When Should You Tune Your Car?

engine bay

Most car owners leave the engine diagnosis to the pros.

Today’s cars are sophisticated pieces of machinery that make use of such advanced technologies as direct injection, electronic ignitions, onboard computers and numerous sensors. Vehicles from the 1970s and earlier routinely required a tune up once every two years or within 20,000 miles, with spark plugs replaced, the ignition and carburetor timing adjusted, and the ignition contact points, rotor and distributor cap replaced.

Engine Diagnosis

Beginning in the 1980s, as cars came equipped with electronic ignitions, the process began to change. Today, your car is less likely to be due for a tune up as it is for a complete diagnosis, with your mechanic hooking your car to a computer to obtain a read out on how your car is performing. The goal here is to ensure that your car is running optimally and that exhaust emissions are within required parameters.

Your car still needs to be checked and maintained, and your owner’s manual will outline that information. When taking your car in for service, your mechanic will replace spark plugs, spark plug wires, sensors and modules as needed and that work should take place within your manufacturer’s allotted frequencies, typically ranging from 30,000 to 100,000 miles.

Trouble Spots

Because modern cars start and run with ease, you can just as easily forget to perform required maintenance, especially anything beyond oil changes. That, of course, is a mistake and can lead to problems.

Typically, you will first notice a problem if your gas mileage begins to drop. You may be driving the same amount of miles, but your intervals between service station visits begins to close. Also, if your car stalls or hesitates, there is a good chance that a spark plug is worn or fouled, or a sensor needs to be replaced. You save money by putting some space between “tune ups,” but the repairs can add up whenever an oxygen sensor or an electronic component acts up. If you are lucky, your problem could be battery related and easily resolved.

Shop Evaluation

Many car owners simply no longer work on their vehicles. Typically, they cite the complexity of today’s sophisticated cars as well as a limited amount of time available to do the work. Thus, if you entrust your vehicle to a mechanic, keep a few things in mind:

1. Your car may be covered. Some manufacturers provide free maintenance for the first few years of ownership. BMW, for example, provides standard maintenance for the first four years or 50,000 miles. The Toyota Care program is for two years or 25,000 miles. If your manufacturer has you covered, then take your car to your dealer’s repair shop.

2. Know what you want checked. Besides the engine diagnosis check mentioned earlier, you will want to work with a mechanic that will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your car. This can include its air-conditioning and cooling systems, its battery and charging system, brakes, steering and suspension, the electrical system and he may also make a check for fluid leaks.

Your Cost

Certainly, you will pay more for a diagnosis that is not covered under your manufacturer’s maintenance plan than you would for a basic tune up. However, by staying on top of maintenance, you can avoid pricey repairs, helping your car to run more efficiently too.

References

Pro Car Care: Tune-Up Procedures

Mobil Oil: New-Age Tune-Up


See AlsoWhy Does My Gas Mileage Vary?

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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