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How to Know When It's Time for a Tune Up
by Rick Cogbill a.k.a. Slim Shambles

Down to the WireThe phone rang so hard I had to catch the receiver in mid-air. Malcolm was on the other end. 

"Slim!" he barked. "Have a bay ready, I'm comin' in. This piece of junk I'm driving will barely make it up a hill, and I'm late to see my stock broker." Then his cell phone went dead.

Malcolm's "piece of junk" was a late model Lincoln Town Car, which looked like it had just come out of the showroom. But under the hood was a different story. You know the old adage: Out of sight, out of mind. 

I could hear Malcolm's engine running rough as he glided into the shop. He jumped out in a panic. "Gotta hurry, Slim. If I don't sign those papers within the hour, I could lose thousands!"

Charlie came over and opened the hood. Whistling in amazement at the obvious neglect, she began to connect the engine analyzer to the car. "When's that last time you spent a little money on some maintenance, Malcolm?"

He bristled. "I'll have you know I take very good care of my equipment, young lady!"

I chuckled and motioned for Malcolm to follow me outside to where Charlie's car was parked. Opening the hood of the '67 Corvette roadster, I showed him an engine compartment so clean, you could eat off it.

He gasped. "Where did she get the money to buy a car like this!"

Trust Malcolm to think about the money first.

"She inherited it from her dad," I answered, closing the gleaming red hood. "But she restored it herself. I'd say she knows a thing or two about taking care of equipment."

Going back inside, we found Charlie watching the electrical patterns buzzing across the screen of the analyzer. She was getting a pretty clear picture of Malcolm's problem. 

"Looks like your spark plug wires are breaking down," she said, pointing to the high voltage readings. She turned and smiled sweetly at him. "That means the spark is shorting to ground instead of going to the spark plugs like it should. You need a new set of spark plug wires."

Malcolm gasped. "What! A whole set?" He turned to me. "Can't you just replace the worst ones?" 

For being on the filthy side of rich, Malcolm hated to spend money. Come to think of it, that's probably why he was so rich.

"Sorry, Malcolm. You've got over 60,000 miles on the car, which is the average life span for a set of wires on an engine like yours."

He looked at me suspiciously. "What do you mean, an engine like mine?"

I explained. "Your car has a Distributorless Ignition System, or DIS. There is no distributor, just coil packs and a computer. This design fires voltage through the wires twice as often as before." I pointed to the high voltage spikes on the screen. "In actual fact, these wires have been through 120,000 miles of use."

He gave in. "Oh, all right. But hurry…" He stopped and looked at my analyzer screen again. "Say, could you pull up the stock quotes on that thing while I'm waiting?"

As the old saying goes, "Time waits for no man," and neither do the markets. 

Charlie rolled her eyes as she went to order the new parts. I can't tell you exactly what she was thinking, but I suspect that Malcolm's market value was at an all-time low.

Slim's Tip: Buy Ballard Fuel Systems…Oops, wrong tip. Almost all cars now use DIS ignition. Every 20,000 - 25,000 miles is a good time for having the spark plugs, fuel and air filters changed, commonly referred to as a tune-up.

At 60,000 -70,000 miles change the ignition (spark plug) wires as well. It will head off poor performance and other potential problems. 

Normal interval for tune-ups — 20,000 - 25,000 miles (Note: platinum spark plugs will last longer than this, but the filters will still need to be changed.)

Normal interval for changing ignition wires — 60,000 -70,000 miles.