Inspecting Car Inspections in Alamance County

auto inspection

If you live in North Carolina, you have to get your vehicle inspected every year before you can renew your license plate.* A car inspection makes sure that your car is operating safely. In some counties, like Alamance, they must also have an On-Board Diagnostic Emissions inspection to help air quality.

So what happens during an inspection? When we inspect your vehicle, we’ll first drive it into our bay area onto a lift. One of our licensed mechanics will then check the lights, brakes, the steering, tires, horn, the rearview mirror, exhaust system and the windshield wipers. If you have tinted windows, we’ll measure them to make sure they aren’t any darker than 32%.

For the emissions test, we hook your car up to a computer that actually communicates with the DMV, sharing information about various systems on your vehicle. The data is automatically entered into the state vehicle registration database. If the inspections show no issues, you’ll then be able to renew your car tags and pay your property taxes with the DMV.

What happens if you fail an inspection? If your vehicle doesn’t pass inspection, you have 60 days to have the issue fixed and have the failed portion of the inspection redone. You may also qualify for a waiver that will exempt you from the emissions portion.

When it’s time to have your vehicle inspection, bring your car in to us. No appointment is necessary, and you can wait in our comfortable waiting area while we inspect your vehicle. You can also use our handy dropoff service, or arrange for us to come get your vehicle from your home or workplace. Our mechanics will perform the inspection, talk to you about the repairs, and get you back on the road in no time!

*If your vehicle is more than 35 years old, it is exempt.

Celebrate National Tune Up Day

It’s not exactly a federal holiday, but September 25 is National Tune-Up day. If your vehicle hasn’t had a tune up lately, we think you should celebrate the day by scheduling a tune up with us!

During a tune up, we will:

  • Check the ignition system, including your battery, ignitions coils, distributor, wiring, and spark plugs.
  • Replace your spark plugs as needed. Once the spark plugs wear out, your engine won’t fire properly to burn fuel efficiently, which can damage your catalytic converter.
  • Change the engine air filter, keeping dirt and other debris from getting into your engine.
  • Perform a fuel system cleaning to remove and fuel deposits that cause engine hesitation, loss of power, and poor fuel economy.
  • Assess your car’s overall health, assessing it for breaks, leaks, and other issues.

We’ll also perform seasonal checks – like checking your antifreeze to make sure it has enough viscosity to keep your radiator from freezing.

Give your car or truck the gift of a tune up – and you’ll find that you’re really giving yourself the gift of knowing that your vehicle will give you safe and efficient transportation – wherever you are going.

The Exhaust Manifold – Keeping the Air Clean

It’s not a secret that engines can create a lot of pollution. Modern vehicles, however, do a lot to keep emissions under control, helping to reduce what is released into the environment. To accomplish this, there’s a lot that goes on between the engine and your exhaust pipe.

One of the first pieces of the system is the exhaust manifold. It’s attached right on the cylinder head, and its job is to direct exhaust gases from the engine’s cylinders to the next part of the exhaust system, the catalytic converter.

Manifold Problems. A leaky exhaust manifold can cause a lot of problems, especially if the leak is close to the engine. It can cause your oxygen sensor or the EGR valve to malfunction. It can upset the air/fuel balance. It can cause significant damage to your catalytic converter if the system detects that it is running lean.

You may also notice that your engine is making odd noises or you have a burning smell from the engine bay. Of course, one of the biggest indicators of a problem is your check engine light – or a failed inspection.

If you do have a leaky manifold, we’ll remove the old and replace it with new. It’s one of the ‘manifold’ things we do here at Norris Automotive.

Catalytic Converters – a Catalyst that Converts

catalytic converters

A catalytic converter is the second part of the exhaust system in your engine. Located right after the exhaust manifold, and before your muffler, it’s job is to filter pollutants and noise that would otherwise be released into the air.

It’s a Catalyst. In high school science you learned that a ‘catalyst’ speeds up a chemical reaction. A catalytic converter works as a catalyst to reduce the poisonous gases into gases that are less toxic. The inside of the catalytic converter is made of some expensive metals, like platinum, palladium, rhodium, and sometimes even gold. These are arranged like a honeycomb to maximize the surface area for the gases to flow over.

It’s a Converter. As the gases flow into the catalytic converter, they go across the metals, making chemical reactions happen. The first one removes oxygen from the nitrogen oxide, converting it into nitrogen and oxygen. The second one adds oxygen to carbon monoxide, turning into carbon dioxide and water.

If you feel your engine is sluggish, has dark exhaust, or exhaust that smells like rotten eggs, you may have an issue with your catalytic converter. Come on in and let us be the catalyst that converts your problem back into a smooth ride!

catalytic converters

Fun Facts

Fun Fact 1. Catalytic Converters are prime targets for thieves because they contain precious metals.

Fun Fact 2. Gas with lead will clog a catalytic converter. That’s why we now have unleaded gas.

