Do Modern Cars Still Need Tuneups?
May 10, 2022
Driving through the South I have seen a lot of signs at old service stations offering tune ups. It made me wonder….
What You Should Know About Modern Vehicle Maintenance
While modern fuel-injected vehicles don’t require tune-ups in the traditional sense, all vehicles still need a certain amount of regular maintenance that could fall into the tune-up category.
The Old-Fashioned Tune-Up
Back in the day, having a car tuned up involved a range of adjustments and part replacements. Most vehicles produced before 1990 used carburetors to send fuel to each cylinder. Carburetors required occasional adjustments and cleaning to deliver peak performance. Do you remember starting your car in the morning and stalling out a few times until it warmed up? Usually, that would mean that your carburetor needed an idle adjustment. Older vehicles also used distributors to send power to the engine’s spark plugs. The distributor consisted of several components – ignition points, a condenser, a rotor, and the distributor cap – that required regular replacement. Worn or carbon-coated surfaces on a car’s ignition points, rotor, or distributor cap could lead to poor performance and fuel economy. A defective spark condenser could even prevent your vehicle from starting.
The distributor also needed to send a spark to the spark plugs at just the right moment (engine timing) for your engine to operate properly. Occasionally a tune-up involved setting the engine’s timing, as well. No self-respecting tune-up would be complete without replacing the spark plugs. On average, manufacturers recommended replacing spark plugs every 30,000-miles. But, because spark plugs are relatively inexpensive, many car owners would change them much more frequently. Other tune-up parts included new spark plug wires, a new air filter, and sometimes a new fuel filter. It would not be out of the question for a driver to notice a considerable improvement in performance after a tune-up.
The Modern Tune-Up
Because automakers no longer use many of the previously mentioned components, and others last a lot longer than they used to, the definition of “tune-up” has changed somewhat in recent years. Gone are the days of choppy idling and misfires. Your car’s engine now uses fuel-injection to get gas to each cylinder. The distributor has been replaced with a computer that sends a spark on time, every time. You may have also heard stories about 100,000-mile spark plugs. So, while you won’t need your “carb” adjusted these days, or the distributor cap replaced, your car’s engine still requires regular tune-ups to run at peak performance.
Not every manufacturer uses 100,000-mile spark plugs either (check your owner’s manual). All but plug-in vehicles still use air filters that need regular replacement. It’s also a good idea to follow manufacturer recommendations when it comes to changing spark plug wires, as well as fuel filters.
The Bottom Line
While your car’s engine requires less attention than it did years ago, it still needs some regular maintenance that could be considered a tune-up. Look in your owner’s manual for a complete maintenance schedule, or better yet, check with your favorite auto repair shop. Regular maintenance keeps your vehicle running new, and in the long run, helps avoid costly repairs.