My car needs a tune up

Your car needs a tune up? Why?

When it comes to vehicle maintenance I can’t think of a more misused term than tune up. If I were to ask ten different people how they define an engine tune, I would probably get ten different answers.

For the sake of this topic I am going to assume most car owners think of a tune up as replacing the engine spark plugs as well as the air and fuel filters. Some may also believe this includes any adjustments that can be made to the engine to restore the performance and economy to optimum levels.

Unfortunately asking a repair shop for an engine tune is akin to asking them to have their way with your wallet. The definition of an engine tune differs from garage to garage much the same as it does from car owner to car owner.

Up until the mid 1980s and most cars still used moving parts to deliver spark and fuel to the engine. And, these parts did indeed wear and require periodic replacement or adjustment. At that time spark plugs were made of copper tips and lasted somewhere around 30,000 miles. The spark plugs could be removed, cleaned, and the gap adjusted if worn but it was often more cost effective to replace them. Filters also required frequent replacement which was also part of an engine tune at that time.

Newer cars use no moving parts to deliver spark and fuel to the engine. Thus, there are no adjustments to be made as part of routine maintenance. Spark plugs are now designed with platinum or iridium tips and will generally last for 100,000 miles. Air and fuel filters do not require replacement with the same frequency they did just 30 years ago.

In an earlier post I suggested digging your owner’s manual out of the glove box and becoming very familiar with it. Inside the owner’s manual is a list of maintenance recommendations that includes specific intervals for the air and fuel filters as well as the spark plugs. Most maintenance schedules are divided into two intervals; severe and normal driving conditions. For most car owners normal driving conditions apply. However I live in the hot southern California desert where hot and dusty weather make my conditions a little more severe.

If you don’t have the owner’s manual anymore I recommend going to the local auto parts store and buying a paper back copy of the repair manual for your specific vehicle which also includes the manufacturer’s service schedules. This is a good investment even if you have the owner’s manual. Not only does the repair manual include the service recommendations it also explains how to change the filters and spark plugs yourself.

So what do you do when the car seems to be a little under the weather? Throw a bunch of filters and spark plugs into the engine and hope for the best, and call it a tune up? It may or may not solve the problem. It may also be a terrible waste of money. Platinum tipped spark plugs are not cheap. Filters can also put a significant dent in your pocket depending on what you drive. However this is where you really need to look at the maintenance intervals listed for your particular car and decide whether or not it needs new filters and spark plugs. A simple fuel filter may solve the problem if it hasn’t been changed within the recommended interval. There would be no reason to install new spark plugs if the engine is well under the mileage recommendations. To put it another way the service schedule for my particular car lists a fuel filter replacement at 20,000 miles, and the spark plugs at 100,000 miles. If I follow the recommended schedule I would replace the fuel filter four times before replacing the spark plugs once.

There are additional considerations that I plan to cover in future posts. Fuel injector cleaning. Is that part of a scheduled service? Will it make the car run at peak performance? I plan to look into that and other snake oil recommendations.

In the mean time stick with what is recommended by the manufacturer for the best performance and reliability from your car.

 

 

Where do you begin with your car

Are you capable of maintaining your own car? Should you leave this to a professional? Do you pay a friend?

This depends on several things. For most people the time off from their job is best spent taking care of the household and children. Or simply relaxing. Some car owners simply don’t have the time to take on an additional chore. The car sits quietly in the garage resting from countless trips to the soccer field or supermarket. Spending time on the car simply does not fit into an already full calendar.

But lets assume for the time being you have the time. You have a couple extra hours a month to spend on your second largest investment. Are you up to it?

When most car owners purchase their hot new ride there is so much excitement that many important things get ignored. Most importantly the owner’s manual. It often sits in the glove compartment going largely ignored until something specific is needed. Like how to set the clock on the stereo. Or how to adjust that driver seat that has four switches on the side. Apart from that the manual goes back to its home in the dark glove box under the multitude of napkins lifted from the nearby fast food restaurant.

If you are considering maintaining your own car, now is the time to pay attention to that owner’s manual. Where is the fuse box located? How often should you rotate the tires? Where is the jack for changing a flat tire? The information is in the owner’s manual waiting for you to discover it.

The next consideration is the ¬†tools necessary to take care of certain tasks. I’m not talking about that crowded all purpose drawer in the kitchen with a hammer and screwdriver sharing space with the small junk that has no other place in the home. A good assortment of hand tools can be purchased from a number of places. I will get into the details of what should be in your tool collection further down.

Before taking on any task involving your car I also recommend purchasing a repair manual. Most parts store carry a variety of paperback repair manuals specific to most vehicles. This is a very good investment that will set you back about $25. This information can also be found on different websites on a pay as you go basis. However I always recommend an actual paper manual to read just about anywhere. Holding a tablet or laptop at the side of a car is not always practical. Not to mention the book can be kept in the trunk should you find yourself on the side of the road in need of information. The books are easy to read and chocked full of pictures and diagrams. Even if you choose not to do your own repairs, you can easily read on what the mechanic suggests.

I also want to address PPE (personal protective equipment) most mechanics have suffered an eye injury or a nice hand wound that could be easily avoided. A pair of safety glasses is a must. Yes they look goofy, but so does an eye patch. Gloves are also recommended if you don’t care to be burned or have a knuckle gash. Bump helmets are also nice to have when working underneath the car. Some of the best swear words Ive learned have come after busting my head on a bolt. Bottom line, get this PPE together and keep it ready to use.

Earlier I mentioned tools. I could spend hours recommending what tools you should on. Most of it depends on how extensive your willing to tear into your own car. But for the sake of this blog I am going to recommend the basic tools you would need for simple maintenance tasks. Most tools can be purchased in a set. Several retailers offer tool sets that come with the most basic hand tools. This is the best investment. The most basic tool set should include: Combination hand wrenches in sizes 8mm to 19mm. Some may also include fractional wrenches from 5/16″ to 3/4″ however most car manufacturers have gone to strictly metric fasteners. A good tool set should also include a ratchet and socket set with the same sizes as the hand wrenches. A set of screw drivers should also be an essential part of your tool set. Both standard and Phillips tips. Some may also include specialty tips such as allen an torx tips.

A good tool set with all these components will probable hit your credit card for about $150. But are well worth the investment.

Finally a good floor jack and jack stands are needed should you choose to work underneath the car. Never and I mean Never ever work underneath a car without it being supported by sturdy jack stands. I can not stress this enough. If you have a jack but no jack stands, don’t even use it.

While you are getting all this together, I will be preparing additional tips to get you started. I look forward to being your pocket mechanic.