5 Reasons You Might Need a Trailer Hitch

Subaru Hitch

When planning your summer vacation, a trailer hitch may be a key feature to help you along the way. Not all vehicles come equipped with a trailer hitch—however, most cars have some towing capacity. Thankfully, if your vehicle did not come with this feature, you can have a trailer hitch installed at a local mechanic shop like Chapel Hill Tire. If you find yourself wondering, “Do I need a trailer hitch?” Chapel Hill Tire is here with insight. 

Bike Rack Attachments

While the name “trailer hitch” implies the use of a trailer, these installations are also popular for their bike rack attachments. Instead of trying to fit your bike inside your car, these racks safely and securely mount your bikes onto the back of your vehicle. If you enjoy biking, trailer hitches offer an easy way for you to bring your bike along your travels.

Weak or Rusted Hitch

Naturally, the most popular use of a trailer hitch is towing. You may use your hitch to transport large items like boats, lawnmowers, equipment, campers, and other vehicles. However, if your original trailer hitch is old, weak, rusted, damaged, or bent, you may need a new hitch installation. When having a mechanic install your new hitch, you can also exert more control over the final product. This process lets you choose your new hitch and tailor your selection to the size, quality, price, and features you need. Trailer hitch replacement gives your vehicle a reliable hitch that can handle your tow. 

Newer Vehicles and Trailer Hitch Installation

Drivers commonly need a trailer hitch installed after finding their new vehicle does not have this feature. When buying a new car, it can be easy to overlook a missing trailer hitch. You might even assume your car has one until you try to hook up your attachment. Thankfully, if you find that your new vehicle does not have a trailer hitch, it is not too late to have one installed. 

Smaller Cars: Cargo Towing

While many drivers assume that trailer hitches are for large trucks and SUVs, smaller vehicles often need trailer hitches as well. Compact cars tend to have less space, making it necessary to carry extra cargo. Smaller vehicles can typically tow thousands of pounds, which is perfect for small cargo attachments. You can find information about your towing capacity within your owner’s manual. Cargo attachments are generally affordable, effective, and can extend the space of your vehicle. 

Overhead Cargo Stability

If you tend to strap ladders, paddleboards, lumber, kayaks, and other cargo on the top of your vehicle, a trailer hitch may help with stability. Hitch attachments can help anchor and secure your overhead cargo. This installation can protect your belongings and help give you peace of mind on the road. Trailer hitches can also make the process of strapping down your cargo easier than non-hitch alternatives. If you frequently find yourself carrying overhead cargo, a trailer hitch might be for you.

Chapel Hill Tire: Local Trailer Hitch Installation

If you need a trailer hitch to fulfill your summer adventures, the mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire can help. We install trailer hitches on small vehicles, large trucks, and everything in between. You can make your appointment here online or give us a call to get started on your trailer hitch service today!

How to Get Your Car’s AC Working—And Help it Stay Working

AC freon refill

While the days have started to warm up this spring, we have only gotten a small taste of what the warmer seasons’ heat has to offer. Unfortunately, this can spell trouble for drivers without a properly functioning air conditioner. Here is a closer look at what you need to do to get your car’s AC working for spring—and to help it stay working for longer. 

The Truth About Freon Refills

When your car’s air conditioning system stops working, you might immediately begin to think that you need a refrigerant refill. The issues you are experiencing may, in fact, be resulting from low refrigerant. However, the repair will often require more attention than just a refill.

As we explored in our Comprehensive Guide To Vehicle AC Service, your automotive refrigerant is stored inside a sealed system. You may naturally lose marginal amounts of freon over time, but not enough to impact your AC functioning. So when your vehicle has low freon, it is often the sign of a leaking refrigerant. In these cases, a professional will need to find and repair the leak at its source. They do this by injecting dye into your system that allows them to track freon movement throughout your vehicle. After discovering the source of the leak, your auto mechanic will work with you to develop a repair plan.

Preventing Car AC Troubles: Cabin Air Filter Changes

Preventing vehicle air conditioner troubles is not always easy. The refrigerant leak can come from almost anywhere within your automotive AC system. However, there is one easy service that can help you prevent vehicle HVAC damage: cabin air filter changes

Much like your home’s HVAC system, your vehicle requires regular filter changes. The pollen, dust, dirt, and debris particles circulating throughout the air are trapped by your filter. Over time, your cabin air filter becomes clogged, which makes it harder for your car’s AC system to force air through. As your air conditioner works harder to maintain airflow, dirty filters can put stress on your system and lead to AC damage. To protect your air conditioning system and keep it working for the longer, you need to have your dirty air filter replaced. 

So how often do you need an automotive air filter change? 

Your need for a cabin air filter change will depend on a variety of factors, including your vehicle type, the road conditions in your area (especially dirt roads), your mileage, and your area’s air quality, among other factors. Additionally, some air filters can be cleaned while others must be replaced. You can check your owner’s manual for details specific to your vehicle’s care needs. We recommend having your air filter checked every six months or so.

