Tune up is a vague and outdated term, but many car owners still regularly take their car to the shop for one. You might not need a tune-up as frequently as you think, though, and might be spending too much money on routine maintenance you don’t need.
Ahead, we’ll take a look at what a tune-up entails these days, as well as the price you can expect to pay for these services.
Your tune-up frequency will depend on your owner’s manual, but if you have a newer car, you might not need a tune-up for a long time. Follow our recommendations below to make sure you’re getting the most out of your tune-up when the time comes.
What is a Tune Up?
There’s no universal definition of a tune-up. A car tune up is more based on general maintenance of your car than it is any specific act. A lot of mechanics have stopped using the term because of how broad it can be.
If you go into the shop and ask for a tune-up, they’ll likely change your spark plugs and give you a few other preventative maintenance services. A tune up isn’t a catchall term that will fix the way your car is running. It’s more of a general preventive maintenance routine that your car needs every once in a while.
When Do You Need a Tune-Up?
In the old days, there were more elements of the car’s engine that needed tuning. Nowadays, car computers regulate a lot of these components like ignition timing and fuel mixture. When you would take your car in for a tune-up back in the day, there would be a lot more parts that the mechanics would need to adjust.
Some of these components still exist as they once did. Tune-ups will almost always include a spark plug change if you need one, for instance. Still, there isn’t much an old-school tune-up will do for your car.
Most people will go into the shop for a tune-up when they’re having engine troubles. Unfortunately, these don’t solve their problems a lot of the time.
Since the automotive industry has moved toward electronic regulation, a lot of the need for tune-ups has gone by the wayside. If you have a car that’s less than a decade old, you probably don’t even see “tune-up” listed in the owner’s manual.
There’s no manufacturer recommended tune-up time or mileage number anymore. Since spark plug changes are the main focus of modern tune-ups, your owner’s manual might not require one for up to 100,000 miles.
You should always check your owner’s manual to be safe, of course, some vehicles require spark plug changes as soon as 30,000 miles. Still, you shouldn’t be spending much money on the tune up cost at the mechanic.
While the tune up cost is higher than it was in the past, paying your bill will be far less frequent than it once was. If you visit a mechanic and ask for a tune-up, though, make sure you understand what they’ll be checking and replacing. There’s no need to pay top-dollar for nothing but spark plug replacements.
What Should a Tune-Up Cover?
We recommend that you don’t ask your local mechanic for a tune-up. It’s a broad term these days, and mechanics define their tune-ups very differently. Instead, do a quick search for “tune-up near me” on Google and see which shop provides the widest range of service.
Ahead, we’ll cover some of the services you should look for in tune up. If your mechanic doesn’t offer most or all of these services, we suggest looking for another shop that will adequately service your car.
Since a tune-up doesn’t take as much work as it once did, a lot of modern tune-up should check the performance of multiple elements of your car. The mechanic should start with the battery to make sure everything is working properly on that front.
The battery voltage and charging voltage power more in modern cars than they ever did before. For this reason, your mechanic should make sure that the power in your battery is working correctly. If not, you may require a replacement battery – especially if you haven’t changed the battery in some time.
Your mechanic should also check ignition timing since the sensor that regulates this function could be faulty. Computers aren’t always perfect, and a set of human eyes might be able to detect something the automatic sensors cannot.
The engine vacuum also needs a check during your tune-up, as does the fuel feedback control loop. These will address some of the problems your car might have while it’s running.
Of course, the mechanic should check your fluids to make sure there are no leaks, and everything is adequately full. Your mechanic will likely do a visual check of multiple components under the hood, just to make sure everything is performing properly.
You should think of the primary function of a tune-up as preventative. Your mechanic should be able to address some of the driveability problems you’ve been having and prevent any future problems from developing before they start.
Spark Plug Replacement
Spark plugs are still a cornerstone of the tune-up. Virtually every mechanic will include a spark plug replacement in their tune-up, even if it’s the only service they provide.
Spark plugs need a replacement every 30,000 to 100,000 miles, so check your owner’s manual so you don’t waste unnecessary money here.
If your spark plugs aren’t firing correctly, though, your engine won’t be performing up to par. Your car won’t drive the way it used to, and you’ll likely use more gas on your commutes as well.
Air Filter Replacement
You need a replacement air filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles, so you need to take your car in for an air filter change before you need to replace the spark plugs.
Air filters prevent all the dust and sand on the road from entering your car’s engine. It works a bit like your car’s lungs, and if you don’t change it regularly, it will get clogged with debris.
Changing an air filter isn’t too difficult, and you can complete this job by yourself. There’s no need to bay a mechanic for this job, so save some money and avoid a tune-up for an air filter alone.
Fuel Filter Replacement
If you’re taking your car in for a tune-up, you might as well have them change the fuel filter along with their other maintenance procedures. Take a look at your owner’s manual to be sure, but if you’re in need of new spark plugs, you’re probably past due for a fuel filter replacement.
One of the sure signs that you need a fuel filter replacement is a lack of acceleration. If you noticed your car lacking a bit of power – especially when climbing a hill – take it into the shop and explore a fuel filter replacement.
Oxygen Sensor Replacement
As with most car components, oxygen sensors have strengthened in newer cars. You used to require a replacement every 30,000 to 50,000 miles, and can now get away with a change every 100,000 miles or so.
Still, a lot of car owners don’t know much about their O2 sensor. If you’re having drivability problems and don’t know where they’re from, you might need an O2 sensor replacement. Your mechanic should address this when you go in for a tune-up.
A faulty O2 sensor can also cause you to fail an emissions test. It will cut down on fuel economy and can cause your check engine light to come on as well. There’s a chance that none of these problems will occur, but your O2 sensor will still require a replacement.
Mention it to your mechanic if you think your O2 sensor is performing poorly. A tune up is the perfect time to change an O2 sensor, so you might as well get it done while you’re already in the shop.
Throttle Body Cleaning
You don’t need throttle body cleanings very often, but you’ll likely notice when you do. The throttle body will get dirty after a 100,000 miles or so and might cause your car to stall. You might even see the check engine light come on with no understanding as to why.
A throttle body cleaning costs around $150, and it’s a good idea to request your mechanic takes a look if you’ve recently started to experienced stalling.
How Much Does a Tune Up Cost?
Your tune up cost will vary depending on what your mechanic fixes and inspects. There’s no universal answer to “How much is a tune-up?” just as there’s no universal definition of a tune-up anymore.
A spark plug replacement alone can cost anywhere from $150 to $600. If your mechanic changes your O2 sensor, fuel filter, and air filter as well, your tune up cost will come close to $500 or $1,000, depending on what kind of engine you have.