The components of a vehicle have different service lives and must be checked from time to time. These periodic checks vary as modern vehicles now have parts that need servicing after 4,000 to 160,000 km. You should check the owner’s manual for the recommended time intervals for tune-ups, but note that your vehicle will require more frequent maintenance checks if you do a lot of stop-and-go driving or have it pull heavy loads.
The symptoms that you need to look out for are:
- Recurrent stalling: This means that the engine has stopped functioning because of a fault in spark plugs, the fuel injection system, or an electronic sensor. You can help the mechanic narrow down the problem by observing if the engine stalls when it is hot or cold or when the AC is on.
- Engine running roughly when the vehicle is idle: If the engine makes noises when it is idling, it requires a tune-up.
- Hard to start: Another giveaway that the car needs a tune-up is when it becomes hard to start, indicating a weak battery, a problem in the fuel injection, or a malfunctioning electronic control unit.
It is advisable to keep these elements in check apart from periodic maintenance.
What to Tune
An electrical tune-up covers many aspects of a vehicle but there are other elements that you can monitor yourself.
1. Spark Plugs
Spark plugs ignite the mixture of fuel and air in the combustion chamber and can cause the engine to misfire if they are damaged. This means that no ignition will occur in the chamber and the car will reduce acceleration and increase its consumption of fuel.
Plugs can tell you a number of other things if you know what to look for. Here is a description of what they look like and what they are telling you:
|Brown or grey deposits on electrodes
|The engine and plug are fine.
|Clean and re-gap plug for reuse.
|Black, dry, and fluffy soot deposits on electrodes
|The mixture of air and fuel is rich; the air filter is dirty; idling too much or excessively slow driving.
|Adjust fuel flow; air filter; use hotter plugs; improve driving habits.
|Oily, black deposits on electrodes
|Engine oil leaking into cylinders.
|Clean and re-gap plug for reuse; and have oil leakage checked.
|Burn marks on insulator, melted electrodes
|The engine is overheating; the plug gap is too wide; the wrong plug is being used; loose plug; or lean fuel mixture.
|Replace plug; ensure the new plug is the right one and tightened down; and adjust fuel flow.
|The plug has not been inspected or replaced for a long time.
Besides powering the electrical systems of a vehicle, the battery provides the electric current to the spark plugs to ignite the fuel. Drivers need to keep a keen eye on the state of the battery state because if they miss a maintenance check, the engine will become sluggish and will take longer to both start-up and heat up. A battery in bad condition is also noticeable when the car does not start on the first turn of the switch and the key has to be turned several times.
If the cabin lights, headlights, or dashboard lights flicker or go out, it is probably because the battery is low on charge or the cables from the battery terminal are frayed.
The electrical components of a car, like the stereo system, the headlights and indicators, and cabin lights are protected from high voltage currents by fuses.
Fuses are located in the fuse box which is often found either under the bonnet or the dashboard or in both places.
Note the diagram on the lid of the fuse box which provides details about the fuses in the box, the amperage of each fuse, and shows the components controlled by the fuses.
Fuses are easy to take out, and you can determine their condition by inspecting the thin metal strip between the two blades. A broken strip (as illustrated in Figure b) or charred blades of a fuse mean that the fuse needs to be replaced.
While replacing a fuse, be sure to install a fuse of the same amperage as the original one. You can check this by noting if the fuse is of the same size and color, as well as the amperage that is written on the back of a fuse. Next, test the malfunctioning part after replacing the fuse.
It will take you about an hour to check the statuses of the plugs, the battery, and the fuse box. If drivers periodically check these elements at least once a month, they will catch problems before they develop, and will be able to prevent expensive repairs.