Grading Oil

motor oil

Did you know that the “w” in your oil weight means “winter”? Most of us aren’t old enough to remember when it was necessary to switch to a thinner oil in winter, and a thicker one in summer. The switch was necessary because the thickness of an oil (the viscosity) varies with the temperature outside. Oil is thinner when it’s hot, and thicker when it’s cold. It might help to think of molasses. If you heat it up, it pours more quickly.

But your engine needs a consistent viscosity. That’s where motor oil grades steps in.

The Grading System. When you measure viscosity, you’re measuring how fast a liquid flows at 100 degrees Celsius. (You get an A plus if you remember that’s also the boiling point of water.) A higher number means the oil is thicker and will flow more slowly. A lower number is the opposite; it’s thinner and flows more quickly. Again, like molasses.

Fun Fact: Apparently the Egyptians used animal fat to lubricate wheels as early as 1700 BC!

The Upgrade. In the 1950’s, the Chevron Oil Company developed the first MultiGrade engine oil. This oil has additives that keeps the viscosity of oil almost constant, even when temperature changes. This oil changed everything, pun intended. Now a vehicle only needed one type of oil, no matter the weather.

Interpreting Grades. The Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) came up with the numerical system for grading motor oil viscosity. Let’s use an oil graded SAE 5w-30 as an example. Remember, the lower number means oil is thinner at low (winter) conditions. The 30 is the rating for how well it performs at high temperatures.

What’s Your Grade? Your engine manufacturer will have a recommendation about what grade oil is best for your vehicle. This might vary if you live in the frigid northern Minnesota or the boiling southern Arizona desert. Since the weather is pretty temperate here in North Carolina, you’re usually fine sticking with what the owner’s manual said.

Of course you can also just ask us. At Norris Automotive, we change a lot of oil, and have seen just about every different scenario. So whether you need 0w-30 or 10w-40, we promise that we’ll give you Grade A service no matter what the season – or the temperature.

Time For A Change – Oil That Is

oil drop

Just like you need your annual physical, your car also needs routine maintenance – and that includes an oil change. Whether your oil light is blinking or that little sticker in the top of your window tells you it’s time, you need to know what the right oil is for your specific car. In general, there are two basic types of oil.

Conventional Oil. If you’ve ever watched the Beverly Hillbillies, you’re familiar with the oil that bubbles out of the ground. This crude oil is pumped directly from the ground as is then refined into the final product that goes into your car’s engine. Before any other oil types were around, your parents and grandparents likely used this type of oil in their vehicles. Most older model cars still use conventional oil. We recommend an oil change around every 3,000 miles, depending on the use of the car. Conventional oil is the cheapest option, but it  doesn’t last as long.

Synthetic Oil. As our automobiles advance, so does our oil. Synthetic oil is made – synthesized – through a chemical process that makes it have the exact molecular structure and properties needed for a particular type engine. Many types of synthetic oil start with purified crude oil, but also include chemically modified petroleum. Synthetic oil performs better and lasts longer in both very cold and very high temperatures.

Since 2016, 7 in 10 new cars are filled using synthetic oil. Because of its complex nature and advanced manufacturing, this type of oil is normally more expensive than conventional oil. Most people find that the protection of synthetic oil is worth the extra cost. It also lasts longer between visits. Normally a vehicle requiring synthetic oil can go 5,000 up to 7,500 miles between changes. There are varying types of synthetic oil and there is even a synthetic blend, which uses a combination of the two.

When you *contact us* to make your appointment for an oil change, our technicians will inquire about the make, model, and mileage of your vehicle. We’ll also ask you whether you mainly drive on the highway or in the city. We’ll then make a recommendation for your oil change. You can also find the manufacturer’s recommendation with a quick search of your automobile owner’s manual.

So if it’s time to change your oil, give us a call. We work on all makes and models and will you have back out on the road in no time! Call us today for your next oil change appointment.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay.

The Timing Belt. It’s All In the Timing.

Chemistry, action, and timing make an engine run smoothly. It all starts with a spark that makes gasoline mix with oxygen to make hundreds of tiny explosions that make the engine’s pistons go up and down. The pistons are connected to a crankshaft, which starts the rotation to make your wheels move.

The Right Timing. But none of this will work without timing. For that to happen, a timing belt is ultimately responsible for making sure that the chemistry and motion work together. In most engines, the timing belt is a long piece of rubber with teeth that regulates when the different parts of the engines move. It’s hidden behind a cover to protect it from oil and moisture. A small portion of vehicles with non-interference engines will have a timing chain. The timing belt or chain keeps your engine in sync, keeping it all working together.

Time to Change. A damaged or broken timing belt will cause major engine damage, so it’s important to replace it before you have a problem. For most engines, we recommend you change your timing belt every seven years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Timing chains don’t have to be replaced until they actually break, as a broken timing chain will not hurt an engine.

