Q: What is a Car Tune-Up?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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A car tune-up is a type of preventive maintenance performed on a vehicle to ensure it continues to perform well. A tune-up is typically regularly scheduled -- once a year is a very soft rule of thumb -- and offers the chance for you to get all of the preventive maintenance your car needs at that time. Getting a car tune-up regularly will help you maintain your car's performance and extend its life.

When you have a tune-up performed, it will typically include the replacement of several important wear-and-tear parts. Failure to replace these parts can result in decreased performance and other problems. For example, the air filter will typically need to be replaced at least once per year. If a dirty air filter is not replaced, the engine may receive less air than it needs to run properly. If this problem is not addressed, the air-fuel mixture will continue running richer, which means there is not enough air and too much fuel in the mixture. This can ultimately result in the failure of other parts and a waste of fuel. The tune-up should also include cleaning or replacing the spark plugs and, on older cars, the distributor cap and rotor. Tune-ups may also include replacement of the fuel filter, oxygen sensor, PCV valve, and spark plug wires. If your vehicle contains platinum spark plugs, they may not need to be changed as frequently. Vehicles with an electronic ignition rather than a distributor will not need to have the distributor cap and rotor replaced.

In some instances, your vehicle may also need maintenance that is not typically included in a basic car tune-up. An annual tune-up also provides the opportunity to check your vehicle's systems, including the car brakes and clutch as well as oil and fluid levels. The air-conditioning system should generally be checked if the tune-up is performed in the spring or in the early summer. If you are not sure what type of maintenance your vehicle may need during a tune-up, you can check the owner's manual.

Your vehicle will need some types of maintenance more than once a year. This includes an oil change. Oil change intervals are typically based on the number of miles driven. The frequency with which your vehicle requires an oil change can depend upon a number of factors, including the type of vehicle you drive, the vehicle's age, and your own driving habits. If you are not certain how often you should have an oil change, it is a good idea to check the owner's manual for specific recommendations. If your vehicle provides diagnostic readings, they may also indicate when the oil should be changed. Failure to have the oil changed when necessary can affect the performance and life of the engine.

Once you get into the habit of keeping track of your car's maintenance and its regular maintenance schedule, the idea of a tune-up will become comforting rather than intimidating. And it always feels good to have a properly maintained automobile.

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