Pro tip: The pollen, dust, dirt, and debris clogging your cabin air filter will also impact your engine air filter. As the name suggests, this filter keeps harmful contaminants away from your engine. Clogged engine filters can lower your fuel efficiency and present harm to your engine. It is best to have both of these filters replaced according to your manufacturer’s recommendations. 

Chapel Hill Tire: Local Automotive AC Repair

When your car’s air conditioner stops working, the experts at Chapel Hill Tire can help. We offer AC recharge services to help find the leaks in your refrigerant system. Our professionals will then work with you to create a repair plan that will get your AC system working like new. We proudly serve drivers from throughout the greater Triangle area with our 9 locations across Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham, Apex, and Carrboro. You can make your AC repair appointment here online to get started today!

5 Services You May Need Before Your Next Vehicle Inspection

State Inspection

Annual inspections can seem daunting for some drivers. You might be wondering about every minor vehicle issue and whether or not it will prevent you from passing. For peace of mind, you can read our breakdown of everything checked during your NC annual vehicle inspection

Thankfully, NC annual car inspections are designed with safety in mind. If the issue doesn’t impact your safety or the safety of other drivers, then you have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if it does pose a safety risk, then it is best to have this issue repaired before continuing on your trails. Here is a look at the 5 most common services drivers need to pass their annual safety inspection. 

1: Windshield Wiper Blade Replacement

Your windshield wipers help you maintain visibility on the road during inclement weather. They can also help clear obstructions that may be blocking your vision. Because of the vital role they play in keeping your car safe on the road, you cannot pass your annual inspection without functional wiper blades. Issues often include tattered, dry rotted, missing, or ineffective windshield wipers. Thankfully, this is a quick and easy replacement service. So how often should you replace your windshield wiper blades? Most wiper blades need to be replaced twice each year. 

What about windshield cracks?

While on the topic of windshield wipers, you might be wondering about your windshield itself. One common question we get from drivers is, “Will a cracked windshield cause me to fail my NC vehicle inspection?” While it might seem like a risk, small cracks in your windshields rarely pose a safety hazard. Windshields are made with layers of safety glass, which are industrially laminated together. Windshield cracks (even at their worst) will not impact the lamination keeping your glass together. As such, cracked windshields rarely prevent inspection passes. The exceptions are:

  • Cracks that affect the driver’s vision
  • Severely damaged or shattered windshields
  • Cracks that impact another safety feature

For example, your rearview mirror must be securely mounted for a pass on your inspection. If windshield cracks prevent secure mirror mounting, this could prevent you from passing.

2: Brake Pad Replacement

Naturally, your brakes are a key point in your vehicle’s safety on the road. The most commonly needed service before an inspection is worn brake pad replacement. You cannot pass your NC safety inspection unless your brake pads have at least 2/32 of an inch of fictitious material left (at the very least). Our mechanics recommend changing out your brake pads when they are worn down to ¼ of an inch of friction material. 

3: Tire Replacement

Tire health is key to passing your vehicle safety inspection. The most common tire issue leading to a failed inspection is worn tire tread. The tread on your tires grips the road, allowing traction for starting, stopping, and handling your vehicle. 

If you are going in for your emissions inspection, you will also want to check for low tire pressure. You can find insight in our guide to checking tire pressure here. We also offer insight into low tire pressure causes and their solutions. If you need help, Chapel Hill Tire will check and refill your tire pressure for free during any oil change visit. 

4: Catalytic Converter Replacement

As we explored in a recent post, catalytic converters are being rapidly stolen across the country. Have you been an unfortunate victim of catalytic converter theft? If so, you will need to have a catalytic converter replacement service before your annual inspection. Drivers who put off catalytic converter replacement will face a failed inspection. Properly functioning catalytic converters are needed to pass both your NC safety inspection and your NC emissions inspection

5: Vehicle Light Services

All vehicle lights must be working effectively for a pass on your safety inspection—including your turn signal lights, headlights, and brake lights. Thankfully, light issues are often quickly repaired with a bulb replacement. To pass your inspection, you may need:

Unfortunately, your light bulbs are not always the source of your car’s light troubles. For example, your headlights can become dim from oxidized lenses. Over time, the sun’s UV rays discolor the acrylic of your headlights, which requires headlight restoration service. In severe cases, oxidized lenses will cause you to fail your inspection. However, unlike burnt-out bulbs, this is a rare source of inspection failure.

Chapel Hill Tire | NC Car Inspections

Here at Chapel Hill Tire, we offer industry-leading NC inspection services. If you are worried about failing your inspection, we also offer the services you need to get your vehicle in top shape. Our experts proudly serve the greater Triangle area with 9 mechanic locations across Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Apex. You can make your Chapel Hill Tire appointment here online to get started today!

6 Vital Checks For Cars Left Sitting Too Long

Annual NC vehicle Inspection

As the summer season approaches, you might be eager to hop into your car and head to all of the places you wanted to visit over the past year. However, cars left sitting for too long raise a few concerns that can put your vehicle and your safety at risk. Before you hit the road, take a moment to consider these 6 vital checks.

