Saturday, September 29, 2012

What is a Tune-Up?

A tune-up is a maintenance procedure to maintain an optimum operating condition at maximum efficiency through adjustments and parts replacement.
For today’s vehicles, the term is a misnomer and used for marketing purposes in generating revenue for automotive repair businesses.  The “tune-up” procedure is eliminated, but to keep the term “alive,” certain procedures are recommended by service facilities, but not the manufacturer.
Computers have replaced almost all of the parts and makes adjustments to air-fuel ratios, ignition timing, and idle speed that formerly was performed during a tune-up of pre-1996 model vehicles.   The only parts remaining on current vehicles to be replaced during a “tune-up” are spark plugs, air filter and pcv valve.  For some cars: the distributor cap, rotor, and spark plug wires (if needed).
The terms “tune-up” and “scheduled maintenance” are not the same.  The previous “tune-up” has been replaced with a “scheduled maintenance” procedure.

Scheduled Maintenance

In the case of a “schedule maintenance” procedure,  the oil and filter are replaced, tires rotated, and certain bolts are checked for tightness.  If the vehicle is equipped with a “cabin filter” (filters the inside air) it may be replaced if necessary.  Money is saved by purchasing it from the parts department and installing it yourself, if you are so inclined.  It usually is located behind the glove box.
The rest of the “required” items are inspection for wear.  This is a good opportunity for service facilities to promote “recommended services” such as various flushes, which are not “required” by the manufacturer and sometimes “forbidden.”  Some vehicles require specific fluids that the service facility may not have, thus, jeopardizing the proper operation of the component.

In the case of high mileage vehicles, a transmission flush is not recommended because the new transmission fluid will have new additives which can break down the adhesive bonding of the clutch disks to the clutch plates resulting in the transmission slipping or other transmission failure after a few thousand miles.  In addition, there is a good possibility that particles will find their way into the valve body causing shift valves to stick.  If the transmission is operating normally, let it continue to do so, just make sure the transmission fluid level is correct and if necessary, add the correct fluid type required by the manufacturer.

Important Tip:
After an oil change, it is best to check the engine oil level to confirm the drain plug, oil filter was tightened, and the oil cap reinstalled as not to leak.  If this is intimidating, at least check for leaks on the ground under where the vehicle was parked.  If you find fresh oil on the ground and you suspect it is coming from your vehicle, return the vehicle promptly to the service facility.  If your vehicle is leaking oil, eventually it will leak low enough for the engine to encounter oil starvation and you could lose your engine by it seizing up.

Tune-up Maintenance 

When the mileage or time frame has arrived for parts such as spark plugs to be replaced, service facilities will take the opportunity to recommend that your vehicle needs a “tune-up” which actually is replacing the spark plugs, pcv valve, air filter, oil/oil filter change and rotating the tires.
The term “major tune-up” implies a higher level “tune-up” when actually its an opportunity to promote a fuel injector cleaning, coolant, transmission, power steering and brake flushes.
Let’s examine these items:

Fuel injector cleaning:  The objective is to run a strong cleaning solvent through the fuel injectors to clean the orifices to ensure a good spray pattern.  Actually, fuel cleaning detergent additives is blended in fuels and the cleaning can be accomplished by using a can of Chevron Techron and using it with a full tank of gas according to the instructions.  Furthermore, the manufacturer does not require a fuel system flush.  However, if a fuel injector is clogged, a fuel injector cleaning would help unclog it.

Coolant flush: The coolant used by manufacturers is an extended long-life type and does not require frequent changing.  On older vehicles, the pressure from a coolant flush could possibly cause problems such as causing the heater core to start leaking.  The manufacturer usually does not require a coolant flush.

Power Steering flush: This is an unnecessary expense for most cars and could cause steering problems if air is not completely purged from the system after a flush.  However, if you have a jerky motion when turning the steering wheel or a whining noise that increases with an increase in engine speed, a power steering flush may help before you commence to replacing the power steering pump.  Manufacturers do not require it and some cars have electric power steering, which does not have power steering fluid, thus nothing to flush.

Brake fluid flush:  This one flush is a good deal after the vehicle is 5 years old due to moisture entering the brake system through humidity.  Brake fluid is hygroscopic which means that it absorbs moisture, which is bad for the braking system because it lowers the boiling point of the brake fluid and compromises braking action.  Ideally the system should remain closed.
None of these service procedures the manufacturer requires, therefore, it is a “recommended” service promoted by the service facility and not “required” by the manufacturer.

Things that may not be in your scheduled maintenance book:

  • ·         Battery cables and post cleaning (if battery is disconnected, make sure a supplemental battery source is connected to keep various memory settings).

  • ·         Battery top cleaning

  • ·         Battery hold down secure (keeps the battery from moving)

  • ·         Alternator regulator over-charging which will produce excess charging gas, shorten the life of the battery and moisten the top of the battery with battery acid and form corrosion on the battery posts.

  • ·         Windshield washer nozzle aim (sometimes the water spray will go over the roof)

  • ·         Air conditioning water drain hose is draining properly (or water may come on your passenger side carpet area)

  • ·         Headlamps, tail lamps, turn signals, back up lights, license plate lights, dome light(s) and side marker lamps are working.

  • ·         Water pump vent hole coolant leakage inspection

  • ·         Horn operation.

  • ·         Spare tire pressure check.

  • ·         All fluid level inspection, leaks, and unacceptable wiring routing or interference contact (wires, hoses rubbing).

The main objective of performing scheduled maintenance is to prevent component failure or poor vehicle performance due to neglect.
Keep in mind, even with performing schedule maintenance and doing everything correct, there still can be component failure or poor vehicle performance.  There may be possible design flaws, manufacturing errors or damage occurring during transportation.
Before purchasing any vehicle, it is advisable to do your due diligence and research known issues to the vehicle you are considering.  You can do this by using a search engine such as Google.  Enter the year, make, model and add reviews and forums in the search field. 

For example: 2012 Toyota Camry reviews and forums then push the Enter button.

This will give results from professional vehicle evaluators and forums where people are discussing the model you entered.  You can also do a search for recalls, technical service bulletins, fuel economy, crash data, etc.
Here are some links to automotive websites that have a wealth of information
Kelly Blue Book:

The next topic is: The Purpose of the Check Engine Light, and what to do if it comes on.

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