By Debbie Murphy/autoMedia.com
Once upon a time, people actually popped the hoods of their vehicles and tuned
up their engines. They developed a fine ear for that distinctive purr, once
described as a thousand little sewing machines humming away, and with delicate
hands, adjusted the carburetors until the proper note was struck. These
venerable ancients checked the ignition timing, re-gapped their spark plugs
and performed many other tasks to achieve a perfectly running automobile.
Today, we're riding around in new cars with 100,000-mile drivetrain warranties
and vast service intervals. The changes were basically driven by the need to
produce cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The solution was to
relinquish mechanical functions to electronic controls. All the parts and
pieces our forefathers once fiddled with have disappeared, replaced by
impenetrable little black boxes with more computer power than Apollo 13. These
new cars are idiot-proof; we never have to touch their innards, right?
Not quite. Even though modern technology has reduced the concept of "tune up"
to the archives, the computer-controlled vehicles of the 21st century still
require regular TLC. And while it may be difficult to comprehend with today's
no-muss-no-fuss vehicles, there are still components that need your attention.
If you need a little motivation, consider this: in the olden days, you could
usually limp a vehicle into the repair shop even if the trip was punctuated
with deadly backfires, or the clutch cable was reduced to a thread. When
computer-controlled systems die, it’s tow-truck time—there's no limping
There are a couple of things you need to know before starting your "tune up"
routine. First, modern vehicles have built-in diagnostics. Some aftermarket
computer upgrades or modules allow you to run your own diagnostic check, a
significant advantage when you take the vehicle in for service. For those
without aftermarket toys, it's reassuring to know problems can be quickly and
accurately determined without your mechanic having to dive into the engine
compartment. Second, check your owner's manual for components that are
tamper-proof. For instance, some batteries are sealed and you'll drive
yourself crazy trying to figure out how to check the water level. While you've
got the manual open, take note of where all fluid levels are to be checked and
the location of fuel and oil filters. With any luck, you don't have to be a
contortionist to get to them. Now, armed with a fairly comprehensive map of
your vehicle's terrain, you can begin what amounts to a modern-day tune-up and
continue this ritual every 3,000 to 6,000 miles (depending on your driving