Is the annual auto tune up fact, or fiction?

57589HIt used to be one of the standard pieces of auto maintenance advice given to young drivers: a car needs to be taken in for a tune-up once every year.As time has gone on however, vehicle technology has improved and standard maintenance schedules have changed, leaving many drivers uncertain about what exactly a tune-up now entails, and whether their car even needs one at all.

“The old rules no longer apply,” said Megan Currie, Honeywell Consumer Products Group group marketing manager. “Some vehicles need a tune-up every two years or 48,000 kilometers, while some new vehicles can go as long as 161,000 kilometers before needing one. It’s important to check your owner’s manual for your vehicle’s standard maintenance schedule and take it in for routine care.”

When the term “tune-up” was first coined, it literally referred to the practice of tuning an engine’s ignition timing. In modern vehicles, this is handled by computer, and the term is now used to refer to a single vehicle service that typically involves installing new spark plugs, fuel and air filters and ignition wires along with a quick test of the computer.

“Be sure that if you don’t plan to do the job yourself, you take your vehicle to a qualified shop,” Curry explains. “They’ll be able to explain exactly what needs to be done.”

Either way, it’s smart to get educated on what type of plug you can have installed since not all spark plugs are created equal and many are made with different metal types. The most advanced spark plugs are made with iridium and platinum and feature what is called finewire technology. These plugs are a fantastic choice since the finewire centrewire in a premium plug, like the Autolite XP Xtreme Performance plug, lowers the voltage required from the coil to make the spark jump. When a plug fouls, buildup on the ceramic insulator provides an alternate path for the energy to ground to the shell (the plug’s outer layer). So if the plug is a finewire, the plug will need more buildup to actually “foul” because energy will always take the path of least resistance. That means these plugs are more durable, last longer and provide a faster, more efficient burn.

Even if your car isn’t scheduled for a tune-up in the near term, switching out worn spark plugs can help achieve better performance and better fuel efficiency.

Want to learn how to do the job yourself? The Autolite brand website has a great “how to” area that provides step-by-step video tutorials on changing spark plugs, installing a wire set, flushing and filling your cooling system and more. You can also download these videos to your iPod so the videos can be available to you in the palm of your hand.

Check out autolite.com and click on “car care” for more information.

-- News Canada