How To Do Your Own Complete Tune Up

Step-by-Step Procedure to Get the Best Mileage and Performance while Saving Money

Car tune up

As always, when working on a automobile, change your clothes and be ready to get really dirty. I am going to walk you through a full tune up. Get together all the information you will need to get the right parts. You will need the year, make, model, and engine size. Take this information with you to the parts store. This information is needed to ensure you get the right stuff. You will need spark plugs of the proper temperature range, spark plug wires, a spark gap gauge, a distributor cap and a rotor button or an electronic ignition module depending on the engine type and year, an air filter, a fuel filter, anti-freeze, brake fluid, a battery terminal brush, Vaseline, and if needed, fuses. Here's how to do your own tune up.

Step 1

SPARK PLUGS: Different spark plugs fire at different temperatures. The running temperature of the spark plug is determined by the shape of the insulator supporting the center electrode that reaches into the engine block. A thicker, shorter insulator will be designed for a lower temperature. A thinner longer insulator will be designed for higher temperatures. You will need to set the spark plugs before you begin. Take the spark plug gap gauge and slip it between the center electrode and the ground terminal. You want to push the gauge and let it do the happing. Do NOT wiggle or twist it to make it easier. The ground terminal will be what you use to set the gap. It should be on the side with numbers. Push the gauge through until the center of the ground terminal reaches the required setting for your engine, then roll it off the gauge. If you are using what's known as a "feeler" gauge, pry the ground electrode away from the center electrode without prying out the center electrode it's self. Then tap it on a flat surface until you get a very slight drag when slipping the feeler through the gap. You can find the gap setting on the service stickers under the hood, or in the users manual that came with the vehicle. Usually between .035 and .055 inches. Some cars go as high as .100. This gap has to be right or the engine will not fire properly.You want to use a "deep well" socket at the right size for your spark plugs. You also want to replace them one at a time to keep from crossing the engines firing order.The engine must be cool to do this or severe burns can result. You can start with any spark plug you wish, as long as you replace them ONE AT A TIME.

Start by removing the spark plug wires boot from the old spark plug by grabbing the boot it's self and pulling straight out. If the internal contact pulls out of the wire boot, just pull it off the old spark plug as well so it does not interfere with the socket. Next place the socket onto the old spark plug and turn counter clockwise. They will be fairly snug. If a spark plug has seized, you can remove it by heating the block around it faster than the plug it's self. This will cause the block metal to expand faster than the spark plug metal. Tap the seized spark plug with a hammer or whatever you have the room to get in there. It should come right out after this.

The new spark plug will sit in the block at an angle. Be very careful not to cross thread it into the block. Make sure it's fairly snug to create the seal needed for compression to peak. Next you will want to follow the wire back to the distributor cap and replace them one at a time as you replace the spark plugs one at a time to keep the firing order. Rub a little Vaseline on the tip of the spark plug, and push the longer boot onto the spark plug tip straight in. You should feel a small click as the internal clip seats on the tip. Next push the other end of the wire onto the tip on the distributor cap. There is no need for Vaseline or special steps here yet. Repeat these steps for each spark plug until there all replaced.

Step 2

Next is the distributor cap, or ignition module. You want to replace this no matter what. Some experts will say to inspect it to see if it needs to be replaced, but not all carbon tracks or shorts can be seen. To replace the cap, you want to get the new one in the exact same position and transfer all spark plug wires to the new one. Next, is to remove the old one. Some have locking screws on the side, some have bolts in a fixed position. Locate these and, as always, use the proper tool needed to loosen or remove them.

If you have an ignition module, simply pull it straight out after it's unlocked. It may have a wire harness going into the side, in which case it will have a tab that you squeeze to release it, and pull straight out. Place the new module in place, lock it down or replace the bolts you removed, then plug the wiring harness plug back in the same way it came out of the old one. You will here the tab click when it's fully seated.