Brake Checks for Dormant Cars

When sitting for extended periods, your brakes can begin to rust. This will prevent your calipers from sliding properly. All dormant vehicles are susceptible to brake rusting, especially in areas with high humidity and frequent rain. However, hybrid vehicles are especially vulnerable to this issue. 

Hybrids function using regenerative braking. They use the energy created from slowing and stopping to power your vehicle. In this case, your brakes are used less, get rustier, and stick more commonly. It is best to bring your vehicle in for a brake inspection to ensure that your brakes are functioning properly. 

Charging and Starting System Check

One of the most common issues with a car that has been left sitting is a dead battery. Your alternator recharges your battery as you drive. When left sitting without this ongoing charge, your battery can quickly become depleted. Before driving, you should consider having your charging and starting system checked—including your battery, alternator, starter, and more. 

Oil Checks for Cars Left Sitting

You might be thinking, “I don’t need an oil change, I haven’t put any miles on my car.” Contrary to popular belief, sitting for too long can be worse for your oil composition than driving. Oil rapidly loses its cooling and lubrication property when left dormant. As you might know, fresh oil is essential for protecting your engine. Before getting back on the road, you might want to have an expert check both your oil levels and oil quality. 

Fluid Level Check

Beyond just your oil, all of your vehicle’s fluids can become compromised when left sitting for too long. Your vehicle relies on coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and differential fluid, among others. Any issue with these fluids can present trouble for your vehicle. That being said, you should have all of your vehicle fluid levels checked before hitting the road. 

Engine and Cabin Air Filter Checks

Your vehicle is equipped with two separate air filters: your engine air filter and your cabin air filter (you can read about the difference here). They both work to filter contaminants like dirt and dust, which can be especially high in concentration within vehicles that have been left sitting for too long. 

  • Cabin air filters: Cabin air filters clean the air that is distributed through your vehicle’s air conditioning system. With pollen season rapidly approaching, your cabin air filter is especially important around this time of year. Clogged cabin air filters can also put stress on your vehicle’s HVAC system, creating costly issues. 
  • Engine Air Filters: Your engine’s air filter protects your engine from harmful dirt, dust, and debris. Dirty air filters can put stress on your vehicle and tank your fuel efficiency. You will need a clean air filter to pass both your annual safety inspection and emissions inspections. 

Tire Checks For Dormant Vehicles

Proper tires are essential for keeping you and your vehicle safe on the road. As we explored in a recent post about tire age, rubber can begin to dry rot over time, which leaves your vehicle susceptible to accidents. Leaving your car sitting can accelerate tire dry rotting. Dry rotting is not always visible, as can occur inside of the tire. You might consider having an expert check your tires for dry rot before extended driving. (Bonus tip: dry rotting can also occur on your windshield wipers, engine belts, and hoses. You might consider asking an expert to check these components when visiting for a tire inspection, service, or replacement.)

You should also pay close attention to your tire pressure. Low tire pressure worsens your vehicle handling and fuel efficiency. Your tires can naturally deflate when left sitting for too long. Here is our guide to checking your tire pressure

How Long Can You Leave Your Car Sitting?

So how long is it safe to leave your car sitting before it becomes “too long”? This will depend on a few different factors, including:

  • What kind of car you have
  • How old your car is
  • Where it is left sitting (garage or outdoors)
  • The climate in your area
  • Whether or not you prepared it for dormancy
  • How well you keep up with routine maintenance

Generally speaking, your car should be taken for a 20-minute drive at least once every two weeks. If you are out of town for an extended period of time, consider asking a friend or neighbor to take your car for a spin.

Chapel Hill Tire: Local Mechanic Service

When you are ready to get your car back on the road, Chapel Hill Tire is here for you! Our nine Triangle-area mechanic locations make it easy to get industry-leading car care in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, or Apex. View our promotions page for a deal on these services. You can make your appointment here online, or give us a call to get started today!

Stranded With a Dead Battery? Here is What You Can Do

person jumping a car battery

If you feel ready for the spring and summer seasons, you might be (finally) preparing your vehicle for longer drives. With quarantine leaving many cars dormant while the cold weather depleted their charge, drivers (perhaps now more than ever) are finding their car batteries failing. So what can you do when you are left stranded with a dead car battery? Here are three popular solutions from the experts at Chapel Hill Tire.

Option 1: Jump-Start Your Vehicle

The first resort for many drivers is to jump-start their dead car batteries. Jump-starting is a short-term solution, but it will often get you where you need to go in the moment. You will need cables & another vehicle or a jump-starting pack. Here is our 8-step guide to jump-starting your battery

Once your vehicle is jump-started, should you head straight to the mechanic? Immediate service is preferable. If your battery becomes too depleted from continued use, you may not be able to jump-start it later to get it to the shop. This will require you to hire a tow truck before getting the service you need. However, if you need to schedule your battery replacement service around work and other obligations, you can often get by until you have time in your schedule. Here are some tips to help:

  • Make sure you keep cables or a jumper on hand. 
  • If possible, drive for at least 20 minutes after jump-starting to give your battery time to recharge. 
  • Mechanic shuttle services might also be able to help you fit your battery replacement into your schedule. 

