Tune UpNeed a Tune-Up?

After “oil change,” the phrase, “my car needs a tune-up” is the next most popular request heard in the automotive service and repair industry. When a service writer or technician asks the driver why the vehicle needs a tune-up, the customer usually says that the vehicle is not “running right.”

Maybe it’s idling rough. Maybe it’s hard to start. It could lack power, get poor mileage, or have many other symptoms. Many people believe that a tune-up will solve all or most of these problems, but the truth is, modern cars do not require tune-ups and poor performance almost always means the car needs a repair.

The phrase “tune-up” is from a time when automobiles were not computer controlled and an auto mechanic could actually adjust the timing, idle speed, fuel mixture, and other things in order to “tune up” the operation of the engine, similar to the way a piano tuner will tune up a piano to bring it back into proper pitch and operation by adjusting the tension on the strings, adjusting the action, and reshaping the hammers.

Maintenance: The Modern Day Tune-Up

Nowadays, the term “tune-up” actually refers to replacing and servicing the wear items in the ignition and fuel system. For example:

  • The air filter and fuel filter will become less efficient and need replacing
  • The spark plug electrodes will wear down and need replacing
  • Because of oil vapors produced by the positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system, the throttle body and fuel system will need to be cleaned and/or de-carbonized

The vast majority of the time, there are no adjustments needed (or possible), because the engine computer controls all the functions of the ignition and fuel system. The “tune-up” is often part of a large 30,000/60,000/90,000 mile service that includes inspections, and fluid and filter changes. These services are part of the manufacturer’s recommended scheduled maintenance detailed in the owner’s manual.

The modern vehicle should not exhibit any performance problems by the time a tune-up is due. If there are any performance problems, usually a Check Engine Light will illuminate, indicating that the vehicle needs some attention because it is not running properly and is polluting the air.

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