The 21st Century Tune-up
According to the 21st Century Tune-up, the following systems should be routinely inspected:
- Battery, charging and starting
- Engine mechanical
- Powertrain control (including onboard diagnostic checks)
Owners ask for tune-ups for a variety of reasons, including maintaining reliability, improving performance, planning a road trip or long distance move, preparing for winter/summer or because they are giving the car to a friend or family member or getting ready to sell it.
The Car Care Council recommends that motorists take the necessary time to familiarize themselves with their vehicle in order to ensure good performance, fuel economy and emissions. You should study the owner’s manual to become thoroughly acquainted with the operation of all of your vehicle’s systems. Pay special attention to the indicator lights on the dashboard.
History of the 21st Century Tune-Up
Times are changing and cars are changing too. One of the biggest changes in the automotive industry is the perception of a “tune-up.” When 10 vehicle owners are asked for their definition of a tune-up we find that there will be 10 different answers. The “tune-up” once was the center of the automotive business, contrary to some beliefs; the modern vehicle still needs tune-ups to keep it performing at it’s most efficient abilities.
The “tune-up” historically is associated with routine replacement of key ignition system parts such as spark plugs and ignition points, along with basic adjustments to “tune” the engine. Increasing pressure for better fuel efficiency and lower emissions drove manufacturers to switch to electronics in place of ignition points in the 1970s, along with the carburetor in the middle 1980s. This eliminated the need to replace and adjust a large number of ignition and fuel system parts.
The pace of technology has quickened over the years making procedures required to perform a traditional tune-up change dramatically. With highly sophisticated ignition and fuel systems being the norm, most vehicles now use one or more onboard computers to control critical engine and transmission functions. Functions that were once handled mechanically, now are controlled electronically through a wide range of onboard computer technologies.
Because vehicles have changed so much, the Car Care Council introduced the 21st Century Tune-up. This program is designed to re-define and educate motorists as to what a tune-up should consist of on today’s vehicles.
“There is a misconception that today’s modern vehicles don’t need tune-ups because they never break down, but that simply is not true,” said Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. “If you’re at work and your computer goes down, you can’t get any more work done. It’s the same with your vehicle. If the vehicle isn’t being properly maintained, you’re not going to get where you want to go.”
Getting Your Vehicle Ready for Winter
Mechanical failure is an inconvenience anytime it occurs and in the winter it can be deadly. There are many reasons why preventive maintenance is important, but in preparation for the winter it is a must. In addition to winter prep, a well-maintained vehicle is more enjoyable to drive, it will last longer, and could retain a higher resale price.
Many of the following tips can be done by most do-it-yourselfers; others prefer the skilled hands of a professional.
- Engine Performance – Get engine performance problems such as hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.fixed at a trusted repair shop if you do not know how to do these on your own. Cold weather often makes these problems worse. Also, replace or have replaced any dirty air filters, fuel, etc.
- Fuel – Put a bottle of antifreeze in your tank up to once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note that a full gas tank helps keep moisture from forming in the first place, eliminating the need of monthly antifreeze.
- Oil – Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual. Consider changing it more often (every 3,000 miles) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.
- Cooling Systems – Most people overlook this great tip for optimal performance and long term use. But, the cooling system should be completely flushed and refilled about every 24 months. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) Note to DIYers; never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.
- Exhaust System – Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floor boards should be inspected for small holes caused by rust from corrosive materials such as salt. Please note that exhaust fumes can be deadly.
- Windshield Wipers – Replace old and worn blades. If your climate is harsh like here in Colorado, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent-you’ll be surprised how much you use especially when driving on salted roads. It is a very good idea to always carry an ice-scraper.
- Heater/Defroster – The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for comfort and driver visibility. Most modern vehicles have a cabin air filter that should be checked and replaced periodically. Check your owner’s manual for the location and replacement interval.
- Battery – The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. For battery routine care: Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections, clean all surfaces, and re-tighten all connections. If your battery caps can be removed, check fluid level monthly. DIYers; Avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves.
- Lights – Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from the lenses. Never use a dry rag or you may cause scratching of the lenses.
- Tires – Worn tires are dangerous in winter conditions. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and cracks. Check tire pressures once a month. The best time to check the tires is when they are cold, before driving for any distance. Rotate them as recommended for your vehicle. Don’t forget to keep your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition. A good practice is to ask the auto-technician to keep the best tire left over from a tire change in the trunk of your car. They will perform better then the common spare.
- Carry emergency gear: water, gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, and a flash light. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box. If you are stranded in deep snow keep the exhaust clear of build up.