Option 2: Calling AAA For Battery Support: What You Need to Know

Unfortunately, jump-starting is not always an option—especially when you do not have the right tools with you. If you pay for roadside assistance, you are likely safeguarding yourself for moments like these. After you call AAA, they will come to you and replace your battery. There are a few considerations here to keep in mind:

  • This service is only available to AAA members
  • Certain regions within a state may not be eligible for this service
  • This service applies to most, but not all, vehicles

Option 3: Free Pick-Up/Delivery Mechanic Services

While you might think that calling for roadside assistance or jump-starting your vehicle are your only options, there is a third solution that many drivers forget: free pick-up/delivery mechanic service. 

Here is how this process works:

  • When making your appointment, select the “pick-up/delivery” option.
  • A pick-up/delivery service expert will come to you and jump-start your vehicle. 
  • Then, they drive it back to the mechanic shop for a battery replacement service.
  • Finally, they bring your fully-service vehicle back to your work or home.

This provides a convenience similar to the AAA experience without an annual membership fee.

Do All Dead Batteries Require Replacement?

You might be wondering, “Does my dead battery need a replacement?” Not necessarily. Older batteries will almost always require replacement, but newer batteries may just need service. Here is a look at common causes of dead batteries and whether they require replacement. 

Older Car Batteries

If your dead car battery is 5+ years old, it will require replacement as soon as possible. Keep an eye out for these four signs that you need a new battery. The only exception to this rule is hybrid vehicles. Hybrid batteries are designed to last 10+ years. If you are experiencing a hybrid battery issue, have it looked at by a certified technician (like those at Chapel Hill Tire) as soon as possible. 

Newer Car Batteries

Draining charge from lights or chargers

If your new car battery dies, check to see if you have any lights on or chargers plugged in that could be draining its charge. In these cases, a jump-start should fix your problem as long as you give it time to recharge. 

Failing alternator

Imagine this: Your car battery dies. After you get your battery replaced, a week (two weeks, or even a month) later, your brand-new battery dies again. Does this sound like you? You likely have a failing alternator. Your alternator is the system that recharges your battery as you drive. Without its support, even new car batteries don’t stand a chance. In these cases, you will need to have your alternator repaired before your new battery is installed. 

Lemon car battery

There is also a slim chance that your battery is a “lemon.” While this is rare, faulty car batteries are not completely unheard of. Thankfully, many batteries are covered under a manufacturer or shop warranty, which will allow you to get a battery replacement within a certain coverage window.

Mid-Life Car Batteries

What about the car batteries that aren’t necessarily new but should still have a year or two left of life? Will they require a replacement? The answer here will depend on the source of the dead battery:

  • Internal corrosion: Batteries require replacement over time because the acid inside the battery begins to stratify. Batteries also become corroded from seasonal heat. If the battery has been destroyed internally, it will need a replacement. Excessive heat in the South may expedite this process.
  • Driving patterns: Batteries recharge while you drive, so they may also age prematurely if your driving consists almost entirely of short, stop-and-go routes. 
  • Terminal ends: If your battery is dead due to corroded terminal ends, you might be able to extend its lifespan with professional cleaning or terminal end replacements. In this case, you may not need a new battery.
  • Sitting too long: When a battery has been left sitting for too long, its charge will deplete. Depending on your vehicle, area, and how long it has been sitting, you may be able to jump-start an old battery. However, the longer it sits, the more likely it is that you will require a replacement. 

Chapel Hill Tire: Pick-Up/Delivery Mechanic Service

The next time you find yourself with a dead battery, the experts at Chapel Hill Tire will come to you. Our mechanics proudly serve the greater Triangle area with our nine locations across Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham, Carrboro, and Apex. We also commonly serve surrounding communities, such as Pittsboro, Wake Forest, and beyond. You can make your appointment here online or give us a call to get started today!

Catalytic Converter Theft: Everything You Need To Know

Picture of a catalytic converter

Here at Chapel Hill Tire, we work to keep our customers up-to-date on automotive industry insights. While some weeks we get to share uplifting information, this week we are here to discuss a more serious problem facing drivers: catalytic converter theft. Here is everything you need to know about this issue and what you can do to stay protected. 

Why Are Catalytic Converters Being Stolen?

Your catalytic converter is an essential part of your vehicle, designed to reduce the pollutants and toxic gas your emissions system produces. It uses precious metals like platinum, rhodium, and palladium to complete this process. People have been stealing catalytic converters off of cars to sell these metals for scraps. 

While this has been happening for years, a recent uptick in catalytic converter theft may be motivated by economic turbulence from the pandemic. Additionally, the reduced foot traffic during this time may make it easier for thieves who feel less likely to be caught. It takes just a few minutes for a thief to saw the catalytic converter out of your car and leave you with thousands of dollars in damage. 

Trucks and SUVs are most often the targets of catalytic converter theft because they are raised off the ground. This makes it easier to climb under and saw through the metal. However, every vehicle on the road is susceptible to a stolen catalytic converter. 

What Happens When You Drive Without A Catalytic Converter?

