Clean the Air Intake
If you are interested in performing your own vehicle tune up, it's important to understand the major parts of the engine that require maintenance. Make sure you have all of the necessary tools and supplies, and keep track of everything you remove so that you can put it all back in place.
The first item to check is the air intake. Unscrew and loosen the air intake tube to reveal the throttle bore and throttle plate. Using rubbing alcohol and a cloth, open the throttle plate using the throttle cable if it's available, and clean off all of the accumulated tar.
Replace the Spark Plugs
A significant part of a tune up is changing the spark plugs. This is an area where you'll need to be careful, because newer cars come with fuel injection systems. In most cases, you'll be able to remove the spark plug wires and, using a spark plug socket, remove the spark plugs. Check the spark gap of your new plugs using a spark gap gauge, and then insert them with the appropriate length plug wires.
If the car looks like this photo, then you have a fuel injection system and need to make sure you understand how plugs are removed before changing them. Check the manual or speak with your dealer.
Check and Replace the Air Filter
Beyond the spark plugs, another important part of the engine to maintain well is also the part that gives the engine the ability to "breathe," the air filter. You can usually find the air filter within a large plastic rectangular compartment, held shut by screws or clamps. Check the filter to be sure that it's clean. If it's not, make sure to replace it.
Clean Battery Terminals
Carefully remove the battery terminal covers (be sure not to touch any part of the terminal post). If the post has a great deal of corrosion, use a battery post and battery clamp brush with baking soda and water. Thoroughly dry off the post, and then carefully place the rubber cover back on the post. A clean battery post insures good electrical contact and that your car will start well.
Check all Engine Belts
Whenever you do regular maintenance on your engine, always be sure to check the belts. Check to make sure that the grooves are deep, and carefully inspect the belt to be sure that there aren't too many large cracks in the rubber.
Change Oil and Oil Filter
Every time you do maintenance on your vehicle, you should take a few minutes to quickly change your oil. In the process, be sure to find and replace your oil filter as well. Usually, the white oil canister is very easy to find, but in some cases, you'll find it tucked up and inside an engine recess. Use an oil filter wrench (you can find one at any auto store), and when all the oil has drained from the vehicle, change the oil filter.
Check all Engine Fluids
Check the level of all fluids in your car. Most fluid canisters either have a dip stick (like the oil), or a visual line on the container that shows the min and max levels for the fluid. Be careful when checking fluids like transmission fluid, because often the fluid level will change if the engine is running. Check your car manual to be sure you understand how to appropriately check all fluid levels.
Check and Replace Blown Fuses
Your regular engine maintenance is a good time to change blow fuses. If you have a light that hasn't worked right in your vehicle, or something about the electrical system has gone wrong, it could very well be a fuse. Check your manual to determine where the fuse diagram is posted in your car, and find the suspect fuse. You can find many fuses in a black box inside the engine compartment, which looks like this.
Check Your Tire Pressure
While you're doing regular maintenance, it's a good time to check the air pressure of your tires. You can find the recommended air pressure written on the outer side wall of your tire. Make sure to choose an air pressure within this range, and try to keep all tires on the left and right at exactly the same air pressure so that your tires wear evenly.
Change any Blown Lights
Make sure to check the proper operation of your headlights, turn signals, and brake lights. You can change your own lamp bulbs fairly easily. Unscrew the plastic cover behind the light, and you'll discover the bulb plug. Carefully detach and remove the plug, remove the bad bulb, and attach the new one. Then insert back into the hole and affix the plastic cap.
If you are curious about how to do your own car repairs, don't forget to check out the following LoveToKnow cars resources.