Check Engine Lights – A Crash Course

MINT HILL, NC – Check engine lights. That big orange light that everyone is afraid of. But should we be? Check engine lights are a unique tool that has revolutionized how we inspect, maintain, and keep cars running.

The check engine light as we know it today was born in the mid-1990s. These check engine lights are part of the OBDII system. OBDII is short for onboard diagnostics II, but the name itself is a bit misleading. There was never a standardized “OBDI.” Through 1995, each manufacturer determined how a check engine light and its trouble codes would work. Codes weren’t standardized and could change from one brand to another. We refer to the modern incarnation as OBDII simply because it simply replaced something that had previously been semi-unregulated, and because it needed to be differentiated from what had already been in use.

From 1996 to today, all cars sold in the USA have OBDII equipped. It standardizes why a check engine light can come on across-the-board and makes diagnosing vehicles easier. It can come on not just for mechanical malfunctions, but for pollution issues and electrical malfunctions too.

This light commonly either takes the shape of an engine or is the text that says “SERVICE ENGINE SOON.” Wrench, maintenance, ABS, VSC, TPMS, and Traction Control lights, while important, are no check engine lights. Check engine lights are designed to primarily focus on the powertrain and emissions, not suspension, handling, or tires.

A lot of times I’ll get asked “is pulling a Check Engine Light Code diagnostic?” and the answer to that is no. Codes, while great for pointing you in the right direction, are not diagnostic. Example: Let’s say your check engine light comes on and it’s a P0456 – Small EVAP Leak Detected. Simple right? Not quite. EVAP is short for an evaporative emissions system. This system has lots of different parts involved. The charcoal canister, canister vent valve, purge solenoid, purge valve, vapor lines, and your fuel tank are just some of the parts EVAP systems. Did that code tell us which of these things went bad? What if nothing is bad at all, and your vehicle’s computer (PCM) isn’t testing correctly causing a false-positive?

We don’t know, and we can’t until we dig a little deeper. That is diagnostic. Codes are helpful, they steer us in the right direction, but they aren’t genies in a bottle.

Remember, OBDII was implemented in 1995 and hasn’t changed much. Do you have a smartphone, or a fairly new Mac, or a Windows 10 PC? You know what those are capable of, right? Well, your car is running the automotive equivalent of Windows 95. While there is better tech out there, it hasn’t been federally mandated yet. So until that day comes, OBDII is the path we’re going to take.

North Carolina Window Tint Laws

MINT HILL, NC – Window tint law in North Carolina is something we get asked about a lot. Oftentimes, we’ll meet someone who has failed their state inspection and they’ll say something like “it’s legal where I moved from,” or “it came off the lot like this,” so to answer some of those questions, I wanted to put together a quick guide.

Aftermarket tint is defined as something that was done to the vehicle after it rolled off the assembly line, not when it leaves the dealer lot. Glass that was darkened by the manufacturer is usually stained or darkened in some similar manner. Aftermarket tint is a film, and you can feel it with your fingernail. In our state, film tint has to be tested as an aftermarket.

North Carolina requires tint to be checked yearly on your state inspection with a few exceptions. Limos, touring/sightseeing vans, police vehicles, and people with medical waivers are exempt. For everyone else, the legal limit is 35%.

On cars of any kind (meaning sedans, hatchbacks, two-seaters and so on) all windows must meet this 35% requirement. For trucks, SUVs, crossovers, minivans, and everything else, only the driver and passenger front windows are limited to 35%. The rest can be as dark as you want.

You cannot tint the front windshield past the AS1 line (a line on every windshield showing how low sun-blocking tint can go without interfering with your line-of-sight) without a medical waiver.

Why to Choose Independent Repair Shops

When it comes to auto repair, choices have never been higher. Dealers, chains, and independent shops are abundant and your choices are only limited to the distance you’re willing to drive. It’s hard to choose. So why choose independent shops?

Independent shops are generally independent for a reason. Ask a shop owner why they started their own shop, and the answers may surprise you.

“Working for myself was the best way to ensure I could uphold my values and hire technicians with integrity.”

“I wanted to be with my kids more and this was the best way to ensure I had hours that worked for me.”

“I saw a need in my town that I knew I could fill.”

These are not hypotheticals. These are all real reasons I’ve heard small shop owners mention as to why they went independent. These are not CEOs or Presidents or other big-brass types who care more about bottom-lines and untapped markets. These are your neighbors, and they just happen to like turning wrenches. They live in the communities they serve and are doing their best to provide the best to their neighbors. They’re small business owners that love their town and want to do good by it. That is something that is very hard to duplicate at the chain and dealer level.

