

Of course, you can also try toys that don't need a cookie sheet. Dry erase boards and etch-a-sketches do not make any mess, but they still let your children express their creativity. If your children can be trusted with them, you can even let them decorate the back windows with erasable window markers.

5. Electronics

Usually, you probably have rules for how much screen time your kids get. You want them to do more than just use a smartphone or tablet all day. However, during a road trip, you can relax the rules a little for the sake of your and your children's sanity. Plus, if your children are excited to get extra screen time as a special treat, they may be more cheerful and better behaved.

Your children can watch movies, play games, or listen to music. Remember to bring child-size headphones if you don't want to hear all the noise from their activities. With each of your children quietly doing something they enjoy, you can focus on driving or pursuing your own leisure activity while your partner drives.

 

No road trip goes perfectly. At least one of your children will probably throw a tantrum, get car sick, or start a fight. However, if you plan ahead, you can minimize the unpleasantness and make car rides into something your kids look forward to.

Before you go, make sure to stop by Discount Tire and Service Centers. You want your children to stay safe, which means that the car you ride in needs to be in good condition for your trip. We can check your vehicle, service it, and recommend needed repairs. Have a great road trip!
By Discount Tire Centers 25 Jan, 2017

With Memorial Day right around the corner, it’s time to start planning the weekend’s festivities. With our special Buy 2, Get 2 deal on  tires , this holiday, it’ll be easier than ever to hit the road and celebrate Memorial Day at one of California’s most gorgeous beaches!

(1) Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach belongs to Orange Country, so you can expect that you’ll have plenty of gorgeous things to look at. Clear water and white sand are the perfect backdrop for volleyball, tanning, water activities, and sky-gazing.

(2) Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach is famous for its outdoor activities. With over a mile of gorgeous sand, joggers, swimmers, surfers, and sun worshippers flock to this destination hot spot. Don’t forget about Fiesta Hermosa, which takes place every Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekend. This is rumored to be the largest arts and crafts fair in SoCal – certainly an event you won’t want to miss!

(3) Venice Beach

The stores and restaurants of Venice Beach are just the beginning. Beautiful scenery, dancers, galleries, surf shops, rollerblading, jugglers, music, palm readers – you name it, Venice has it!

(4) Santa Monica

This infamous pier boasts a boardwalk with the best view of the ocean and sunset, amusement park rides, and more delicious food than you’ll know what to do with.

(5) Catalina Island

Visit Catalina off of SoCal’s coast and you can venture into a world of snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, and more. Travel to and from the island by boat or helicopter, and don’t forget to bring your camera!

Save money this Memorial Day AND make sure that you, your family, and your vehicle are safe while traveling the open road.


By Discount Tire Centers 25 Jan, 2017

Aligned tires are in the best position, relative to the road and your car's frame, to maintain traction while driving. When your tires become misaligned, the poor positioning can undo a lot of the good that high-quality tires do.

In this blog, we provide you with symptoms and qualities to look for that can let you know when it's time to schedule a wheel alignment service.

Appearance

In most cases, your tires won't look tilted or crooked when they're out of alignment. Most misalignment happens in small increments. In fact, wheel alignment experts may measure misalignment with as small of a unit of measure as millimeters.

While you won't see the misalignment itself, you may start to see signs that your tires aren't in their proper position fairly soon after the alignment changes.

Take a look at your tire treads. When correctly aligned, your tires should wear evenly individually and wear about the same amount as a set. If you notice excessive wear on only one tire or on one section of the tread on all of your tires, this issue could be due to misalignment.

The wear usually appears near the edge of the tread, either on the inside (closest to your car) or the outside (farthest from your car's frame). However, misalignment can also cause deep wearing in the center of the tread without affecting the edges of the tread.

All tires experience wear over time, and that uneven wear can occur due to poor road conditions and other factors. But if you notice significant abnormalities in tire tread wear, you should have your alignment inspected, especially if you notice any of the other symptoms on this list.

Driving Conditions

While your car as a whole is fairly strong, individual pieces can be moved with relatively little pressure. Misalignment can happen during normal driving, and you may not be able to identify when the issue occurred exactly.

However, your car is much more likely to go out of alignment if you frequently drive in the following conditions:

  • Construction areas
  • Parking lots with multiple speed bumps
  • Poorly maintained stretches of road

Misalignment can even occur due to a single driving incident, such as running over a curb, bumping into the edge of a parking stall, hitting a pothole, or experiencing a collision. After one of these incidents occurs, pay attention to the way your car handles to get a sense of whether or not the alignment has changed.

