You’ve no doubt heard people say they’re taking their car in for a tune up, but have you ever wondered what a tune up really is and what it consists of?
Since my daughter and I are getting ready to take a weekend trip in July, she thought it would be a good idea to schedule an appointment to take her Malibu in for a tune up and I thought it would make a good topic for Cars for Girls, so here’s what you can expect the next time you take your vehicle in for a scheduled trip to the service garage.
(Note: This is a general overview. Your experience may be different.)
What is a Tune-Up?
A tune up is simply scheduled maintenance on your vehicle, usually performed by a certified mechanic, to prevent damage to the vehicle’s engine and other important parts which wear out over time. Think of a tune up as a yearly physical for your vehicle, because essentially, that’s exactly what it is.
How Often Do I Need a Tune Up?
Generally, a tune up is performed once each year, however I do know people who take their vehicle in every 6 months.
What Happens During a Tune Up?
Typically, a mechanic will replace the air filter, fuel filter, change the spark plugs, sometimes also changing spark plug wires, adjust valves or replace the valve-cover gasket, check all fluids and add more if necessary, note the condition of the battery, battery terminals and cables and clean or replace if necessary. Vehicles which are fuel injected will probably have the throttle plate cleaned and the air-fuel mixture adjusted. Mechanics should also check brakes, brake fluid and give the tires a good once over; checking tire pressure and looking for tread wear. The mechanic will probably also check the air conditioning in the spring/summer and heating in the fall/winter.
Other things they’ll look at and repair or replace if needed are the carburetor, distributor cap and rotor, PCV valve, oxygen sensor, timing and depending on the age of the vehicle, perhaps even the points and condenser. If the vehicle isn’t an automatic, the mechanic will probably adjust the clutch, too.
Chances are, if you take your vehicle in every 6 months, some things mentioned above won’t be done because it’s simply not necessary, which is why most people schedule a tune up just once a year. On newer vehicles which use platinum spark plugs, these will only need to be replaced every 60,000 to 100,000 miles. Also, newer vehicles which have an electronic ignition won’t need a new distributor cap and rotor.
If you’re ever in doubt, check your vehicle manual to learn what maintenance is needed when scheduling a tune up.
How Long Does it Take and How Much Does it Cost?
A typical tune up generally takes a few hours.
Shop around and compare prices. Typically, you’ll pay for labor charges, as well as any replacement parts and fluids your tune up encounters, while some service garages may also charge an hourly rate.
Once you find a suitable mechanic and/or service garage, I suggest telling the mechanic or service manager that you would like to be notified in advance if the mechanic encounters a repair or replacement which may be expensive. In doing so, you can prepare for any unexpected expenses which may occur and can decide whether the repair or replacement is something you can immediately afford to pay. In the event that the repair or replacement is a cost you can’t yet afford, I suggest taking care of the problem as soon as possible, even if it requires keeping your vehicle at the service garage for a number of days until you can afford to pay. You don’t want to jeapardize safety for the sake of repair cost.
If your vehicle is a hybrid, you can look into hybrid-only service shops in your area. Although relatively new, hybrid-only repair shops are becoming quite popular and your local area may offer this type of service for customers who would like to take advantage of this option.