Revved Up: Time for a vehicle check-up?

Have you noticed a drop in your vehicle’s gas mileage? Perhaps your car’s acceleration isn’t what it used to be or there’s a gassy smell, and it’s not from the bean burrito you had for dinner. These are signs your vehicle may need a tune-up.

Often by the time people bring cars in with a mechanical problem, their vehicles are beyond needing just a tune-up, according to Mike

Pearson, Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) master technician at Lake Montcalm Auto and Collision in Six Lakes.

“A tune-up is a preventative maintenance item, just like an oil change, changing your fluids and stuff like that,” Pearson said. “Tune-ups look things over, change spark plugs and make adjustments as needed to keep the engine running to its optimal performance.”

Recommended maintenance schedules vary by vehicle and are spelled out in the vehicle owner’s manual. Costly repairs can be avoided by sticking to this schedule and by correcting issues right away.

Cars used to require tune-ups once or twice a year to replace spark plugs, to set the timing and to replace the points and condenser in the distributor cap. Today’s vehicles are computerized. Coils fire the spark plugs directly without a distributor and modern spark plugs last almost three times as long.

“All the vehicles now use platinum spark plugs, which are supposed to go 100,000 miles,” Pearson said. “The old standard plugs were only good for 30,000 to 40,000.”

One of the most important steps in maintenance is to get an oil change every three months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first, according to Pearson. He said most places inspect the vehicle as part of the oil change. This includes checking tire pressure, fluids, lights, belts, filters and hoses. Filling washer solvent and greasing hinges is also a good idea, if needed. It also provides people an opportunity to ask the service technician questions.

A tune-up is a preventative maintenance item, just like an oil change, according to Mike Pearson at Lake Montcalm Auto and Collision.

“We put (the vehicles) up and do a full inspection,” Pearson said of his employer, Lake Montcalm Auto and Collision. “We check the steering linkage and all the fluids, so if we see something wrong we can tell them.”

Pearson says a common example of a problem detected during an oil change would be discolored or burnt-smelling transmission fluid, which would indicate the need to change the fluid and filter. Once mechanical problems develop in the transmission, it’s usually beyond needing a simple fluid and filter change.

A $120 transmission service is much less expensive than replacing the transmission at an average cost of $1,000 to $1,500 for a used part.

A few signs indicating your car may need to visit a mechanic:

Engine — “Check engine” light comes on in the dashboard, stalling or poor acceleration or poor fuel economy.

Brakes — Low brake fluid may indicate a leak in the brake system or worn brake pads.

Transmission — A delay when shifting or an abrupt jerk when shifting between gears indicates potential need to replace the fluid and filter.

Steering — A squealing noise when turning the steering wheel may be a sign of low power steering fluid. A grinding sound or if the wheel turns hard is usually more serious and requires immediate attention.

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