Car Tune-Up Truths Car Owners Need to Understand Today
Tune-Ups Past and Present
Back in the day, engine tune-ups were a thing car owners---with a little mechanical inclination and a patient mentor like a father or Uncle Jack to show them the ropes---did as a common DIY car maintenance job: service the gap and/or replace the spark plugs and possibly the distributor assembly; check the plug wires for cracking; inspect the condenser, and points for wear and file the contacts or replace as needed; check your intake manifold vacuum values; and finally, pull out a pistol-like timing light and either advance or retard the engine’s timing as needed while adjusting the jets on the carburetor.
But today, things are different with modern cars. Fuel injectors replaced the carburetor. Plug wires are gone. The distributor, points and a traditional timing light are no longer needed. There’s still such a thing as spark plugs (each with its own coil); however, even these are not the spark plugs of yesteryear’s cars.
Instead, today’s engines are primarily computer-controlled relying on an array of different sensors to signal the computer that something is not right and needs automatic (operator hands-free) readjustment to compensate for out-of-norm parameter operation. If the computer cannot readjust operation, then the infamous check engine light flashes on and it’s time to take the car to a mechanic for diagnosis and treatment.
So, are tune-ups still a thing, or are they just another faded memory? The short answer is that it is a little of both. More precisely---many older used vehicles still require an occasional tune-up, but with new cars it is limited to the spark plug/coil unit, switch and sensor replacement---often possible only with specialized tools, test equipment, and training
Tune-Up Need to Know Advice
In a recent Car Wizard YouTube episode, the Car Wizard talks about how that “modern” car tune-ups differ from the old-school tune-up and why having to fork over $400 or more to have your relatively new model car tuned is not a scam by the mechanic, but just the reality of how cars have changed and why the tune-up is no longer a less expensive DIY shade tree mechanic maintenance task.
In the video you will learn:
• How the modern car is purposely designed to force car owners to seek outside help.
• What a “modern” tune-up consists of involving parts, time, and final cost.
• Whether modern spark plugs really need to be changed; and if so, when.
• How a 2011 Nissan Frontier rates as a used vehicle buy.
Related article: Do Champion Spark Plugs Really Belong in Chrysler’s and Lawn Mowers?
Related article: Toyota Maintenance Non-OEM Parts Warning
How can a tune up cost $400? CAR WIZARD explains how modern maintenance is done on this '11 Frontier
Caveats to the Video
While the Car Wizard recommends that in today’s cars with modern platinum iridium spark plugs designed to last 100,000 miles or more, that they do not really require changing until you have a cylinder misfire, I believe, however, that there are a few caveats to this view:
1. It would be prudent to look a little deeper into this with your particular car model. Not all models using the same plug type carry the same life-span guarantee. For example, higher performance models will need spark plug replacement more often than non-higher performance vehicles. This could also apply to vehicles “worked” harder than normal towing heavy loads. In any case, you should check your owners’ manual on the recommendations listed for your model AND AT THE SAME TIME do some research online what other car owners have reported with the same model you have, to see if a sooner-than-recommended spark plug change may “under real world testing” be beneficial,
2. Engine performance such as smoothness of operation and fuel economy can be adversely affected by spark plugs that are less than optimal from normal wear and tear. Replacing your spark plugs sooner than recommended can make for a better ride and less fuel expense.
3. Some aluminum head engines are more likely than others to develop “fused or sealed” spark plug problems when the spark plugs are left untouched too long---necessitating a tricky spark plug removal that can be frustrating and costly. Researching online your particular model may reveal reports of this happening---as noted in the comments section following the video. Applying an anti-seize lubricant is recommended in some sources; however, it is best to check with the car manufacturer or a trusted mechanic before attempting this bit of preventive maintenance.
For additional articles related to car maintenance, here are two very informative articles every car owner should be aware of titled “Car Battery Maintenance, Testing, and Replacement with This Ultimate Guide” and “Common Car Maintenance Mistake Owners Make When Diagnosing Their Car’s Engine Problems.”
COMING UP NEXT: The Biggest Red Flag You’ve Taken Your Car to the Wrong Mechanic
Timothy Boyer is a Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily new and used vehicle news.
Image courtesy of Pixabay