Handling

One of the easiest-to-recognize signs of misalignment is a change in handling and steering accuracy, especially when the change happens suddenly. Your car has likely developed an alignment problem if you notice one or more of the following handling issues:

  • The steering wheel seems to pull in one direction.
  • The car drifts to one side or the other when you drive in a straight line.
  • Your steering wheel feels loose or unstable and the vehicle is harder to control.

You may also notice these handling related problems:

  • Screeching or squealing tires when turning sharply
  • Steering wheel appears crooked when driving straight ahead
  • Steering wheel doesn't return to center position after turning
  • Steering wheel vibrates or shakes while driving

If these problems occur almost every time you drive, your car may be far out of alignment. It's critical to have your alignment checked and repaired as soon as possible to ensure that your car remains safe to drive.

Maintenance Record

Unlike oil changes, your car doesn't need an alignment service at a specific interval. However, you should take note of when your last alignment service was to ensure that your car doesn't go too long without an inspection.

Generally, you should have your alignment checked once every one to three years. If your daily commute includes navigating around potholes or through construction sites, schedule annual alignment checks. If you prefer to have a numeric guideline for car maintenance, have your alignment checked every 6,000 to 12,000 miles. Many mechanics can perform this check when you bring your car in for another routine service.

We recommend having an alignment check performed after you install new tires on your vehicle.

Have you noticed warning signs that your wheels are out of alignment? Come in to any Discount Tire and Service Centers location for an inspection and an expert service. We offer one-time, three-year, and lifetime wheel alignment services  to ensure that you can maintain your car's performance over time.

By Discount Tire Centers 19 Dec, 2016

Now that winter is here, you and everyone else in southern California are clamoring to visit the desert. It's a rite of passage.

From December to March, thousands of tourists leave the greater Los Angeles and San Diego Metropolitan areas and drive into Death Valley, the Mojave Desert, or Owens Valley. Every year, several of them experience car trouble, get stuck, and pay costly towing fees.

If it's your first time driving into the sprawling, dry expanse, then you need to be prepared. Follow our driving and car maintenance tips to help you do it.

1. Buy a Gas Caddy, and Fill Up Your Gas Tank Every Time You See a Gas Station  

Much of the Golden State's beautiful deserts are accessible via state highways and paved roads. These easy-to-navigate roads make our deserts seem like deceptively simple roadtrip destinations.

Perhaps because of this, many people take common conveniences like gas stations for granted. They pass a small, independent gas station because they think they'll find a cheaper one up ahead. A few hours later, they're stuck on the side of the road because they ran out of gas.  

In preparation for your roadtrip, buy two 15-gallon gas caddies from your local hardware store. Fill them up the day you leave for your trip, and store them in your truck or on your car's exterior mounting system.

These extra fuel stores could mean the difference between you getting stuck or not. Use them only in case of an emergency, and fill up your gas tank every time you pass a gas station. The farther out you go, the fewer you're going to find.

2. Get AAA or Another Roadside Assistance Service

Nothing is scarier than a vehicle breakdown in a remote area. Minor repairs, such as a flat tire, are an easy fix that most car owners can perform. However, certain issues are significantly more serious. In those cases, you need roadside assistance.

Services like AAA offer roadside assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They offer a round-the-clock dispatch with an affiliate network of tow truck drivers and mechanics.

If you get locked out of your car, or worse, then they can come to your rescue. In the remote areas of the California desert, AAA and other roadside assistance services will also save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in towing fees.

3. Bring Water, Food, Layers, and an Extra Phone Charger

The desert can be very hot during the day, even in the middle of winter. In the evenings, it can be extremely cold. Rainstorms and dust storms are also a common but harrowing part of exploring the desert. Bring layers and rain gear to keep you comfortable during these temperature fluctuations and weather patterns.

It also may be wise to pack blankets and sleeping bags. If your car breaks down, you'll want to stay warm as you wait for roadside assistance.

Always bring your cell phone on a desert roadtrip and an extra cell phone charger. You need to have means to call for help in case of an emergency. However, in some places, you won't have cell phone service. Many California highways have roadside call boxes for you to use. Depending on how far into the desert you want to explore, you should consider getting a satellite phone.

4. Get Your Radiator Inspected, Oil Changed, and Tires Checked Before You Leave

Before you wander into the desert, it's critical to bring your car into a local, reputable auto service and tire center like Discount Tire and Service Centers.

Radiators have a tendency to overheat out in the desert, leaving you high and dry in the middle of nowhere. Your local service center can perform a radiator flush, part of cooling system service, which can stop your car from overheating. Replace any dried-out or cracked belts and hoses, and stash five gallons of coolant or water just in case your engine loses moisture. Check your battery fluid level, and remove any corrosion from its cables.