When facing the recovery costs of a stolen “cat,” many customers wonder, “Can I drive without my catalytic converter?” 

The answer is both yes and no. Technically, a car can function without a catalytic converter. However, this is not a sustainable long-term option. Here are some of the troubles you will face when driving without a catalytic converter.

Loud Vehicle Noises and Missing Catalytic Converter

The first sign of a stolen catalytic converter is incredibly loud vehicle noises. You will find that when driving without your catalytic converter, it will sound like your vehicle is roaring—especially when starting or giving it gas. 

Rough Driving and Acceleration

As your exhaust goes unregulated, your vehicle will drive more roughly. Your engine usually forces your exhaust through your catalytic converter. Without this component in place, this forceful exhaust push will lead to jarring, uneven acceleration. 

Annual Vehicle Inspection Failure

Without your catalytic converter, you will fail both your NC safety inspection and your NC emissions inspection. While the emissions inspection failure may seem obvious, you might be wondering why a missing catalytic converter would cause you to fail your safety inspection. 

Your annual safety inspection includes an exhaust system check, which checks specifically for removed and tampered components. This includes your catalytic converter, as well as your muffler, exhaust pipe, PCP valve, and EGR valve, among others. 

As such, you will be unable to renew your vehicle registration without a catalytic converter. You can find more information on exhaust system checks here on our list of everything checked during your annual safety inspection

Harmful Car Emissions

Your catalytic converter is named as such because it converts toxins into less harmful byproducts, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide. Without this component, your vehicle will no longer be filtering and reducing harmful emissions, including hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it can also lead to harmfully poor air quality. When you park in your garage, for example, these toxic pollutants can find their way into your home.

Avoiding a $250 Fine

Not everyone who drives without a catalytic converter is the victim of theft. Some individuals choose to remove their catalytic converters to boost their horsepower. If authorities find that you removed your catalytic converter on purpose, it can lead to a hefty fine of $250

This does not apply to stolen catalytic converters. The fine is delivered “for instructing or allowing a person to tamper with an emission control device of the vehicle so as to make the device inoperative or fail to work properly.” However, if your catalytic converter was, in fact, stolen but you try to avoid replacement with workarounds, your efforts might resemble the efforts of a driver trying to tamper with their emissions system. This is also why it is important to report a stolen catalytic converter right away.

How Can You Prevent Catalytic Converter Theft?

Thankfully, there are a few preventative measures you can take to deter the theft of your catalytic converter. 

Install a Protective Device

Catalytic converter theft has become so prominent that companies have started to sell protective devices. These installations make it impossible for anyone to cut off your catalytic converter. Unfortunately, high-quality devices and their installation will likely run you a few hundred bucks. However, it could save you thousands of dollars on catalytic converter replacement. 

You can learn a little more about Cat Security—one of these protective devices—in this video from our experts, and see the final installation here

Vibration-Triggered Alarms

Some newer vehicles have a security setting that triggers the alarm when it senses vibrations. The sawing of your catalytic converter will be enough to set off these alarms.

VIN Engraving

Many thieves sell catalytic converters to scrap dealers, who will often (but not always) reject parts they know are stolen. One key giveaway is a VIN engraving. By engraving your VIN number into your catalytic converter, a scrap dealer may be able to notify the authorities it is stolen and get it back to you. Additionally, when a catalytic converter thief sees a VIN engravement, it might encourage them to move on to another vehicle. 

It is important to note, however, that this is not a full-stop solution. Some scrap dealers will turn a blind eye to signs of theft. 

Mindful Parking

When you are at home, you can park in the garage to help avoid catalytic converter theft. What about when you are on the go? When your garage is not an option, here are some parking tips to keep in mind:

  • Brightly-lit areas: Parking under street lights or in brightly-lit locations can help deter theft.
  • Highly populated locations: If the lot or parking garage you are in is seeing a lot of foot traffic, it will be hard for someone to steal your catalytic converter without being caught. 
  • Security camera: Keep an eye out for security cameras in your parking area and try to find a spot visible to the cameras. 

At best, these practices can deter the theft of your catalytic converter. Otherwise, it may help the authorities catch the individual who stole your vehicle parts.

Chapel Hill Tire Catalytic Converter Services

If you have a catalytic converter protective device you would like installed, the mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire can help. If your catalytic converter has been stolen, contact the authorities right away to report this theft. You can also visit Chapel Hill Tire to discuss your options for repair. We proudly serve the greater Triangle area, including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Apex, and Carrboro through our 9 locations. We also serve surrounding cities like Wake Forest, Pittsboro, Knightdale, Garner, and beyond. Make your appointment here online to get started today, and stay safe!

A Comprehensive Guide To Vehicle AC Service

Woman turning on car air conditioning

We got the first taste of the spring and summer weather this week. As you switch your car’s HVAC settings over from “heating” to “air conditioning,” you might find yourself facing a broken car AC system. It is essential you get your air conditioner back up and running before the summer’s heat sets in. What can you do when your vehicle’s AC system is not working properly? Here is everything you need to know about automotive air conditioning services. 