If you have a distributor cap, unlock or unbolt it and put the old one in the box from the new one. There will be a little piece with a springy contact sticking up from the center of this piece. This piece is called the rotor button, and it carries the spark from the ignition coil to each spark plug in turn. Some rotor buttons can be pulled straight out, some will have a retaining clip at the bottom securing it to the shaft. Remove this clip and pull it straight out. Put it in the box from the new one. The timing of the rotor button is not an issue. The rotor shaft will have a flat side that keeps it in position. Slip the new rotor button on, and if needed, replace the retaining clip.

Next, simply set the new distributor cap into place, and secure it by replacing the bolts you removed, or pressing in and/or turning the locking clips. Grab the entire assembly and wriggle it to make sure it's secure.

Step 3

Here, we're going to replace your air filter. This is a simple step that can do great things for your fuel mileage and power output.

First, locate your air filter. If it's at the top of your engine you will find a "butterfly" nut holding the cover on. Remove this nut by turning it counter clockwise. Set it somewhere safe so you don't loose it. Next, lift the cover straight up and set it off to the side for the moment. You should now see the air filter. Remove it and throw it away. Wipe out the inside of the filter compartment with a cleaning rag to be sure nothing falls in that doesn't belong there. To replace it just set the new air filter in the place of the old one. Replace the cover by slipping it over the bolt sticking up through the center of the carburetor. Than replace the butterfly nut and tighten it hand tight.

If you have a fuel injected engine, the air filter will be set off to the side or the front of the engine compartment. Locate it and unclip the cover. From here it's the same as a carburetor engine. Throw away the old air filter, and place the new one in the same place. Replace the cover and press the clips into place.

The air filter is that simple.

Step 4

Next, we're going o flush your cooling system. You will need a five gallon bucket, and a pair of locking pliers.As always, when dealing with engine fluids you want to wait for the engine to cool. There are two ways to complete this step. First I will walk you through the older cooling systems, then the newer cooling systems.

First, in an older cooling system, you want to locate the cooling system drain. It usually located at the bottom corner of the radiator. If it's a nut with a hole in it, use the pliers to turn it counter clockwise with the five gallon bucket about 6 inches away from the drain.  Wait for it to finish draining before tightening the coolant drain. Next, you refill the cooling system with plain water. Let the engine idle for about 5 mins with the heater turned on high. Empty the bucket somewhere safe. Most new coolants are non-toxic and eco-friendly so you can dump it anywhere away from a water source. Repeat the draining procedure. After this is completely drained again, refill the cooling system and your done!

In a newer cooling system you will find a small coupling on one of the flow hoses. It will have a small gasket at the top, and a small threaded ring resting at the bottom of the assembly. This is designed to connect to standard garden hoses on most newer engines. Connect a garden hose to this connector. Next, remove the radiator cap and use a length of hose that fits inside the radiators fill neck. Let it hang into the bucket, or if it's long enough, run it outside.  Start the engine and let it idle for 5-10 mins with the garden hose turned on and supplying fresh water. Make sure to turn the heater on high so you get the fresh water through the entire system, including the cabin heater core. When your done, turn off the engine, empty the bucket, remove the garden hose from the connector and replace the radiator cap. Your done!

Step 5

Next, we're going to make sure your electrical connections are clean and secure. You will need a crescent wrench, a flat head screwdriver, a battery terminal brush, and a little Vaseline. The same applies to side post batteries as well. Since you will be dealing with a lead/acid battery, you want to wear chemical resistant gloves. This is a quick up keep step, so a pair of regular rubber gloves will do.

On a side note, if your a neat freak, you can completely remove the battery from the vehicle and give it a baking soda water bath.

 First, assuming your battery is in good physical condition, you will need to remove the terminal connectors from the battery terminals. Remember to always start with the negative terminal. Take the crescent wrench and loosen the nut and bolt pair that pinch the terminal to the battery posts.  Take the flat head screwdriver and slip it between the point of the terminal where the bolt runs through. Twist to pry the opening apart. This will break the terminal free from the post. Next, the battery terminal cleaner has two brushes. One resides under the cap, and the other in the wider base. You want to use the wider base on the battery terminals. Twist it clock wise as you press it down all the way onto the post. Keep turning until it is completely clean when you remove the brush. Coat the entire post and a little of the plastic at the bottom of the post with a little Vaseline.

