Actually, there is no such thing as a tuneup in the traditional sense of replacing parts to bring the ignition and fuel systems up to specs for maximum performance and efficiency, and there hasn’t been for years.
About the only things left from the traditional tuneup are new spark plugs, which is typically done every 100,000 miles, and replacing the air filter periodically. The federal EPA and Department of Energy say that replacing a clogged air filter will not improve gas mileage but can improve acceleration 6 to 11 percent. The agencies do not say what benefit can be derived from fresh spark plugs, but computers that control today’s engines adjust the air-fuel mixture and spark timing to compensate for wear, such as when the electrodes on spark plugs are worn down.
Even so, some car owners still dutifully take their car in periodically to have it “tuned up.” Instead, service technicians will inspect and perhaps test the fuel, ignition and emissions systems to look for faulty vacuum hoses, oxygen sensors and other parts that can hurt performance. The federal government, for example, says a bad oxygen sensor can give engine computers false readings and reduce fuel economy as much as 40 percent.
Having your vehicle serviced and inspected periodically is a good way to extend its life and keep it operating efficiently. However, walking into a repair facility and asking for a tuneup is a bad idea because it indicates you’re still living in the previous century and have extra money you would like to spend. Some in the auto-repair business will take advantage of those opportunities.
Look in the owner’s manual for your vehicle (or separate maintenance schedule) to find what the manufacturer recommends, and see if you can even find the words “tuneup.” For example, we looked at the maintenance guide for the Ford Fiesta that also applies to other Ford vehicles. The first mention of anything related to a traditional tune-up was to replace the engine air filter every 30,000 miles. The only other related item was to replace the spark plugs every 100,000 miles.
Most major oil brands market oil made specifically for engines that have more than 75,000 miles of wear, claiming that additives help reduce engine wear and provide anti-aging benefits. They are often a blend of synthetic and petroleum-based oils, and they typically cost at least a couple of dollars more per quart than conventional oils.
But are they worth the extra dough?
Some oils may be more beneficial than others because they contain conditioners purported to rejuvenate seals to prevent or stop oil leaks, a common ailment in engines with a lot of miles on them.
Internal seals and gaskets become brittle and shrink as they age, allowing oil to seep by. Sometimes this becomes visible as oil stains on a garage floor or as streaks of oil on lower engine parts. When valve-guide seals wear, oil can leak into combustion chambers and the engine will literally start burning oil. With small leaks, blue smoke from burning oil may not be visible from the exhaust, but your oil level will probably drop below the full mark on a regular basis.
The seal conditioners found in some high-mileage oils may reduce or eliminate small leaks and seepage by rejuvenating seals to their original size and shape. If an engine isn’t burning or leaking oil, or if it uses, say, less than a quart over 6,000 miles or so, switching to high-mileage oil may not be worth the extra cost for you. It’s really a judgment call if you should pay more for high-performance oil when your car has 100,000 miles on it but is using little or no oil. It doesn’t hurt and it could prevent leaks from starting. Most vehicle manufacturers would say it’s normal for an engine to consume some oil between oil changes.
In addition to having seal conditioners, high-mileage oils usually boast more detergents designed to clean out sludge inside the engine, plus other additives meant to reduce wear on moving parts. Every oil, though, makes similar claims that it does great things inside an engine.
On the Southern California coast, in Newport Beach, Barclay Butera (barclaybutera.com) first made inroads into the design realm. Today, more than 20 years later, he is known well beyond the seaside city, not only for the coastal-luxury-inspired interiors that launched his career but also for the full-fledged lifestyle brand that he has come to be. In addition to his Newport shop, he has showrooms in West Hollywood, Calif., and Park City, Utah; more than a few coffee-table books devoted to his residential-design projects; and myriad products for the home, from furniture and bedding to candles and upholstery.
The coastal-chic style that started Butera on that path remains a driving force in his work and a talent for which he is sought after. He recently lent his signature style to this Rolls-Royce Dawn—a one-off design that made its debut in August at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance—for a client who wanted the car to pair well with her oceanfront home.
In collaboration with the client and the Bespoke design team at Rolls-Royce (rolls-roycemotorcars.com), Butera specified for the drophead coupe a maritime look and feel. The body is Arctic White, the hood Mid-night Sapphire; paneling in the interior is teak, the durable hardwood used so often in yacht decks. The Dawn’s other cabin details include Arctic White leather seats with gussets, piping, and monograms in navy blue, and an artisanal clock based on Rolex’s original Yacht-Master.
No doubt Butera’s vision is suited for sitting pretty in a driveway. But the car also has a V-12 engine that generates 563 hp, should the owner wish to take a drive along the coast.
The positive crankcase ventilation system was one of the earliest emission-control devices. It draws leftover combustion gases from the crankcase (the oil pan and bottom of the engine) and routes them back into the engine, where they’re burned in the combustion chambers instead of escaping into the atmosphere.
The PCV system is seldom listed as a maintenance item, but it can cause performance and emissions problems. A valve that’s supposed to regulate the flow of these gases is the heart of most PCV systems (some newer vehicles don’t have a valve). If the valve doesn’t open and close on schedule, or if any part of the system clogs, the result can be a rough idle, sluggish acceleration or increased oil consumption.
The PCV valve is usually mounted in a grommet on a valve cover, at the end of a hose or tube. One way to check whether a PCV valve is functioning is to remove it and shake it. If you can hear a metallic rattling noise, it’s likely in good working order.
Whether an engine has a PCV valve or not, a hose or tube in the PCV system may become clogged from built-up sludge, or a vacuum hose may leak, so it pays to inspect the entire system, clean it if needed and test the valve for air flow.
A clogged PCV system or inoperative valve can increase oil consumption because pressure builds when the vapors in the crankcase aren’t allowed to flow into the combustion chambers. That additional pressure can force oil past seals and gaskets. If the valve is stuck in the open position, or there’s a leak in the system, that will allow too much air into the engine and throw off the air-fuel mixture, likely triggering the check engine light.
Catalytic converters are located in the exhaust system, between the engine and the muffler, and are one of the last lines of defense against air pollution from vehicles. They use ceramic-coded beads and various precious metals (the catalysts) to convert pollutants like unburned gas and nitrogen oxide into harmless gases.
They often last for 10 years or more but can be damaged by contamination, becoming clogged or overheating.
One potential contaminant is leaded gas, which can destroy the catalysts, although it is rarely found in the U.S. Others contaminants include engine coolant, which can leak into the combustion system because of a faulty cylinder head gasket, and engine oil. Those fluids can clog a catalytic converter so that exhaust gases are restricted from passing through. Car engines are like athletes in that they require lots of oxygen. If the exhaust is restricted it means less air can get into the engine, and performance suffers. If the engine responds sluggishly or quits after running for a while, a clogged catalytic converter could be to blame.
Catalytic converters can overheat because of excessive amounts of unburned gas caused by a misfiring spark plug or a leaky exhaust valve. In addition, a failed oxygen sensor can cause overheating.
On many vehicles, the “cat” is located under the vehicle, and like other parts of the exhaust system, it can be damaged by road debris or by running over a curb.