You should shop at independent repair facilities for the same reason you choose local restaurants and bakeries over big names in those industries. Because when you support local, you support your neighbors and more importantly, yourself.

Your Owner’s Manual and You: A Crash Course

Your owner’s manual is perhaps the most in-depth, complex, thorough piece of reading material you own. It has everything from basic specs to complex diagrams and everything in-between. That being said, the book isn’t something you should feel intimidated by, and with a few pieces of knowledge at your side, you’ll be flipping through it like a pro in no time.

One of the best things that your owner’s manual provides is a service guide. Whenever you hear us pros talking about “factory recommended maintenance” or going “by the book” this is usually what we mean. If you’re coming up on a key mileage, like 100,000 miles, and you’re wondering what exactly you’ll need when you hit it, the book will tell you down to the labor involved.

Another nice thing that can be found in your owner’s manual is some basic part numbers. Things like what light bulbs you need, what fuses your car uses and what they act as fail-safes for, and some other minor do-it-yourself type parts.

One thing that I think is more crucial than ever these days is spare tire information. Spares are not one-size-fits-all tires as they used to be. As space gets tighter and tighter, automakers have found unique ways of stuffing these things away, if they’re even equipped at all, and they can be hard to find sometimes. Also useful, the manual tells you how to install a spare, so even those of us who aren’t mechanically-inclined can easily swap them on and off.

One of my favorite features of an owner’s manual is the inclusion of some basic part numbers. Take for example light bulbs. Light bulbs may seem like a simple, one-size-fits-all type thing, but oftentimes your car may take five or six different kinds of bulbs in different places. The owner’s manual will gladly take all of the guesswork out of it for you by telling you what kind of bulbs you need for your headlights, taillights, turn signals, reverse lights, interior lights, and so on. It doesn’t just stop at bulbs, however. The kinds of replacement fuse you need, filter numbers, and even the kind of battery your key uses can all be listed in an owner’s manual. Handy, right?

Lastly, an owner’s manual has great information on safe driving habits for your car. This isn’t just about keeping both hands on the wheel or anything like that, but rather things like proper weight distribution in the cabin, proper towing habits, if towing is applicable to your vehicle, proper use of a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive system, again, if applicable, and proper use of your headlights.

There you go! Now you’re an owner-manual pro. If you have any questions about our articles, your car, our company, or just general automotive questions, feel free to call us at 704-545-4597, email us at kenmanchester1@gmail.com, check us out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ManchesterAutoandTireOfMintHill, or check out our website at www.manchesterautoandtire.com.

Tips and Tricks for Making Your State Inspection Process Easier

State inspections, while a great tool to help keep the air clean, the roads safe and property taxes paid, is a bit of a headache for you and me. Getting one seems simple enough, but rules and regulations can seem confusing at times. Here are some things you should know to make inspections a bit easier.

  1. You can do them 90 days early.

One thing the state hasn’t particularly advertised well is that you don’t have to wait for the month you’re due to have an inspection done. You can have them done up to 90 days before the last day of the month you’re due. For example, a vehicle due in May is eligible for an inspection as early as March 2nd, 90 days prior to May 31. The earlier you knock it out, the less you have to worry about things like getting new stickers for your plates on time.

2. You can pay your property tax online immediately afterward.

Our state inspection computers are connected to the internet and intentionally designed to immediately communicate with the DMV that your inspection is completed. If you want to, you can pay your taxes online the same day. No more mailing it in and waiting!

3. Prices are set.

Inspections will either be $13.60 for safety only or $30 for safety and emissions, plus a $10 window tint fee if you have it. These prices are determined by the state and legally shops cannot charge more than that. If you know what you need, you already know the price!

Understanding Your Car’s Air Filters

As we enter the warmer months, you may see local shops offering filter specials, ours included. If you’re wondering what these filters do, here’s a quick rundown of how the two most commonly replaced filters, the engine air, and cabin air filters, work.

The air filter sometimes referred to as an engine air filter, is what it sounds like. It is a very large, often square, or tube-shaped filter that prevents your engine from sucking in anything dangerous that may disrupt the ability to ignite fuel. This can include things like pollen and dirt, but also water and other particularly large things that shouldn’t be going into your engine’s internals. Signs of a dirty filter are often as simple as a loss in the overall performance of the engine. You should have this filter inspected regularly, cleaned if possible, and replaced as needed.

Your cabin air filter is a lot like the air filters in your home. The cabin air filter cleans up whatever air is going into the cabin through your A/C and heat system. Essentially, anything that comes out your air vent has to go through that filter first. Common finds in a dirty air filter are pollen, dust, and on occasion pine needles, little bugs, and other strange things that may get sucked into an A/C system. Unlike your home’s air filter though, cabin air filters are a bit more durable and usually only need replacing once a year if they’re cleaned properly. Make sure your shop checks at every oil change interval!