How Automotive AC Systems Work

Before understanding common issues and repairs, it is helpful to understand how your car’s air conditioning system works. Unlike oil changes, you should not need to change or refill your vehicle’s AC freon. While trivial amounts of freon can be naturally lost over time, your air conditioner is a sealed system designed to keep freon recirculating—often for the full lifespan of your vehicle. Freon circulation is made possible by the high internal pressure of this system. 

Here is a basic overview of how your AC system works:

  • Compressor—First, A compressor compresses your freon, which is pushed to the condenser. 
  • Dryer—Cold air “holds” less water than warm air. As the air is being cooled, it can begin to produce extra moisture. From the condenser, your air enters a dryer. As the name suggests, this component dries the air to remove this excess moisture. It also contains a filter that helps catch and remove debris. 
  • Evaporator—The air is then pushed to the evaporator through either an expansion valve or an orifice tube. Here, the cool air expands before being pushed into your cabin with the help of a blower fan.

Why Refrigerant Leaks are More Than Just Refrigerant Leaks

Unfortunately, refrigerant leaks signify a larger issue within your car’s air conditioner. A leak in your refrigerant means that your sealed system is no longer sealed. This creates a few problems:

  • Most obviously, a freon leak will prevent your vehicle from retaining the refrigerant. To keep your AC system working, you need to find and repair leaks at the source.
  • Because these systems are sealed, they are not designed to withstand external moisture, debris, and atmospheric pressure. Exposure can compromise your vehicle’s entire AC system. 
  • Your car’s AC system relies on pressure to circulate oil and freon. It will automatically shut down when the pressure lowers, which is a common side effect of freon leaks.

What Causes AC Refrigerant Leaks?

When the air compressor goes bad, its fan blade can shoot small shards of metal throughout the system. This can damage several air conditioner parts and create refrigerant leaks. Refrigerant leaks can also be caused by a broken seal, a broken gasket, or any other component of your system. Your freon travels through your entire cooling system, which makes any part a potential culprit of leaking. 

How Mechanics Find Leaks

When you bring your vehicle to a professional mechanic for AC service, how do they find and repair the leaks? 

This is a unique process that requires a performance check and A/C system recharge. Your mechanic will first inject freon into the system, but freon is invisible, which makes it hard to track where your pressure loss is. As such,  your mechanic will also inject dye into your car’s AC system, which makes freon movement visible under UV lights. 

Then, you may need to drive your vehicle for a week or two and bring it back to the mechanic for inspection. This will give the freon enough time to run through the system and reveal every source of pressure loss. 

Other Potential Vehicle AC Problems

As we explored above, your car’s AC system relies on several different parts to keep it running. An issue with any one of these parts can disrupt your air conditioner’s functioning. You may have a failing compressor, evaporator, dryer, or a bad supporting piece of equipment (hose, seal, etc.). 

Additionally, many DIY AC repairs see issues where the wrong type of freon was used to recharge the system. Like oil, different vehicles require different types of freon. Unfortunately, as you know now, one faulty component can compromise and damage the entire system. 

Your mechanic will be able to assess the damage and help you find a repair plan, no matter what the source of your AC troubles are. 

Chapel Hill Tire | Local Car AC Repair Services

As members of your community, the local mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire know how important AC is in the south. We are here to repair all of your vehicle’s AC system troubles. Chapel Hill Tire proudly serves the community through our nine Triangle-area locations between Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Apex, and Carrboro. We also commonly serve drivers from surrounding cities, such as Knightdale, Wake Forest, Garner, Pittsboro, and beyond. Make your appointment here online to get started today!

5 Reasons Why Your Steering Wheel May Be Shaking

Person holding a steering wheel at sunset

Have you ever experienced the unsettling feeling of your steering wheel moving on its own? Perhaps it is vibrating, shaking, or pulling on the road? Unless you have a new “self-driving” car, steering wheel movement is often the sign of an issue with your vehicle—often relating to your tires or brakes. Ignoring steering wheel vibrations can allow these underlying issues to grow into larger problems for your car. So why is your steering wheel shaking? The experts at Chapel Hill Tire are here with 5 potential causes and their solutions. 

Shaking Steering Wheel Problem 1: Warped Brake Rotors

Have you noticed your steering wheel shaking when you slow or stop your vehicle? This could be a sign of warped brake rotors. Your brake rotors are the smooth, flat surface that your brake pads press to slow or stop your movement. Over time, this pressure can bend your rotors—especially without maintaining proper brake pad replacements. 

When your rotors become bent, the brake pads will press against an uneven surface when braking, which creates steering wheel shaking. Thankfully, this can be fixed with a set of brake rotor replacements. 

Shaking Steering Wheel Problem 2: Tire Alignment Troubles

Your vehicle’s suspension system is designed to align your tires, helping them evenly meet the road’s pavement. Over time, road turbulence, rough driving, and other hazards can throw off this alignment—causing one or more of your wheels to rest at a skewed angle. Even slight alignment issues can cause steering wheel shaking or vibrations. 

