Tune-ups are one aspect of automotive maintenance that has changed greatly over the year. Although most people still refer needing tune-ups, the term is often used in conjunction with a service procedure designed to make an engine run better. Although there is no specific definition for what a tune-up should include, maintenance professionals generally agree that it involves replace spark plugs and making other adjustments to restore engine performance.
With today’s vehicles, there isn’t much left to “tune,” even though many drivers think that the procedure is necessary. As your vehicle ages, it may be harder to start, not getting the same gas mileage, the engine may hesitate, stall, knock or even lose power. What you may need is an engine performance analysis along with a new set of spark plugs. Simple maintenance like this may resolve the above issues if the issue lies with the spark plugs, but if a problem exists elsewhere, a “tune-up” could waste time and money.
Any service related to tune-ups should include baseline checks to assess your engine’s condition. These should include:
- Battery voltage
- Power balance or dynamic compression
- Engine vacuum
- Scanning for fault codes
- Check exhaust emissions
- Verification of idle speed
- Check ignition timing
If no major faults are discovered during tune-up checks, consider regular replacement of the following items to keep your engine running properly:
- Spark plugs gapped to correct specifications
- Rotor or distributor caps
- Fuel and air filters, PCV valve and other parts like belts, hoses, fluids, etc., on an as-needed basis
- Check and adjust ignition timing, idle speed and oxygen sensor
Spark plugs require periodic replacement because their electrodes wear away every time they fire. A plug fires 60 to 80 million times for every 45,000 miles your vehicle travels. This wear increases the distance between the electrodes and dulls the sharp edges on the center electrode resulting in an increase in voltage needed to jump the gap. Deposits on the plug tip can also interfere with ignition.
Long-life plugs are built to withstand wear with electrodes made of platinum or alloys that resist erosion. These plugs can last as long as 100,000 miles under ideal conditions. Remember, however, that no plug will last anywhere near its potential lifespan when an engine experiences other problems.