What Is a Tune-Up? Speed and Car Care 101

tune up

When defining “What is a tune-up?” the first step is to determine what you expect to gain from your tune-up. While there are many ways to tune up a vehicle, routine maintenance is what most people think of regarding tune-ups.

Other types of tune-ups concentrate on creating more speed, better gas mileage, and various other focus areas. If your state has yearly vehicle inspections, and you’re not sure your car can pass, you can tune it with that in mind.

If your tires wore out 20,000 miles before they should have, you could tune up your ride to focus on fixing that. Got a shimmy in your steering? It could be your brakes, wheel hubs, or suspension. No matter what you want to improve in your ride, there is a type of tune-up to address it.

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There Is More than One Type of Tune-Up

Routine maintenance tune-ups are the most common, while other types of tune-ups pay attention to particular areas. Some of the different tune-ups include:

  • Routine maintenance
  • State inspection (the “must pass to keep driving”)
  • Adding speed
  • Gaining fuel economy
  • Reducing exhaust emissions
  • Frame and suspension attention
  • Extending tire life
  • Increasing your stopping power

If your car is a daily ride, you’ll probably stick to the basics. However, if you have a project car, you can tweak your ride for show or even racing.

Routine maintenance tune-up

Check the fluids, check and replace the spark plugs, drop some injector cleaner into the fuel tank. You can perform most tasks in your driveway, even on the newer, computerized cars of today.

If you have the owner’s manual, it will list tune-up intervals for your model. If you don’t have that, you can probably find it online by searching for the make and model. Most auto manufacturers maintain web archives for 7 to 10 years.

If you can’t find it on the auto manufacturer’s website, you can check other outlets:

If you plan on performing your tune-up, we recommend beginning with a list, so you don’t miss anything. Use your owner’s manual to determine the areas you should focus on for routine maintenance:

  1. Change oil
  2. Check and fill wiper fluid
  3. Check and fill transmission fluid (change as required)
  4. Clean, check, and re-gap spark plugs (change as required)
  5. Check all spark plug wires, battery cables, and wiring harness (replace as needed)
  6. Change windshield wipers
  7. Check all lights and hazard flashers
  8. Check tires for wear and fill to proper psi (replace as needed)
  9. Rotate tires according to the manufacturer’s specifications
  10. Check brakes for wear, including brake lines and wheel cylinders (replace as needed)
  11. Grease all zerk fittings on suspension components (replace as needed)
  12. Check frame for rust and weak spots

Please remember to use the recommended type of oil and transmission fluid for your vehicle. When you change fluids, please use proper disposal methods. Many local auto parts stores have free disposal programs for hazardous materials.

Performing your maintenance can be a satisfying (or frustrating) experience. With a few tools, cleaning cloths, and a weekend, you can make sure your car lasts a long time.

Yearly “must pass state inspection” tune-up

If you live in a state without annual vehicle inspections, consider yourself blessed. For those people who reside where the state requires a yearly safety, emission, or other types of inspection, it can become an expensive proposition.

Each state has specific requirements, so we can’t cover them all. Some states offer exemptions for older vehicles. To check the requirement in your state, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is where you will find the information you need to “pre-inspect” your vehicle to make sure it will pass.

Most states with inspection requirements will check the basics:

  • Tires, suspension, and brakes
  • Lights, windshield wipers, and safety equipment
  • Windows (for operation, chips, and cracks)

Your state may require more or less. If you have been performing routine maintenance on your vehicle, your chances are better to pass an annual inspection. A failed inspection means you will be unable to register or drive your car without repair in many states.

Tweaking your ride for speed

If you want a little extra horsepower out of your car, you can add some tune-up modifications to give it a little boost. Bear in mind that, although these mods may add a little boost, they won’t make you instantly qualify for the Daytona 500.

If your vehicle is still under a factory warranty, be advised that some modifications can void your remaining warranty coverage.

So, what works? Not all things work with all vehicles. Checking online forums and discussing upgrades with other people who have the same make, model, and year as your car will save time, effort, and a lot of money. Use what worked for other owners and avoid their flops.

Some areas where many people find extra horsepower:

  • Add a high-performance cold-air intake system
  • Change to a high-performance air filter to increase airflow
  • Add a high-performance exhaust system
  • Add a supercharger to your engine
  • Integrate a turbocharger into your exhaust system
  • Replace the camshaft with a high performance model
  • Switch to high-performance spark plugs and wires

Depending on who you talk to, there are numerous ways to boost your horsepower. Some work well, while others may produce only marginal results. Approach any modifications realistically because no matter what you do, your car is still just a car.

Getting Better Fuel Economy

vehicle repair

With continually fluctuating fuel costs, this is an area many car owners want to improve on. The quickest and surest way to improve fuel economy is to keep your vehicle maintenance schedule. Regular oil changes, spark plug changes, and routine maintenance provides your car with a boost in mileage.

Use a good quality oil with the correct viscosity for your vehicle according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Maintain the proper air pressure in your tires. Keep engine air filters clean.

Minimize the drag to let your vehicle use the aerodynamics in its design. Don’t carry things on your roof rack. If you have a pickup truck, install a cap or tonneau cover. Drive with windows up as much as possible.

