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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Engine Tune Ups

Tuneups : "'I want a tuneup,' that's the worst thing somebody can say," warns George Giek, AAA's director of automotive engineering. It's like giving the repair shop carte blanche to run up your bill. And you probably don't need a tuneup anyway. In the old days a tuneup included replacement of spark plugs, breaker points and condensers, along with the resetting of carburetor adjustments (such as the idle speed), and ignition-system adjustments (such as the timing and dwell angle). These days, cars don't have carburetors (fuel-injection systems see to that) and they don't have points and condensers (computerized electronic-ignition systems do that). That pretty much leaves replacement of spark plugs, which can last a good 30,000 miles now, and visual inspection of things like spark-plug wires, which can easily last 50,000 miles. None of this has stopped the proliferation of quickie tuneup shops. Nor has it stopped dealers and independent garages from selling tuneups to any customer who walks in the door. "All cars need a tuneup," insists Frank Rauth, whose family runs Frank's Stadium Service in Detroit. Really? Even modern cars? Well, Rauth concedes, a well-running car usually doesn't need to have any settings changed, but it should have its spark plugs replaced now and then. Six common spark plugs cost about $15. Frank's charge for a tuneup on a six-cylinder engine? Sixty-one dollars. The moral: Don't get a tuneup until your car runs ragged. By that we mean if your car lacks its normal acceleration, its fuel economy begins to suffer or it is hard to start. Then head to a trusty mechanic -- not a quickie shop -- and avoid using the term "tuneup." Describe the symptoms and let him or her figure out the proper repairs.

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