What's Included in a Tuneup?

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Actually, there is no such thing as a tuneup in the traditional sense of replacing parts to bring the ignition and fuel systems up to specs for maximum performance and efficiency, and there hasn't been for years.

About the only things left from the traditional tuneup are new spark plugs, which is typically done every 100,000 miles, and replacing the air filter periodically. The federal EPA and Department of Energy say that replacing a clogged air filter will not improve gas mileage but can improve acceleration 6% to 11%. The agencies do not say what benefit can be derived from fresh spark plugs, but computers that control today's engines adjust the air-fuel mixture and spark timing to compensate for wear, such as when the electrodes on spark plugs are worn down.

Even so, some car owners still dutifully take their car in periodically to have it "tuned up." Instead, service technicians will inspect and perhaps test the fuel, ignition and emissions systems to look for faulty vacuum hoses, oxygen sensors and other parts that can hurt performance. The federal government, for example, says a bad oxygen sensor can give engine computers false readings and reduce fuel economy as much as 40%.

Having your vehicle serviced and inspected periodically is a good way to extend its life and keep it operating efficiently. However, walking into a repair facility and asking for a tuneup is a bad idea because it indicates you're still living in the previous century and have extra money you would like to spend. Some in the auto-repair business will take advantage of those opportunities.

Look in the owner's manual for your vehicle (or separate maintenance schedule) to find what the manufacturer recommends, and see if you can even find the words "tuneup." For example, we looked at the maintenance guide for the Ford Fiesta that also applies to other Ford vehicles. The first mention of anything related to a traditional tune-up was to replace the engine air filter every 30,000 miles. The only other related item was to replace the spark plugs every 100,000 miles.

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By Rick Popely | May 22, 2013 | Comments (10)

Comments 

Skankzilla

"However, walking into a repair facility and asking for a tune-up is a bad idea because it indicates you're still living in the previous century and have extra money you would like to spend."

Wow, that thought has never once ran through my mind when a customer mentions "tune-up" to me. Instead, I educate them on proper terminology and what is involved at the major maintenance intervals.

Preying on that is pretty sleazy, but I guess that's why the auto repair business has a bad reputation, eh?

Jeremy

I doubt that preying on the ignorant isn't as rampant as most are lead to believe. I don't think a shop would stay open for very long if word-of-mouth regarding the sleazy tactics they employ got around. As a whole, *most* people that ask for a "tune-up" are likely asking for a regularly scheduled maintenance or are there for something specific (sputtering, a noise, marked drop in performance, etc).

Lance

I think there are plenty of unethical mechanics and service writers. I once had a problem with a truck and the local Chevy dealer(huge dealer in business for a lot of years)said I needed a new drive shaft for about $500 total. I was suspicious and took it to the Chevy dealer I originally bought the truck from even though it was a long drive near where I used to work. It was a $125 Ujoint replacement. I was taken one other time at that local Chevy dealer on my son's car when he was young. Burned twice by a local "hometown" dealer. That and all the cheats that the investigative TV reporters are always coming up with really show that the scam artists are present and one has to be on guard. I feel for the honest shops that have to live with this industry reputation.

I think the elderly are really at risk. My dad is 88 and even though he used to literally build and race cars, he is no match for the modern tech and is really at the mercy of service writers.

Shorebreak

Wow! I haven't heard the word "tuneup" utilized regarding the servicing of a vehicle in a decade or two. These days, either a regular scheduled service suffices or a component, like a sensor, malfunctions unexpectedly and needs replacement.

Tony

It used to be that you could adjust timing by physically moving your distributor housing. That was a tune-up. These days we don't have distributors therefore there is no tune-up

RJ

Now, I own a car from 1971, so there is indeed such a thing as a tune-up. But this post doesn't say what those things might be.

Modern cars, with computers, Self Tune. Older cars settings go out of whack with temperature changes and other stresses from use. I will read my shop manual...

Mike S @ctmeche

Sure, there's no standard "tune up" anymore, since there's nothing to tune. But just because there's no Check Engine Light on, or you haven't reached your scheduled milestone doesn't mean things don't go wrong.

PCV valves and EGR valves can fail, MAF / MAP sensors can get dirty, fuel injectors can clog as well.

No, I wouldn't blindly go in asking for a 'tune up' anywhere, but things need to be checked that aren't on the schedule, and preferably before the Check Engine Light comes on.

Cody

I would like to say that it depends on your location? The more shops around the better your odds are of not getting scammed in hopes of word of mouth. ( Im from vegas so there are shops at every corner and I would like to assume most are honest sense you got 5 minutes away for a 2nd opinion. Now in a smaller town where there are less shops maybe you may have to worry more being they only have a a limited number of options available otherwise.

Michael

I don't know much about cars, so this article was very helpful.

What I'm about to confess is silly, but I just found out today from Mr. Popely that I can refer to the owner's manual for information regarding maintenance. I feel more confident now whenever I visit a mechanic. Thank you!

kevin

Wow!!!! "Tune up" is a genaric term for regular scheduled maintence ie: oil change, air filter, cabin air filter, spark plugs (which will hurt your performance if they are old and worn) most mechanics are NOT out to scam you and if you are a mechanic and you think less of a customer for asking for a tune up u should shut your doors now! You need to relize people come to you because they are not as educated as you (and lookin at some of these comments I use educated loosely!)

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