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Tune-ups: Not what they used to be

Some things never change, such as the need for periodic preventive maintenance. But a tune-up is one job that’s changed a great deal over the course of automotive history. The outdated term is still widely used by many people to describe a service procedure that’s supposed to make an engine run better. There’s no absolute definition of what exactly a tune-up should include, but most would agree that it involves replacing the spark plugs and performing other adjustments to maintain or restore like-new engine performance.

The problem is there’s not much that can adjusted under the hood on many late model vehicles. Ignition timing is fixed and controlled by the engine computer, as is idle speed and the fuel mixture. You can still check base timing (maybe), idle speed and various emission functions to make sure everything is functioning within factory specs and are functioning properly. But there really isn’t much of anything left to “tune.” Yet many motorists still want tune-ups and believe tune-ups are an important and necessary service.

Truth is, with many cars now using turbochargers, a modern tune-up really means scanning for any diagnostic codes, fixing them and of course, changing the spark plugs.

Spark plugs are critical to the performance of an engine. Today’s spark plugs are supposedly good for up to 100,000 miles, but they’re likely losing efficiency long before that. 50,000 miles should be considered the upper limit for the service life of a spark plug. 

A good indication your vehicle needs a tune up might be a car that’s slow to start up, declining fuel mileage, laggy acceleration, or hesitation under acceleration. If you’re experiencing any of this, come see us. 

We’ll start with a road test. We’ll next look at the usual suspects, including fuel filter, sensors and of course, electrical system components including spark plugs. 

Running a diagnostic check is usually quick and uncomplicated, Changing the spark plugs is usually quick, but some vehicles have so many components in the way, it takes a bit longer to access the spark plugs. 

Tune up intervals vary based on how far you drive and how hard you drive your vehicle, but every 3 years is a good starting point for high performance vehicles. Regular passenger vehicles that are used mainly for commuting can go 4 years or so. 

JP Euro. Servicing the greater
Dallas area since 2003.

Which spark plugs should you use?

Spark plug service intervals haven’t changed in recent years. It’s still advertised as 100,000 miles for most late model vehicle applications with long life platinum or iridium plugs. These are factory recommended replacement intervals and this applies to your average Toyota Corolla or Chevy Cruze. and it’s not unusual to see spark plugs that are still performing just fine at much higher mileages.

For high performance vehicles, especially high compression V8s (like SRTs) or turbocharged cars, waiting 100,000 miles to change your spark plugs is a big no-no. As the electrodes wear, the voltage required to fire the plugs continues to go up which will eventually lead to misfires and possible damage to the ignition coils and/or spark plug insulator boots. The OBD system will detect ignition misfires and turn on the Check Engine light.Plug life can be shortened by frequent short-trip driving and idling, as well as internal engine problems that increase oil consumption (such as worn valve guides or piston rings).

When it comes time to change spark plugs, we recommend Iridium plugs, such as those offered by Nippondenso or NGK. In 1994, the first Iridium plugs hit the market as an alternative to Platinum. Why Iridium? Because it has a higher melting point, is six times harder than platinum, and is more corrosion resistant than Platinum and most other metals.

Generally, changing your spark plugs every 50,000 to 60,000 miles is a very good idea. Engine performance and fuel mileage start to degrade as spark plugs wear, so changing them early will pay back your investment through better fuel mileage. 


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Are you putting off major service or minor repairs? Why? Come talk to us. We can help put together an affordable plan to get your vehicle into top shape. 

(214) 221-3135