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Home, Garden, and Car Care Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 2, 2008

Knocking? Bucking? Lagging? Your engine may need a tune-up

By Jordan J. Michael

VOORHEESVILLE –– Having a vehicle is like caring for a child. It has feelings and sometimes talks back. As colder weather approaches and gas prices stay high, maintaining a car becomes even more important.

“In general, people don’t take care of their cars enough,” said Timm Baldauf, part-owner of Advanced Auto Repair Service in Voorheesville. “My customers are pretty good about it, but people are just too busy to care sometimes.”

Baldauf may have well-informed customers because he sends them courtesy cards in the mail. “We’re not trying to sell anything. We just want our customers to have healthy cars,” Baldauf said.

The friendly mail reminds the customers of basic maintenance for their rides; lube, oil, filter, inspections, tune-up service, tires, wheel alignment, cooling system service, and transmission service.

“Drivers tend to neglect newer automobiles because they think the car doesn’t need as much maintenance as older cars,” said Baldauf. “The truth is, every car needs the same amount of care, new or old.”

After looking through his computer, Baldauf mentions that his business performed 68 tune-ups last year. He wonders if this is a real number because tune-ups “come in many shapes and forms” and can be “tricky” at times.

Tune-ups can take up to three hours and take a minimum of one-and a-half hours. “Tune-ups used to be a menu price thing, but not anymore. Every car is different,” Baldauf said.

A tune-up involves changing spark plugs, fuel filter, air filter, PCV valve, and ignition cables. “Cars either have four, six or eight spark plugs, depending on how many cylinders the engine has,” said Baldauf. “A PCV valve re-circulates the fuel back to the engine and the ignition cables fire up the spark plugs. We see everything.”

Advanced Auto works on all types of cars, so the technicians receive training at least once a month. “It’s an education thing, as well as a little marketing,” said Baldauf. “Customers feel safer if the people working on their car have top-of-the-line education.”

Car service, for the past 20 years, has relied on maintenance schedules, written up by the car companies. “Every car is different -- five years, 10 years, 15 years, all types of warranties and such. It can get confusing for the customer,” said Baldauf.

Maintenance schedules were an overseas idea that eventually made it to America. “The Japanese and the Koreans introduced the system and we eventually caught on,” Baldauf said. “Domestic brands had schedules like that, but really didn’t focus on them.”

Today, a lot of problems with a vehicle might be hidden, Baldauf said, but generally cars are more reliable. “Everything is fuel injected these days, no more caps and rotors. Cars are more efficient, have incredible controls, and meet emissions standards,” he said. “The car is controlled by a computer that has multiple sensors in and around the vehicle. These sensors will usually alert you to a problem.”

Your car might need to be diagnosed for a tune-up if the engine or car is misfiring, running inefficiently, knocking, bucking, losing power, getting poor gas mileage, stalling, has a weird odor, or is running roughly. “Put simply, if your car is acting strange, get it looked at,” said Baldauf.

A tune-up is “the whole package, as needed” and can cost a handful. “Sometimes you have to take the entire engine apart, like Subarus, a very difficult car to work on,” said Baldauf. “And price? It ranges. For example, platinum spark plugs can cost up to $30. Changing eight plugs can jack up the price significantly.”

“One thing we do frequently with engines is get rid of carbon build-up,” said Baldauf. “We stick a little camera in there and find where the build up is and flush it out.”

Advanced Auto doesn’t really notice a difference after completing a tune-up because it never spent time driving the car. “The customer is the one who can tell the difference after a tune-up is done,” Baldauf said. “They will see the increase in power, drivability, and gas mileage.”

Baldauf mentions that tune-ups may be more popular these days because of high gas prices. A tuned-up engine will increase the vehicle’s fuel efficiency and power. “You might be able to cut a few corners with a freshly tuned engine,” he said. “It won’t cause a dramatic change, but it would help.”

Tires and oil changes seem to be the most popular car service, Baldauf said. “Tires and oil are really important, and I press safety issues all the time. If somebody’s safety is in danger, I can’t let that person leave the shop without a solution.”

“Drivers need to ask themselves, ‘what has my car received lately?’” said Baldauf. “’When was my car last in the shop?’ The answers will come quickly.”

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