Allow your vehicle to warm up to normal operating temperature before setting out. If you must drive immediately after starting your car, drive conservatively and consistently for the first few miles. Good driving habits can assist in lowering fuel costs. Acceleration and quick stops during bouts of aggressive driving can increase fuel use.

Use cruise control when able because consistent speeds will increase fuel economy. If your area has toll roads, use the subscriber toll pay system to avoid complete stops at the toll booths. Avoid rush hour on the roadways whenever possible because the stop-and-go traffic can suck up fuel.

Remove the junk from your trunk. Seriously. Excess weight in your vehicle can significantly reduce fuel economy. Those two cinder blocks in the trunk from last winter? Please leave them in the garage.

The best way to get and maintain good fuel economy is by keeping your vehicle tuned up.

Reducing Exhaust Emissions

While the most efficient way to reduce exhaust emissions is to park your car and walk, that doesn’t work in our bustling society. The next best option is to purchase a vehicle that meets or exceeds EPA guidelines for emissions. But what can you do with your current vehicle to reduce your exhaust emissions?

First (and we’ve said this before) is to perform regular maintenance and keep your car tuned up. A well-running vehicle puts out fewer emissions. Even tire pressure can affect your emissions, so vehicle maintenance is the single best option for reducing your carbon footprint.

You can also use a fuel additive to keep your fuel lines and injectors clean. There are many available. Please read the label and make sure that it is suitable for your vehicle.

Another way to reduce emissions is to combine errands. Rather than making a special trip out to the grocery store, stop on your way home from work. Plan a circular route on errand day to reduce the total miles traveled while you complete your necessary stops.

Use cleaner fuels. Low-sulphur gasoline can reduce pollutants released into the air by 10 to 15 percent. Use E85 (85 percent ethanol fuel) if you have a flex vehicle with this capability.

Keep your exhaust system in good shape. Even a small pinhole leak can create a lot of extra emissions. You should perform regular inspections every time you service your vehicle. You already have it raised to change the oil, so take a look at the exhaust system front-to-back while you’re under there.

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Frame and Suspension Tune-Ups

Improvements for your frame and suspension focus on three areas of your vehicle’s performance — braking, handling, and acceleration.

Coilovers (literally, coils over spring) will lower your vehicle’s center of gravity, allowing it to hug the road better. This adjustable mod hits all three performance areas, which is why it makes a good mod.

Change to a wider wheel and tire, offering more rubber-to-road surface area. This stabilizes your ride and helps your car “hug” the road on curves.

Upgrade your brake components to add performance pads and lightweight rotors. By reducing weight, you increase the available horsepower for movement, rather than overcoming gravity.

While these may seem like small adjustments, the performance capabilities added to your car will make your daily ride more enjoyable.

Adding Life-Years to Your Tires

When it comes to extending the life of your tires, routine maintenance again tops the list. Checking the air pressure at least once a month can add many miles to tire life. Operating at decreased psi is a leading cause of tire damage.

Second to maintaining proper air pressure is suspension, brakes, and steering checks. An improper front-end alignment will cause tires to wear out very quickly. In some cases, it can shorten the lifespan by half. Keeping up with suspension and steering systems maintenance will extend tire life.

Aggressive driving is something not many people consider, but darting in and out of traffic, rapid acceleration, and stopping quickly can also affect tire wear. Minding your manners and driving responsibly is a great way to help your tires.

Brake Tune-Ups Because Your Life Depends on It

Although brakes are a part of routine maintenance, we wanted to emphasize their importance. As one of your vehicle’s safety features, brakes have built-in sensors and other warning systems. While these can effectively keep you from suffering complete system failure, we urge you to take a proactive stance with brake maintenance.

Change out your pads before the metal tab begins screeching at you. Maintain fluid levels, so the dash light never illuminates. Keep an eye on your rotors and replace them before they are gouged almost clear through. Don’t wait for your calipers to stop functioning.

Many people forget about their brakes until they stop working. Believe us when we say that finding out your brakes don’t work while driving is not a fun life event.

For most vehicles, a complete rotor and pad change can be done in a few hours and cost a few hundred dollars. Unless you are using performance parts, brake components are very affordable. For a few extra dollars, you can rebuild or even replace worn calipers for added safety.

Although some vehicles do require special brake tools, most don’t. You can perform most brake system repairs in your driveway even with very little mechanical knowledge. A repair shop will charge a lot, but the parts themselves are not overly expensive.

Invest in your overall vehicle safety by making sure your braking system is always in good repair.

Routine Tune-Up or Tweaked for Speed?

car repair

Vehicle maintenance is crucial whether you are doing a routine tune-up or trying to add extra horsepower to your car. While there are many tweaks you can do to boost your performance, there is no substitute for good general maintenance.

Although we offered a good number of suggestions, we would be remiss if we did stress the importance of checking your vehicle warranty. Many warranty plans are automatically voided with the addition of after-market enhancements. Know what your warranty says before you make any modifications to your vehicle.

Whether you are prepping your car for an annual state inspection or just changing your oil, please use safety precautions. Do not crawl under a vehicle supported only by a hydraulic jack. Use wheel blocks and approved jack stands to support your raised vehicle.

Please let us know in the comments what you’ve done to improve your car’s performance and what results you saw after completing them.

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