Getting Your Vehicle Ready For Summer
Colorado summers bring heat, dust, and stop-and-go tourist traffic. All of which will take their toll on your vehicle. Add to this list the effects of last winter, and you could be looking at an imminent breakdown. You can better your odds of dodging mechanical failure through periodic maintenance. . . Again, your vehicle should last longer and fetch a higher resale price.
Some of the following tips are easy to do yourself; but, others require a skilled auto technician.
- Auto Cooling System – The number one cause of summer breakdowns is overheating. The cooling system should be completely flushed and refilled about every 24 months. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) Note to DIYers; never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.
- Air Conditioning – A poorly operating system will likely fail in hot weather. It is best to have the system examined by a qualified technician. Most of the newer models have cabin air filters that clean the air entering the heating and air conditioning. Check your owner’s manual for location and replacement interval.
- Oil – Change your oil and filter as specified in your manual. Think to do this more often (every 3,000 miles) if you make frequent short trips with stop and go behavior, extended trips while carrying lots of luggage, or if you are towing a trailer.
- Engine Performance – Replace other filters (air, fuel, PCV, etc.) as recommended. More often if conditions are dusty or smokey. Get engine performance issues such as; hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc., corrected at a trust shop as soon as you notice them.
- Lights – Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean dirt and insects from all lenses. To prevent scratching, don’t use a dry rag.
- Windshield Wipers – Did you know that a dirty windshield causes eye fatigue and can pose a safety hazard? Replace worn blades and get plenty of windshield washer solvent.
- Tires – Have your tires rotated about every 5,000 miles for most automobiles. Check tire pressure about once a month; check them before driving for any distance. Don’t forget to check your spare as well and be sure the jack is in good condition. Examine tires for tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. consider realignment if there’s uneven tread wear or if your vehicle pulls to one side.
- Brakes – Brakes should be inspected as recommended in your manual, or sooner if you notice pulsations, grabbing, noises, or longer stopping distance. Minor brake problems should be corrected promptly especially if you plan to visit the mountains.
- Battery – Batteries can fail any time of year. The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. Routine care: Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check the fluid level monthly. Avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves.
- Emergencies – Carry some basic tools in your trunk -ask a technician for suggestions. Also include a first aid kit, flares, flashlight, water, and blankets. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box. Consider buying a cellular phone if you don’t already own one.
Keeping Your Vehicle in Tune with the Environment
Car care is definitely a win-win situation. Besides helping the environment, a properly maintained and operated vehicle will run more efficiently, will be safer, and will last up to 50% longer, according to a survey of ASE-certified Master Auto Technicians. The following tips should put you on the road to environmentally conscious car care; most are repeated from the above lists.
- Keep your engine tuned.
- Follow the service schedules listed in your owner’s manual.
- Replace filters and fluids as recommended.
Did you know that a misfiring spark plug can reduce fuel efficiency as much as 30%?
- Check your tire inflation levels. Under inflated tires waste fuel. Also, your engine has to work harder to push the vehicle. Wheels that are out-of-line (as evidenced by uneven tread wear or vehicle pulling) make the engine work harder, too. Properly maintained tires will last longer, For the environment, this means fewer scrap tires
- Keep your air conditioner in top condition and have it serviced only by a certified technician that is competent to handle and recycle refrigerants. Air conditioners contain CFCs-gases that have been implicated in the depletion of the ozone layer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost one third of the CFCs released into the atmosphere come from vehicle air conditioners; some simply leak, but the majority escapes during service and repair. This is why it is so important to choose a qualified and trusted technician.
- Observe all speed limits. Mileage decreases sharply when driving above 55 mph.
- Drive gently. This means to avoid sudden accelerations and jerky stop-and-go’s as much as possible. Use cruise-control on open highways to keep your speed as steady as possible and you will save on fuel.
- Avoid unnecessary idling. Shut off the engine while waiting for friends and family. Today’s vehicles are designed to “warm up” fast, the old rule of giving your vehicle a five-minute warm up on cold winter mornings is no longer necessary.
- Remove unneeded items from the vehicle. Less weight means better mileage. Also, carry luggage and other cargo in the trunk rather than on the roof to reduce air drag.
- Plan your trips. Consolidate your daily errands to eliminate unnecessary driving. Try to travel when traffic is light to avoid stop-and-go conditions. You will save much needed time too! Consider joining a car pool.
- Do-it-yourselfers: dispose of used motor oil, anti-freeze/coolant, tires, and old batteries properly. Many repair facilities accept these items. Or call your local municipal or county government for recycling sites. Never dump used oil or anti-freeze on the ground or in open streams.
Remember that how your car runs, how you drive it, and how its fluids, old parts, and tires are disposed of all have serious consequences on the environment.