The day you leave, double-check to make sure your tires aren't cracked or worn. The highway surface in the desert gets a lot of sun exposure, resulting in high asphalt temperatures. These conditions cause tires to fail more quickly than on a normal, urban road in San Diego or L.A. Remember to pack a spare tire and a jack, and know how to change a flat tire.

In addition to Discount Tire and Service Centers' cooling system service, our technicians also can change your oil and check your tires for appropriate tread. While these are minor, run-of-the-mill inspections, they may prevent major damage to your vehicle.

For more information about our comprehensive car maintenance services, call us today at (800) 368-5019. You also can book an appointment at one of our locations through our  online reservation system .
By Discount Tire Centers 15 Aug, 2016

Have you ever noticed that dashboard warning lights vary from vehicle to vehicle? While multiple automakers sometimes use the same symbols in dashboards, many car problems have several pictograms that mean the same thing.

This dashboard light variation can lead to confusion for drivers. In fact, a study done in the UK found that 98% of drivers can't identify the problems indicated by all the basic warning lights. Even if you know what problem a light relates to, you may still have an internal debate. Should I pull over? Can I just keep driving?

Get ready to take a crash course in dashboard warning lights so you can avoid vehicle breakdowns.

Green Lights: Keep on Going

Automakers have wisely color-coded dashboard warning lights to match the traffic lights you drive under every day. Green dashboard lights give you general information about what systems in your car are operating at a given moment. You can almost always drive normally when you see green lights turn on in your dashboard.

Some common green dashboard lights include these:

  • Cruise control
  • Turn signal arrows
  • Low-beam headlight indictor
  • Daytime driving light indicator
  • Brake pedal request

A few neutral dashboard lights commonly appear in blue, not green. For example, the high-beam headlight indicator always glows a bright blue.

If you drive a newer or specialized vehicle (such as a hybrid-electric car), it may have special green dashboard indicator lights. Look out for the following green symbols:

  • The letters "ECO" to show that your car is operating at an eco-friendly efficiency
  • A plug that illuminates when your electric or hybrid car is charging
  • The words "EV Mode" or a car with the letters "EV" inside, which means that your hybrid car is running only on the electric engine

When you notice green lights on your dashboard, continue on down the road to your destination without worry.

Yellow Lights: Make Adjustments Soon

The yellow traffic light means caution, and a yellow dashboard light carries a similar warning. Yellow lights turn on when there's a problem that requires your attention-but not immediately.

Many yellow lights illuminate when your car's essential fluids are getting low, such as these:

  • Gas
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • Oil

Fill them up when you get a chance – the sooner the better.

A few yellow dashboard lights can be a little pesky. The check engine light has a reputation for turning on for no reason and being near impossible to get rid of. You can resolve the issue and see the light turn off, only to have it come back on a few days later.

In actuality, the check engine light serves many purposes. It's a catch-all light that comes on when the car's computer detects a problem in systems such as the emissions sensors, the fuel level indicators, or supplementary engine components.

When the check engine light comes on, you can use an automotive code reader to diagnose the problem yourself. You also have the option of asking a mechanic to diagnose the problem for a small fee. The mechanic can usually fix the problem quickly – and make sure the check engine light will stay off.

One other yellow light you should know about is the tire pressure light. This light usually looks like an exclamation point inside a rounded U, which represents a tire. Your car's tires drive best when they have the optimal air pressure. If the air pressure in any tire drops significantly (by 25% or more), this light turns on.

Usually, one of two problems are present when this light illuminates. A tire may have a slow leak that caused tire pressure to reduce over time. In this case, your car will still feel like it drives normally. Get to a service station soon, and re-inflate all the tires to the recommended pressure.

But, if your car feels out of balance, you may have a tire leaking air fast. In that situation, you should pull over as soon as possible and evaluate your tires.

Red Lights: Act Now

Red dashboard lights indicate the most serious problems, but you don't always have to pull over when they come on. For example, if you left your parking brake on, the red word "BRAKE" likely appears in your dashboard. Deactivate the brake so you can proceed safely.

You may also see a red light that looks like a passenger being hit by an airbag. This light means the car has detected a problem with the supplemental restraint system. You should have this problem checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible to ensure your passengers have the essential protection they get from airbags.

Of course, many red dashboard lights are meant to make you pull over and stop driving. Pull to the side of the road when any of these lights come on:

  • Oil pressure warning
  • Temperature warning
  • Battery or charging system warning
  • Low coolant level

You should also pull over if lights that are normally yellow glow red or start blinking. That change in color indicates a more serious issue with that system.

