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What is a Tune up?

A mechanic tuning up a car.
A tube of dielectric grease, which is used to seal spark plugs.
The distributor cap should be replaced during a tune up.
A mechanic can clean or replace spark plugs during a tune up.
Most new cars have platinum spark plugs which don't need to be replaced as often as traditional spark plugs.
Mechanics can replace a dirty air filter during a tune up.
A tune up includes checking and topping off an vehicle's fluids.
A tune up is a relatively simple job that some people prefer to do themselves.
An oil change, while not included in a tune up, is also considered an important maintenance service.
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  • Written By: Katharine Swan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 14 December 2014
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A car is essentially a machine, and as such, it requires a certain amount of preventative maintenance in order to continue to perform. A tune up is a regularly scheduled opportunity, usually once a year, to do all of the preventative maintenance that needs to be done. Ensuring that your car gets a tune up regularly will help maintain the performance of your car and extend its life.

A tune up generally includes replacement of several parts on your car. These parts may seem superficial, but failing to replace them regularly can cause decreased performance in your car, and may even lead to other problems. For example, an air filter should be replaced at least once a year; failing to replace it when it's dirty will cause your engine to get less and less of the air it needs to run properly. If the problem is left unattended, the air-fuel mixture will continue to run richer and richer —- meaning that there will be too much fuel and not enough air in the mixture —- and eventually cause other parts to fail.

As you can see, a regular tune up is important to your car's performance. The process should involve replacing the air filter, replacing or cleaning the spark plugs, and replacing the distributor cap and rotor. It can also include replacement of the spark plug wires, fuel filter, PCV valve, and oxygen sensor.

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Maintenance that is not included in the basic tune up may also be required, so a yearly check up provides a good opportunity to check the car's systems, such as the brakes and clutch; all fluid and oil levels; and the operation of any other systems that are not used or checked regularly. If the procedure is done in spring or early summer, the air conditioning system should be checked as well, as it likely will not have been used for many months.

A note on newer cars: most new cars use platinum spark plugs, which do not require frequent replacement. Platinum spark plugs are often claimed to last 60,000 to 100,000 miles (95,561 to 160,934 km), or even more. These spark plugs will not need to be replaced with every tune up. Some newer cars also use an electronic ignition instead of a distributor, and therefore do not need a new distributor cap and rotor. For most cars, it is a good idea to check the owner's manual or shop manual to see what maintenance is recommended.

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Discuss this Article

anon252603
Post 12

Modern cars, that is, cars made in the last 35 years don't have points, rotors, condensers or "caps" in the old sense. They also don't get out of "time". So, a "tune up" is not tune up in the original sense. One would never know this from reading this article. Virtually all cars have electronic ignitions and really don't get out of "tune".

Prior to electronic ignitions, a tune-up was a big part of the car's efficiency, e.g. gas mileage, power, etc. Not so nowadays. Plug wires do fail, but only need replaced two or three times in the life of the vehicle. A modern car will usually run pretty much the same after "routine" maintenance.

anon252457
Post 10

Do not use flushing systems at oil change shops. I have a '99 Taurus here, and it has a bypass to heater. The crud from a flush just goes into the heater core and the heater plugs up. I had to isolate the heater and reverse flush to fix this. It was very messy, but I fixed it myself.

Roberta Graf
Post 9

I agree with the person who said to do it yourself. My fifteen year-old son did his first tune up through an article he read online, and we saved a lot of money. He found some of the parts/tools on a website called Buy Automotive Products. Also, tune up prices vary depending on where you live and how well you shop around.

anon83577
Post 7

do it yourself. labor will run you about $0; parts slightly more.

anon83070
Post 6

Prices vary. You need to establish if you need a minor or major tune-up! --Spencer

anon47505
Post 4

There is no "set time" for a tune-up, or even a "set price" lol. My "dealer" charges $475 for the 30, 60, 90k mile tune up. lol. Go to the shop down the road (local resident, ASE certified mechanic) and he does it all for $300 - straight from my Owner's Manual. Other things they may check/recommend is radiator/coolant flush, fuel injector cleaning (either bench-cleaned, manually, removed and soaked in a solvent; or with some other "induction" process such as BG44k+, GumOut 2-Step, Seafoam, etc...), transmission fluid change/flush... Just make sure they do it within spec of the manufacturer. I know Kia released a "TSP" (Technical Service Bulletin) for all makes/models, and under no circumstance should any "flush" be done under an "automated" or "high pressure cleaning" type system, but simply an empty, flush with "clean" fluid, then refill.

anon31425
Post 3

What is an average price of a tune-up?

anon15414
Post 2

a "regular" tune up is a regularly performed tune up, meaning every certain set amount of time.

anon9996
Post 1

"As you can see, a regular tune up is important to your car's performance. "

what is a "regular" tune up?

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