The Little Things

By Paul Romesburg

You know if it has been awhile since you tuned up your vehicle, you should get around to it soon. If your vehicle starts running rough, it may be that your secondary ignition system is in severe condition because you did not get around to it. You might think, “Oh, I just need spark plugs.” But you may find  out that not only do you need spark plugs, now you need coils — and in rare cases a computer. The term “tune-up” makes it sound about as important as replacing a broken door panel. But the little things MATTER.

Spark plugs send electricity down an insulted passage to a center electrode that must force the electricity to jump an open gap to the ground electrode. The center electrode wears down over time and causes the gap to become too great for the electricity to make the jump.

The ignition coil(s) send the electricity to the spark plugs. If the spark plugs are faulty the voltage from the coil will rise. The excessive voltage often burns holes in the insulating boot and allows the voltage to find the nearest ground which diverts the electricity away from its intended path.

Older model vehicles had a Distributor Cap that contains the rotor which spins to help the voltage travel from the coil to the spark plugs. If the distributor cap and/or rotor are faulty, the ignition sequence inside your engine will be out of order.

Some vehicles have ignition cables that carry the electricity from the coil to the spark plugs. If the spark plugs are worn, high resistance will occur within the wire because the electricity cannot make the jump at the electrode end of the spark plug. The resistance causes the wires to internally deteriorate and interrupts the flow of electricity at the break.

The positive crank ventilation valve is normally easy to access and inexpensive to install.

The PCV system is designed to regulate and remove fumes from the engine crankcase. It alleviates crankcase pressure. Too much pressure in the crankcase is likely to cause the engine to burn oil and may cause seal damage or a leak vacuum.

The engine air filter is designed to stop external contaminants such as dirt from entering the internal engine. It also allows the engine to breath. If it becomes plugged, the engine computer sees the engine is starving for air and will compensates by adjusting the fuel mixture (by over-fueling the system) to try to stabilize the system and prevent power loss.

An inline fuel filter is designed to trap debris such as rust caused by condensation build-up in the system, or (micro) debris knocked loose in to the tank and capturing it before it reaches the engine and causes damage. As the fuel filter plugs with debris the fuel flow lessens, thus starving the vehicle of fuel.

If any component (tune-up part) above fails, the vehicle may be difficult to start; run rough, stumble, shut off, or not start. Remembering the little things may help prevent the unpleasant BIG things (like being stuck on the side of the road in a snow storm with kids).