Chicago — ''Love your car and your car will love you back,'' asserts Jim Kiple, manager of service operations for American Motors.
Whether it's in northern Michigan, sun-kissed Florida, or mountainous Colorado, a car should be given tender loving care in the spring. Why? Because winter driving can take a high toll on any car, no matter where it is driven.
Mr. Kiple says that an engine tune-up is important to good driving at any time of year.
Yet tune-ups in 1975-and-later automobiles are far different than those done in the old days. Then a tune-up meant, among other things, cleaning or replacing the spark plugs and installing new points. Today's cars do not have points because the ignition systems are much more sophisticated. In fact, Mr. Kiple explains, there's really less to do with the sealed electronics systems these days.
Even so, he recommends that all vacuum hoses be checked since they're often overlooked. When the hoses become dried out and brittle, they can develop leaks that can hinder a car's operation.
The hoses are important to the emissions system, not only for keeping it clean, but also to maintain good fuel economy.
Check the vacuum tubes by bending them, for example. Then look for cracks. If the hoses are brittle, replace them.
Make a similar check of the spark-plug wires, which also deteriorate over time. With the higher-operating temperatures of today's automobile engines, it's important to have the wires replaced at least every 25,000 miles, says Mr. Kiple.
Service outlets usually offer tune-up specials in the spring. Look for them.
''You might want to check around and see what the price leaders offer,'' he suggests. ''Ask if they'll check the spark plugs, adjust the timing, and check all the wires and vacuum hoses.''
It's also a good idea to be sure the carburetor adjustment is checked with a scope so that any problems are readily visible to the technician.
If the bargain-basement price doesn't include this kind of checking, ask what it'll cost to include them, or keep on shopping. Also ask about the additional cost of replacing any wires or tubes that are in bad shape.
''Many years ago the valve lifters needed to be included in a major tune-up, '' noted the AMC service manager, ''and they should indeed be checked in a car made before 1975. Today, however, most cars have hydraulic systems that don't need adjustment. In fact, cars will continue to have less and less to be checked.''
Be sure to have a mechanical valve train checked every 25,000 miles and to have it fine tuned for good fuel economy and car operation in general. However, with clean-burning unleaded gasoline, the carburetor doesn't need as much attention as in older models.
Most car dealers don't consider the checking of belts and hoses as part of a tune-up, yet they should be checked in the spring. A belt thatsnaps while you're on the road next July may spoil or delay a vacation trip.
Again, because the engines now operate at higher temperatures -- in the 240 degree F. range -- than in the past, the belts and hoses tend to deteriorate because ofthe heat. It also is the reason the coolant in the engine should be changed.
Usually the coolant doesn't need to be changed till the fall of the second year on a new car. At that time, it is important to replace the ethylene-glycol mixture in the radiator. However, because it's just as important to cool the engine when the air conditioner is operating as it is to prevent freezing of the system in the winter, the coolant should be checked in the spring.
Have the pressure in the system also checked and watch for leaks.
When it comes to the outside of a car, a good hot-water bath is needed, especially at the seams where salt may have collected during the winter. A good dousing will help to prevent rust.
A special preservative for vinyl tops should be applied twice a year to prevent the vinyl from drying out, especially in the Sunbelt.
Check the tire pressure -- you should do this frequently all year long, anyway -- since cold weather tends to shrink the tires.
James A. Thiese, vice-president of tire development for Firestone's North American tire group, says that with front-wheel-drive cars it's especially important to rotate the tires more often.
Kiple recommends that windshield-wiper blades be replaced as well.
And finally, don't forget to give your car a good wax job.