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Do-it-yourself tuneups aren't so very hard

Female "do-it-yourself" mechanics who put on a pair of coveralls to save money on auto repairs are no longer a novelty. They are flocking to auto-repair classes all over the country or braving it alone with a guidebook in one hand and a wrench in the other.

A good way to begin is by doing your own tune-up. At first you may have visions of turning your car into a heap of spare parts; but after two or three tune-ups, you'll feel like an expert, not to mention the sense of pride and independence you get as a bonus.

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Tune-ups are really not that hard to do. Remembered, you will save money on labor and parts; and it doesn't take much time, anyway. With experience, you should be able to do the job in an hour.

You don't have to be an engineer or know all the engineering principles of an automobile in order to tune it up, although it certainly can't hurt to know what is going on under the hood. I tuned my car for four years, for example, before I ever knew that the spark plugs ignite the fuel.

The main reason for tuning up a car is to replace worn parts in the engine's ignition and carburetor systems and to adjust them to the original factory specifications. This will help your car perform better, get better gas mileage, and reduce the amount of pollutants it expels out the tailpipe.

The degree of difficulty in a tune-up depends to a large degree on the construction and size of the engine and whether or not you want to do a "major" or "minor" tune-up. Smog devices and an air conditioner can sometimes make it difficult for you to reach the spark plugs and distributor to make repairs.

If you have a recent-model car with an electronic ignition system, a minor tune-up is even simpler than a car with a conventional distributor because there are no points or condenser to replace or adjust.

Before trying a tune-up, here are some practical suggestions:

* Classes: Many adult and vocational education facilities offer courses in auto mechanics, including the YMCA. Special do-it-yourself garages often teach courses in self-help mechanics. Most charge moderate prices. Instruction need not always be in the classroom. A knowledgable friend can often teach simple auto repairs.

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* Repair manuals: You can check book stores and libraries for car-repair texts on general tune-up procedures. Look for clear and explicit photos and illustrations as well as explanations which use simple terminology which even an amateur can understand.

It's handy to have an owner's manual and repair book for the specific make and model of your car. They are available through any new-car dealer. Repair manuals, ranging in price from $8 to $20 apiece, give detailed instructions on most repairs and maintenance.

Owner's manuals, which usually come with the car, give specifications, such as fuel-tank and radiator capacities, spark plug and point gaps. Manuals for foreign cars can usually be obtained through publishing outlets in the US. Your local car dealer can give you the address or even order the manual for you.

* Parts: The cost of tune-up parts depends on how complete a job you want to do. Buy brand-name products at a reliable auto-parts store. I once bought an inexpensive tune-up kit from a discount department store, ended up with a cracked distributor cap, and had to pay a mechanic $20 to trace the cause of my car's poor performance.

The simplest automobile tune-up requires only changing the spark plugs (one for each cylinder), points, rotor, and condenser. For a more complete tune-up you will also need a new distributor cap as well as the spark-plug wires.

Engine size and car make determines the cost of parts. Obviously an 8 -cylinder engine requires four more spark plugs than a 4-cylinder engine. Also, parts for foreign cars will usually cost more.

* Tools: This will be a long-range investment; thus, quality is important. The job can be frustrating, and even injurious, if you buy a wrench that slips or a screwdriver that breaks. Rely on well-known brand names. They're cheaper in the long run and certainly a lot safer.

You'll probably need a spark-plug wrench, ignition wrenches, medium-bit screwdriver, open-ended wrenches, needle-nose pliers, and feeler gauges.

Invest in a timing light and/or dwell meter for taking measurements electronically. You can probably find a timing light on sale for about $15, or you can pay as much as $50 or $60 for a more expensive model. Dwell meters are a bit more expensive than timing lights but some can be set to read both rpm's and point dwell.

* Safety: Tuning up a car is not dangerous; remember that you are working with an electrical system and that some precautions are necessary.

Always turn the ignition completelym off when setting the points.

Know the proper procedure for grounding the timing light and dwell meter to avoid electric shocks.

Move slowly and keep track of loose parts and tools so that they don't slip into the engine and cause severe damage.

When working on an engine that's running, always be careful to keep a proper distance from the engine fan.

You may even enjoy working under the hood of your car; and perhaps best of all, you'll save money as you work.


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