In addition to steering wheel shaking, wheel alignment troubles can cause uneven and accelerated wear on your tires. A quick wheel alignment service can address this issue and its symptoms. If you are unsure whether or not you need an alignment service, bring your vehicle in for a free alignment inspection.

Shaking Steering Wheel Problem 3: Tire Balancing Troubles

All four of your tires are meant to rotate at the same speed, which is made possible by keeping them in balance. However, tires become unbalanced with seasonal changes, rough driving patterns, poor road conditions, inflation differences, and more. Unbalanced tires can impact your suspension and axle, which leads to steering wheel vibrations. This issue can be repaired (or prevented) with routine tire balancing service. On average, your tires should be balanced every 10,000-12,000 miles.

Shaking Steering Wheel Problem 4: Sticking Brake Caliper

One unusual cause of steering wheel shaking is stuck brake calipers. Your brake calipers hold your brake pads, lowering them each time you slow or stop your vehicle. While it is uncommon, brake calipers can become seized (also called “sticky” or “stuck”). Seized brake calipers can cause handling trouble—often with steering wheel shaking or pulling. Unlike warped rotors, you will notice this issue when you drive rather than when you brake. 

What is a stuck brake caliper? As the name suggests, this is when your caliper becomes “stuck” to your rotor. Instead of lifting when you take your foot off the brake, your brake will stay brushed up against your rotor—almost as if you have your brake slightly pressed while you drive. Naturally, driving with stuck calipers can be challenging—not to mention bad for your vehicle’s engine, braking system, fuel economy, tires, and more. 

Sticking brake calipers are commonly caused by worn hoses, debris buildup, and DIY brake installation, among other potential sources. If you suspect you have a stuck brake caliper, bring your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible.

Shaking Steering Wheel Problem 5: Suspension Issues

Your vehicle’s suspension is a network of systems connecting your car to its tires—including shock absorbers, coils/springs, joints, bushings, and more. Any one of these components can encounter an issue that throws off your vehicle’s handling. As you might have guessed, issues with your suspension can create steering wheel shaking. 

If you have ruled out all other potential sources of steering wheel vibrations, it is likely sourced from suspension troubles. Determining the exact nature of this issue will likely require an inspection from a professional mechanic.  

Chapel Hill Tire: Vehicle Service Near Me

When you find that your steering wheel is shaking, the experts at Chapel Hill Tire are here to help. We proudly serve drivers throughout the Triangle area with our mechanics in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Apex. Chapel Hill Tire also commonly serves drivers from surrounding areas, including Cary, Knightdale, Clayton, Pittsboro, Garner, Wake Forest, and beyond. You can make your appointment online or give your nearest location a call to get started today!

The Simple Fix to Oil Loss

Motor Oil Being Poured

Oil changes are a necessary part of ongoing vehicle maintenance. However, does it feel like your vehicle is always telling you that you need another oil change? While you may be tempted to attribute this to a faulty sensor and ignore your dashboard light, it could be a sign of a serious, yet easy-to-fix, engine issue. Learn more here from the technicians at Chapel Hill Tire. 

Why Does My Oil Change Light Keep Coming On?

Most vehicles require an oil change every 3,000 miles or 6 months (whichever comes first). There are a few potential sources of oil depletion, but one primary culprit is dirty piston rings. To understand this issue, let’s take a baseline look at how your engine work: 

  • The combustion chamber is where your fuel mixes with your vehicle’s air pressure and electricity to power your engine. 
  • Piston rings are designed to seal your engine’s combustion chamber. However, when your piston rings are dirty, they become loose and ultimately break this seal. 
  • Oil continuously circulates the combustion chamber and can infiltrate this system through loose piston rings. This rapidly burns up and depletes your engine oil.

How Does This Impact Vehicle Performance?

When your piston rings become dirty, blocked, or ineffective, they fail to seal and protect your combustion chamber. This has several combined effects on your engine performance:

  • Lower Combustion Pressure—Your engine relies on carefully distributed hydraulic pressure to circulate oil, fuel, air, and other engine fluids. The combustion process also requires careful air pressure. Loose piston rings can lower the internal pressure of your combustion chamber, inhibiting this essential process.
  • Oil Contamination—As your oil passes over dirty piston rings, it will become contaminated with its dirt and soot. This negatively changes the composition of your engine oil.
  • Oil Oxidation—The combustion process is created through a mixture of air and fuel. When your oil mixes with the combustion air released through loose piston rings, it can become thickened and oxidized.
  • Oil Combustion—Loose piston rings also let engine oil into the combustion chamber and out through your exhaust. Without the oil your engine needs to function properly, your engine performance will take a hit. 

So How Do You Stop Excessive Oil Consumption?

The key to stopping oil burning is addressing dirty piston rings. While piston rings can be costly to replace, they are fairly simple to clean. This is done through engine performance restoration (EPR) service. EPR clears your piston rings and hydraulic passageways of the dirt, debris, and build up causing your oil leak. This can stop your excessive oil consumption, improve your vehicle’s performance, save you money on fuel, oil, and subsequent repairs, and improve your energy efficiency. You can read our full guide to engine performance restoration here.

