Tuning up a car requires some special skills, but anyone with reasonable mechanical knowhow can perform half the job – and save half the cost of a service station tune up.
Here are the basic steps to a do-it-yourself car engine tune up.
You will need a service manual for your car, spark plugs, distributor points and condenser, a spark plug wrench, screwdriver, feeler gauge and a small crescent wrench. To purchase the parts you will need to know your car’s engine size, number of cylinders, and carburetor size. Changing spark plugs is a complicated chore, and the car owner is advised not to try it unassisted for the first few times. However, if you know how, or wish to attempt it with the help of a friend, there are a few precautions to take.
When removing spark plug cables, don’t pull them straight off with a sharp tug, instead work them carefully. Be sure you label them ahead of time so you can connect them again in the proper sequence. Using pieces of masking tape and numbering them is a good way. Don’t overtighten the new plugs; they should be snug, but not impossible to remove.
Installing new points and condenser in the distributor is tricky so the first time you attempt it you should have someone help you who knows how to do it. When you have installed the new plugs, points and condenser and adjusted the points gap, take the car to your dealer or a garage and have them adjust the timing. This will take about 10 minutes.
But how do you know when your car needs a tune up?
These are the most common symptoms: it’s hard to start, it’s sluggish when you step on the accelerator and lacks peps, it idles and burns more gas than it used to.
How often should a car be tuned up?
There is no set interval because cars and people’s driving habits differ. Every 10,000 miles is the rule-of-thumb, but some cars need tune ups them more often, others can go longer. If you take your car to a garage to be tuned up, you should know what is included in minor and major car tune-ups.
A minor tune-up includes replacement of points, condenser and plugs, setting spark timing and adjusting the carburetor idle. A major car tune up includes a check of the engine compression, replacement, or cleaning and adjustment of spark plugs, rebuilding the distributor, adjusting the timing, carburetor, and fan belts.
Cleaning the battery terminals, servicing air cleaner, coil, manifold heat control valve and the fuel line filter.
However, the best way to help improve engine performance is to keep the engine and ignition system clean. No special skills are needed, only some clean rags and a can of solvent to remove oil and grease stains from the engine itself and from some of the components of the electrical system.
Not many realize the harmful effects of dirt on the outside of an engine. A film of dirt and grease on the engine block acts like an insulator and can make the engine run hotter. Most of this dirt accumulates on top of the engine. Remove the air cleaner to get at the engine easier and cover the carburetor with a piece of plastic. For safety remove the negative cable from the battery to eliminate the possibility of sparks.
Wipe off the surfaces with a rag, and if the film is heavy, spray on an engine degreaser. Wipe off the tops of the spark plugs (the white porcelain part of the plug) and the cables, leading to the plugs. Dirt that collects on the spark plugs and cables reduces the electrical current that flows to the spark plugs and can be a cause of hard starting, especially in damp weather.
During the winter, cars parked outside are sometimes hard to start during periods of snow or rain. For this, purchase a can of ignition protector spray. This spray actually drives out moisture and insulates the wires and connections, all which make starting much easier. You spray it on spark plugs, cables, the distributor cap and coil. Complete directions are included on the can.
While tuning up your car and cleaning the engine, look for any wires that appear loose or have worn or cracked insulation. If you spot any, point them out to your mechanic, or replace them yourself.