Right Where it Hertz: Former Rental Cars May Be Hitting the Used Car Market

If you’re in the market for a used car, you may be in luck. A slew of them might hit the market.

You may remember from February 2019 when we wrote an article about fleet vehicles being a good option for a used car. Hertz, the rental car company, has just announced in a press release that they’ve filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is likely going to need to sell a large portion or possibly all of its fleet off. So if you’re in need of a new-to-you car, now may be a good time to start shopping.

If Hertz’s cars start hitting the market, you can expect some decent deals. Don’t get too excited, you likely won’t be finding any once-in-a-lifetime deals on the Hertz lot, but you will see some pretty good deals.

This also means that the used car market as a whole will become more saturated. Remember, Hertz has an incredibly large fleet, about 535,000 cars in total. That’s not enough to set the world on fire, but that’s enough to shake up costs of the average used car, assuming they all were to hit the market. So even a non-Hertz car may come down in price by $200 or so.

Now, remember, Chapter 11 bankruptcy doesn’t always mean “going out of business.” Plenty of businesses that file for Chapter 11 manage a comeback if they can get their debts low enough. But “low enough” for you and me may just mean some fleet vehicles for sale soon.

Three Cost-Effective Things to Keep around Your Car

One question we’re always asked at the office goes along the lines of “what can I keep in the car to make life a little easier?” Here are three relatively cost-effective things worth keeping in your car or garage.

  1. Terminal Cleaners & Battery Cleaner Spray

Batteries are very finicky pieces of equipment. Often times, if a battery isn’t showing any signs of life, it may just be because the terminals are just too dirty. Corrosion, at its core, is caused by hydrogen gasses being released from the sulfuric acid inside the battery, causing a reaction. Terminal cleaners are usually just wire brushes shaped in tube form, and battery cleaner spray neutralizes exposed acid as well as remove corrosion. A can of battery cleaner is about $4 and a terminal cleaner can be as cheap as $3.

2. First Aid Kit

Now, for those of you with a luxury car, you likely already have a first aid kit in your car that came from the factory. For everyone else, it’s a great investment. $20 or less gets you a nice, compact kit that will fix most minor bumps and bruises, which is great for road trips or just the occasional cut.

3. Tire Pressure Gauge

No more guessing why that TPMS light is on. A tire pressure gauge tells you how much air is in your tires, in PSI, so you can tell if the light is on because the tire is low, or if there’s something else going on. These are great, plus they can be under $1 if on sale.

What Tires Are Right For Me? A Guide for Tire Decision Making

Often times when our customers come in for tires, we’ll get asked: “what tires should I go with?” That’s a fair question. The ins-and-outs of the tire industry probably isn’t on the average consumer’s mind, and why would it be? It’s not something you replace every few months like oil or even every few years. It’s something most cars get just twice a decade. That being said, knowing a bit more about your routines and driving habits help us answer that question for you.

First and foremost, what kind of vehicle do you drive and what are you driving it for? Is it a sedan that is yours daily? A van that hauls the kids and groceries? A sports car that you pull out on the weekends? A work truck? An off-roader? All of these kinds of driving styles require different tires. A big mud tire on a pickup that sees nothing but pavement doesn’t make sense, now does it?

Second is your desired longevity. Most tires have a mileage rating, designed to give you a general idea on how long they’ll last. Generally, the higher the mileage, the more tread the tire has, meaning a higher cost. Also, remember rubber doesn’t last forever, tires over 10 years old are generally considered unsafe. Are you going to get your money’s worth and drive enough in 10 years to accumulate enough miles?

After determining what kind of tread and longevity you’re looking for in a tire, the next question should be about what brands you’re looking for.

Like almost every industry, tires range from relatively cheap to the ultra-expensive. Certain brands cost more than others. Is Michelin one of the best? Absolutely, but you’ll have to cough up the big bucks to get it. Generally speaking, the more expensive the tire is, the better the rubber was engineered, meaning that more expensive tires usually have a longer life in terms of tread wear, are generally quieter, provide more grip and displace more water in the rain. Cheaper tires generally sacrifice some of these luxuries to be more economical.

Your big name brands such as Michelin, Goodyear, BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Pirelli and the like generally provide all of these things. Many of these brands also offer their own mid-range tires under other names, like Kelly or Uniroyal, which sacrifice some of the nicer things, but keep others to provide a nice middle-of-the-road product. Your ultra-cheap tires tend to be brands you probably have not heard of and can come from a slew of different manufacturers that are hard to pinpoint, and usually did the bare minimum to meet safety standards and aren’t providing much else. Affordable, street legal, but probably not quite, long-lasting or comfortable.