Other Signs of Loose Piston Rings

If your engine oil is rapidly depleting, you could also have an oil leak or another vehicle issue. So how do you know if your piston rings are compromised? Here are some additional signs of dirty piston rings: 

  • Loss of vehicle power: The poor combustion pressure causes a noticeable loss in vehicle power and performance. 
  • Thick exhaust: The oil burning in your combustion process will cause thick exhaust clouds—often with distinctly gray, white, or blue hues.
  • Poor acceleration: The loss of pressure in your engine will also mean that your vehicle will have a hard time accelerating.

If you are still unsure about whether or not you have piston ring troubles, bring your vehicle to a professional mechanic for in-depth vehicle diagnostics. Once an expert has identified the source of your car troubles, they can work with you to design and implement a repair plan.

Chapel Hill Tire: Car Care Near Me

When you are due for an engine performance restoration—or any other maintenance flush—visit the experts at Chapel Hill Tire. We offer transparent pricing, coupons, deals, discounts, and promotions to make your local car services as affordable as possible. Chapel Hill Tire also supports our community with convenience services, including vehicle pick-up/delivery, curbside service, text updates, shuttle service, pay-by-text, and other customer-centric services supported by our values. You can make your appointment here online to get started! You can also call one of our nine Triangle area locations throughout Raleigh, Durham, Apex, Carrboro, and Chapel Hill to learn more today!

Does the Cold Weather Kill Your Car Battery?

a car battery warning light on a dashboard

During the colder months, more and more drivers find themselves facing a vehicle that simply will not start. Is the cold weather to blame? The answer is more complicated than it may seem—especially for drivers in the south. Learn more about cold weather’s impact on your car battery here. 

How Cold Weather Impacts Car Batteries

So does cold weather kill your car battery? Yes and no. Cold temperatures put severe stress on your battery, which is why the winter season is often a catalyst for car battery replacements. The cold weather has your vehicle facing two challenges at once: power loss with slow chemical reactions and oil/engine troubles.

Power Loss and Slow Chemical Reactions

Freezing weather drains your battery power by 30-60%. Your battery naturally recharges as you drive—but you must first face the challenge of getting it started. Why does the cold drain battery power?

Most batteries work through an electrochemical reaction, which sends power signals to your terminal ends. This chemical reaction slows down in colder weather, weakening your battery’s power. 

Oil and Engine Troubles

In the colder weather, your vehicle’s oil becomes much thicker. This slows down your engine, causing it to need an extra surge of power to start. Combined with the fact that your battery has less power to offer, this can prevent your engine from turning over. 

The Secret to Dead Car Batteries in the Winter

You might find yourself thinking, “It is not too cold—why is my battery dying?” This is a common issue for drivers in the south. The freezing winter temperature does put stress on your battery, but this is not often what kills your battery. Ultimately, the true killer of car batteries is the summer’s heat. It causes internal battery corrosion and evaporates the electrolytes that your battery relies on.

Summer damage then leaves your battery unable to fight off the stress of cold weather. For drivers in the south, this means that your car battery faces extensive summer deterioration. Then, when the weather becomes cold, your battery does not have the structural integrity to manage the added seasonal challenges.

Tips for Protecting Your Car in the Winter

Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to combat winter battery troubles. Here are some tips on protecting your battery from the impacts of the cold weather. 

  • Address corrosion: Corrosion on your battery can drain its charge. It can also inhibit the electrical conduction that is responsible for starting your vehicle. If your vehicle is having a hard time starting, corrosion may be the source of these issues—not necessarily your battery. That is, you may be able to extend your battery lifespan by having a technician clean or replace your corroded terminal ends
  • Oil changes: It bears repeating that your engine oil plays a key role in keeping your battery and engine protected. Make sure that you keep up with your oil change schedule—especially in the winter months.
  • Summer car care: We cannot emphasize this enough. The summer heat here in the south destroys car batteries from the inside out, leading to immediate failure or failure in the winter season. Keep your car out of the heat in the summer, and bring it in for your regularly-scheduled maintenance visits.
  • Park your car in your garage: When possible, parking in a garage can help keep your vehicle and your battery protected from the effects of cold weather.
  • Cover your car overnight: Vehicle covers may be also able to help you lock in some of the heat and protect your vehicle from ice. 
  • Minimize battery usage: Make sure to turn off your car lights when not in use and unplug any chargers to minimize your battery depletion. 
  • Give your battery time to recharge: Your alternator recharges your battery as you drive. Short drives and drives with frequent stopping/starting do not give your battery much time or support to recharge. Taking your car for a longer drive every once in a while may help boost your battery. Here are some tips on driving in wintery weather.

Chapel Hill Tire Battery Services

Whether your need new terminal ends, corrosion cleaning, a car battery replacement, or an oil change, Chapel Hill Tire is here to help. We have nine Triangle-area locations across Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Apex, and Carrboro. Chapel Hill Tire proudly offers transparent pricing on our services page and coupons to make our vehicle services as affordable as possible for drivers. You can make your appointment here online or give us a call to get started today!