 

Although dashboard lights can seem difficult to decipher, there are some you shouldn't ignore. Get to know the dashboard warnings in your car so you can drive safely. If you have lights that turn on frequently with no apparent cause, have a mechanic at Discount Tire and Service Centers examine your vehicle.
By Discount Tire Centers 11 Jul, 2016

Hot California summers can spell danger for your car's engine if your cooling system isn't running at full efficiency. If you notice that the temperature gauge on your dashboard is hovering around the "hot" end of the spectrum, or if you notice steam and a burning smell coming from beneath the hood, pull over right away. Your engine is overheating, and continuing to drive may cause permanent damage.

After pulling over, turn off the car and allow the engine to cool for a few minutes. Although you should take your car to a mechanic as soon as the engine cools down completely, it's good to have a basic understanding of how the cooling system works so you can take care of minor issues and prevent problems in the future.

How It Works

The engine must operate at a delicate temperature balance. A cold engine quickly degrades and works less efficiently, since the oil is thicker and harder to move. A hot engine burns out. The cooling system needs to keep the engine at a constant temperature by getting rid of excess heat while you drive and warming the engine up quickly when you turn it on.

Modern cars use a 50-percent-coolant, 50-percent-water solution to keep the engine at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This solution has a low freezing point and a high boiling point, allowing it to remain in liquid form in nearly every weather unless something goes wrong. The cooling system pumps the coolant through the engine constantly while you drive.

The cooling system consists of many parts that must all work together well. If one part malfunctions, the delicate balance is disrupted and the engine suffers.

Common Problems and How to Prevent Them

If your engine's temperature is climbing, there are a few likely culprits. Keep an eye on these parts and take your car to an auto service shop as soon as you detect a problem that you can't fix. The best way to monitor the state of your cooling system is to check the level of coolant, as low levels almost always indicate that something is wrong.

1. Old Coolant

Over time, rust and dirt collect in the coolant, ruining its purity and clogging the system. The coolant itself will also break down, becoming much less effective at cleaning and maintaining the engine's temperature.

How to fix it : Completely exchange the coolant and replace it with a new solution every couple years. How often you need to change the coolant depends on the car, so check the owner's manual for specific information.

2. Coolant Leaks

Although coolant degrades, it should stay at a stable level. If you check your coolant and notice that the amount is low (below the minimum fill line), you likely have a leak somewhere in the system.

Leaks can develop either externally or internally. External leaks are easy to detect because they leave a fluid trail. With internal leaks, the coolant leaks into the engine or oil pan, so you won't see any spilled fluid.

How to fix it: In either case, the leaks occur because of a faulty part. You can sometimes blame the water pump, which circulates the coolant through the engine, radiator cap, or gasket. A mechanic can identify the broken part and replace it. Though a replacement may be costly, it is significantly less expensive than having to constantly replace the fluid or the entire engine.

3. Bad Radiator Cap

The radiator cap raises the boiling point of the coolant solution by placing intense pressure on the liquid. With the correct amount of pressure, the boiling point increases by around 45 degrees, raising the boiling point of the water from 212 degrees Fahrenheit to 257 degrees. The radiator cap releases the coolant when it reaches the necessary pressure limit, preventing the coolant from overheating or exploding.  

Problems occur when the radiator cap no longer provides a complete seal on the reservoir. The pressure can escape, leaving the coolant at a lower boiling point, which causes it to turn from liquid to gas. Steam won't maintain a temperature balance, so the steam escapes, lowering your coolant levels and causing your engine to overheat.

How to fix it: The first step, as always, is to check the coolant levels. If you notice that they're low, the problem might be the radiator cap, particularly if you see steam escaping from under the hood. Have your mechanic replace the cap.

4. Thermostat

The thermostat monitors the temperature of the engine and releases an appropriate amount of fluid when necessary. The coolant won't flow until the engine sufficiently heats up. The thermostat remains closed until the engine is hot enough, and then it opens to let coolant circulate through the radiator.

Sometimes, however, the thermostat doesn't open or close when it should. If it remains open, the coolant keeps the engine perpetually cold and far under the temperature it needs to operate. If the thermostat stays shut, the engine overheats, leading to the usual problems.

How to fix it: An engine that never heats up can usually be blamed on the thermostat. An overheating engine can be caused by several problems, but you can generally diagnose the thermostat as the issue if there isn't any loss of coolant. You can either replace the thermostat yourself or take the car to an auto service shop.

 

Maintaining a healthy cooling system keeps your car running safely and efficiently, and it saves you hundreds of dollars in the long run. Be sure to examine it regularly and take the car to a mechanic, such as Discount Tire and Service Centers, at the first sign of trouble.
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