Okay, so, you know what kind of tread and longevity you need. You know what kind of creature comforts you want or don’t want in a tire. You know what your price range is. Now that we’ve sorted that out in previous installments, let’s finally answer that question of what tire is right for you.

Michelin – This is arguably the best tire brand for your money. Great longevity. Excellent warranty. A slew of options. Comfortable. You will, however, pay for what you get. Michelins are usually one of the most expensive tires we sell. Every customer we’ve had that bought one, however, never had a complaint.

Honorable mentions: BF Goodrich, Pirelli, Bridgestone, Nitto

Hankook, Uniroyal, and Cooper – These are my three picks for mid-range tires. I speak from experience, not just as a seller but as a buyer. I’ve had all three on our company van over the years. They are great. They don’t last quite as long on average, but they’re considerably better priced, and still pretty comfortable and quiet. Uniroyal is also our best-seller, so our customers tend to agree.

Honorable mentions: Sumitomo, Yokohama, Duro

If you’re in the market for a cheap tire, I have no real recommendations. Many of these brands come and go from my suppliers, which is understandable. At that price point, the brand name isn’t a consideration. Just make sure your tire is DOT approved and you should be fine.

Selling Your Car in the Digital World – Do’s and Dont’s.

Selling your car online? Common in today’s world. Gone are the days where we put an ad in the paper and a for sale by owner sign on the car and hoped for the best. In its place is the more reliable Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and many other platforms. Here are some tips for photographing and selling online:

No vertical photos!

Vehicles are long. You cannot take photos of these vertically and expect them to come out well. If you fit the whole car in a vertical photo, you had to stand too far away. It also looks terrible on PC screens. In truth, you should be photographing/filming this way anyway (Precious memories look bad on TV when you’ve filmed them vertically) but especially so with car shots.

Use the rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is the idea that a photograph should be broken down into nine sections, and that the focus of the image should not be in the direct center but rather at one of the four points at which the nine sections intersect. This makes your photo more balanced and easier on the eye. This is a feature you can turn on and use on most iPhones and most Androids, so for a more detailed explanation of this photography method, Google how to turn this feature on with your phone and then some quick research on how this rule works (its an easy read, I promise.) All your photos, even the non-car ones, will look so much better.

Master the 3/4 Shot

The 3/4 shot is the best looking shot you can take of your car, and every OEM, dealer, advertiser and professional uses it. The 3/4 shot is one where you take a picture of the car at an angle, so this way you can see both the front fascia (or rear) and the entire side of the vehicle. Simply put, it shows the most real estate. Take two, one from the driver’s front side and one from the rear. Take these photos about six feet away, and if you’re tall, squat a bit. Lead with these photos.

If you’re going to block your license plate, just remove it.

There’s a bit of a trend going around the internet right now that when you sell your car, you block your license plate with your thumb in the picture. Despite possibly bringing the camera out of focus, it draws attention away from the vehicle itself, it blocks part of the vehicle in the picture and honestly, it looks kind of silly. Also, you aren’t exactly protecting your privacy very much because your tag is still very visible elsewhere in the real world. Blocking it online does not do much for you in terms of protecting your privacy.

If you feel you must prevent the internet from seeing your tag, just remove it for the pictures. It is likely just two to four Phillips screws.

PART II: THE SALE

Communicating

It is best to communicate either with a throwaway email address or through a messaging app, be it Facebook Messenger (if you’re selling on Facebook Marketplace) or a third-party app like WhatsApp. Avoid giving out your personal phone number or an email address you care about.

Meeting Up

If you’ve decided you’re going to make the sale, be sure to meet somewhere open. Do not meet at your house, even if the person seems nice! Being robbed of a car isn’t fun. Meet somewhere like a busy parking lot, or at a police station which has cameras at a designated selling place. If someone is hesitant to meet publicly, run.

The Sale

Cars are big purchases and there are lots of scams going around with paying for them. Accept cash, certified check, or money order. Do not accept personal checks, business checks or payments via apps like Venmo or Cash App. Be wary of people who refuse to meet but offer to pay and bring a tow truck; this is a common scam where they’ll pay you, but the payment method bounces shortly after they’ve picked up the vehicle.

If the payment method isn’t something you can physically touch and immediately deposit, refuse it. It’s for your safety and the buyers too.

Any questions? Feel free to call Manchester Auto and Tire of Mint Hill, LLC at 704-545-4597, email us at kenmanchester1@gmail.com, or check us out online at manchesterautoandtire.com or on Facebook.