Next, remove the cap from the terminal brush. This will expose a length of wire brush that is intended for cleaning the cable terminals. Start by inserting it into the terminal opening and turn it clock wise. You can also shove it back and forth, whichever way you prefer. Keep doing this until you get the same completely clean surface as the battery posts. Then use the brush freely to clean the outside of the cable terminal. You also want to put a little Vaseline on it as well. The Vaseline seals out the moisture that lends to causing corrosion.Repeat these steps with the other terminal and your all set!

Step 6

Now we're going to focus on a real safety problem. The brakes. Here, I will walk you through two methods of flushing your braking system and bleeding air from the system as well.

First, you will need a small length of hose, a crescent wrench, and a brake fluid pump. This will carry the old fluid to a container from the caliper, preventing the mess some experience when doing this without proper tools. Make sure you have the right type of dot fluid for your car. This can be found in the owners manual.Depending on the ground clearance of your vehicle, you may have to jack it up. When jacking a vehicle, you MUST put something under the wheels or frame to ensure your own safety.

Start by removing the cap from the master cylinder under the hood. Keep an eye on the fluid level and make sure it stays above the min line. Next, remove the little rubber boot from the bleeding port found behind the wheel, on the caliper. Connect the hose to the pump and build up a vacuum. This will prevent air from getting back into the system. Air is bad here. After you build up a vacuum in the hose, loosen the bleeder to allow the fluid to flow out until no air bubbles can be seen. Make sure the fluid level at the master cylinder is kept above the min line. When no bubbles are seen, close off the bleeder port. Move on to the next wheel.Repeat this process until all air and old fluid is out of the system. This will ensure the hydraulic pressures in the system are sufficient to stop the vehicle.

Refill the fluid to between the min and max line and your done!

Step 7

And finally, the fuel filter is next. This is a simple step that can get a little gas spillage, so have a trashable rag handy. Assuming you don't need special tools, we'll begin.

First, find your fuse block and remove the fuse to your fuel pump. This will release the pressure in the line. You still need the rag for the fuel that is in the line.

First, you want to figure out what type of fuel filter you have. There are three types and I will cover all three of them. The oldest is the canister style. These are in line filters that can be easily spotted. The second type is not as easily seen. It calls your carburetor home. You will have to follow the fuel line to where it connects to the carburetor. The third is located in the fuel tank it's self, and usual don't need to be replaced. In some cases, they will need to be replaced, but by then you need to replace the entire fuel tank.

First is the canister style in older vehicles. These are usual pretty large. Once you follow the fuel line and locate it, you will see there is a clamp holding the hoses to each end. If it's located on a body rail away from the engine, it can have nuts holding a compression fitting to each end. This can be a pressure clamp, or a screw type. The pressure type clamps can be removed by pinching the two tabs together using a pair of pliers. Slide it up the line away from the filter. Next grab the hose and twist. Do NOT pull on the fuel line. This could damage the fuel line and cause a serious fire or explosion hazard. While twisting it away from the filter, you may hear a pop as it breaks loose. This pop is normal. Do the same for the other end of the filter, and reverse the process to replace the filter. Twist the line and push it gently until it is fully seated on the filter. Pinch the clamp with pliers and slide it back down the line toward the filter. If you have the screw type clamps, just use the appropriate screw driver to loosen and tighten.

Next, is the fuel filter inside the carburetor. These are pretty small in size. Follow the fuel line to find where it connects to the carburetor. This will have a fitting you can loosen with a crescent wrench. Now you can pull the fitting away from the carburetor. Look inside to spot the fuel filter. Remove it and note the way it came out. You must put the new one in the same way or it will not seal properly. Once the new fuel filter is in, move the fuel line fitting back into place and tighten snugly. As with any part of a vehicle, if you over tighten you can break the part. Snug is good enough.

The next fuel filter type is in the fuel tank itself. If it goes bad it's usual because moisture in the tank has caused corrosion and rust that has clogged it. This means the entire tank should be replaced.

That's it, your done! You saved $100 or more in labor, learned a new trick, and got that warm feeling in your chest for a job well done.

The next and final step is to give yourself a pat on the back, and take a shower you filthy penny pincher!


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