Time to Call Us! Changing the timing belt is an important part of routine car maintenance. Again, your vehicle will have major damage if it’s not changed in time. If this post has made you realize that it’s time to change your timing belt, give us a call. At Norris, we change timing belts all the time. Call and let’s set up a time to change yours!

Inspection Extension: The Break You Shouldn’t Take

The North Carolina General Assembly has granted a six month extension of “any credential that expires on or after March 1, 2020, and before August 1, 2020.” That means you have six more months before your car inspection and registration are due – a break for those who were sheltering in place and working from home.

We recommend, however, that you not take this break.

Safety Doesn’t Need a Break. The inspection you are required to get each year is called a ‘safety’ inspection because it truly does help to keep you, your vehicle, and other vehicles safe. When we do an inspection, we make sure that your car’s headlights, signals, brakes, and tires are working correctly. If you live in Alamance County, we also do an emissions inspection that helps to keep the air clean. Safety and clean air don’t need a break.

Double Break. You may be getting an extension, but starting in August, everyone is going to be back on the schedule. That means we’ll be double booked for inspections, and double booked fixing any issues we come across. We recommend that you make an appointment now and beat the rush.

If you’re still sheltering at home, we understand! We offer drop off/pick up no-contact service so that you can stay in. If you’re an essential worker with long hours and a busy schedule, we have a drop off service, too. Whatever your situation, we’ll work with you!

To keep your vehicle safe and to avoid the crowds, we’ll give you a break! Call us today – or just drop by to get your vehicle inspected now.

The FYI of Good MPG

Gas prices have been lower than many of us have ever seen, but lately, they’re on their way up again. Last year at this time, $1.75 per gallon would have seemed like a steal, but with so many of us out of work, it’s more important than every to get squeeze every mile possible of a gallon of gas.

Here’s an FYI that will help you…

PSI – or Pressure per Square Inch. The air pressure inside your car’s tires has more to do with fuel economy than you would think. According to, under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2%. Keep your tires inflated as recommended – usually between 32 psi to 35 psi. Your owner’s manual and sometimes a sticker in the door will tell you the specifics for your vehicle. Or just come by and ask us. We’ll check it for you, and make sure your tires are inflated properly.

OBD – Your car’s OnBoard Diagnostics is what makes the dreaded ‘check engine’ light come on. It provides a warning when systems in your vehicle aren’t working correctly. It will alert you to failing oxygen sensors or clogged fuel injectors, both of which can lower fuel efficiency.

10W-30. Oil lubricates your car to make it run more smoothly – with less effort from the engine. If you are using the wrong kind of oil, or if your oil or oil filter are dirty, your engine has to work harder, and will use more gasoline. (Read our primer on how to check your oil.)

MPH. We all know that driving at higher speeds causes you to use more fuel. Accelerating too quickly, excessive braking, and even driving too slowly can do the same thing! Your car is designed for best fuel efficiency when it is in a higher gear, so you should try to get the lowest RPM in the highest gear. When stopping and starting, pretend a grandmother is sitting in the front seat drinking tea. Your job is to not spill the tea. 😉

AC. One of the biggest energy hogs in your car is your Air Conditioner. We’re not suggesting that you go without your AC or that you roll down your windows, but early in the morning or late in the evening, you might be able to get by just with your car’s fan.

Got questions? We’re here to help! You can send us an SOS – or just give us a call, so you can get the best ROI from all those $$S that you put into your tank!

Image by andreas160578 from Pixabay.

Checking Your Oil: A Beginner’s Guide

Checking the oil in a vehicle is a basic skill that every driver needs to learn. If you’re reading this and you already know how to check your oil, now’s the perfect time to teach someone in your house who may not know – and that includes your kids!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Rags or paper towels.
  • Your car owner’s manual, which is probably in your glove compartment. Don’t feel bad if you need the owner’s manual to find out where to open the hood!
  • A positive attitude. (You really can do this!)

Check the Oil. Even if you can’t change the oil yourself, you can check the oil level in your vehicle. Some vehicles make it easy, and have electronic oil monitors. If your vehicle does not, you’ll start by turning off the engine, and opening the hood.

Look in the owner’s manual to find where oil ‘dipstick’ is. Pull it out of the tube. When you find it, you’ll see that it’s long and thin and will be coated with oil. Wipe the oil off. Put the dipstick back into the tube, then pull it out again. This time, notice where the oil is coating the stick. Dipsticks will have two marking to indicate high and low. It could be the letters H and L, “MIN” or “MAX”, or simply two small holes. The oil level needs to ‘end’ between these two markings.

If your oil is low, give us a call and we’ll help you find the right kind of oil to add, and give you further guidance. Replace the dipstick in the engine, and make sure it’s tight. Wash your hands, and then give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve just taken the first step toward do it yourself car maintenance.

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