What is a Car Tune Up?

February 24, 2022

Ever heard someone say their car needs a tune up? What exactly do they mean? What is a car tune up? In years past, cars used to regularly require intricate procedures wherein many engine parts were replaced, adjusted, and tuned. This extensive process was aptly referred to as a “tune up”, but it gradually became less necessary as cars grew more sophisticated. Today, what many people call a tune up is nothing more than a trip to the mechanic for standard maintenance. Tune ups are a key part of your car’s regular maintenance checklist, and an excellent opportunity to ask your mechanic questions you may have about your vehicle.1

What does a car tune up include?

Modern-day tune ups generally entail an overall check on the parts of your car that regularly require replacement, replenishment, or retuning.


Your car has multiple kinds of filters: oil, fuel, air and cabin air. Like any filter, these filters gradually grow dirty over time as they prevent contaminating particles from reaching the wrong places. The dirtier your filters, the harder your vehicle has to work in order to move air, fuel, and oil to the right places. Depending on the filter, this can result in reduced gas mileage, dirty cabin air, excessive wear on engine components, and undesirable pressure levels due to clogging.

Spark Plugs

Spark plugs’ electrodes wear down over time, eventually causing engine misfires. To keep your ignition system running smoothly, it is crucial that your spark plugs be replaced regularly.


Does a tune up include an oil change? It can. Maintaining your car’s fluids is a key component of regular maintenance. That means changing your car’s oil, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid when necessary. All these fluids become contaminated over time, reducing their performance and causing excessive wear to various components.

Wires, hoses, belts

Hoses and belts transfer power and fluids to a multitude of important systems within your vehicle. Both wear down over time and some, such as the timing belt, can cause massive internal damage if broken. All your vehicle’s hoses and belts require regular inspection and replacement. Some wires need to be replaced regularly as well. Ignition wires, for example, eventually wear down and fail, causing misfires, performance loss, and dead cylinders, if unchecked.1

How often should you get a car tune up?

When should you get a tune up? It depends on the kind of car you drive, but most modern cars require major tune ups only once every 25,000-100,000 miles.2 That’s a generalization of course since tune ups encompass many procedures that must be performed on a regular basis. Oil changes, for example, should be performed on most cars once every 5,000-7,500 miles.3 But your timing belt may need to be changed once every 100,000 miles.4 It’s always best to check the maintenance schedule recommended by your car’s manufacturer.2

Signs you need a tune up for your car

Engine light

If your check engine light is on, it’s likely that something needs tending to, even if it’s minor. That light indicates your diagnostics system has detected something wrong, so use it as a sign to call for a service appointment.


If your brakes feel squishy or become noisy, that’s a sign they may need to be checked. It’s possible that your issue is linked to wear on your brake pads, which you can check by yourself at home. However, the problem could also be linked to brake fluid or some other component of your brake system. If you discover that your brake pads are worn down, or that they are not the cause of your brake troubles, it’s best to schedule a tune up.

Gas Mileage/Fuel Economy

Many standard maintenance issues can affect your car’s fuel economy. If you find yourself filling up at the pump more often than usual, it could be time for a tune up.2


You can often trust your ears when it comes to car maintenance. If you hear any strange noises coming from your car: squeaking, grinding, rattling, etc., it’s worth going in for a tune up.

Where can I bring my car for a tune up?

Every car owner should know where to get a tune up. Most car dealerships and auto shops offer tune up services, however, not every location can handle every kind of car. If you own an expensive sports car, you’ll probably need to find a specialized auto shop or dealership to give it a tune up.5 Some tune up procedures are also simple enough that you can handle them yourself. But unless you’ve got experience working on cars, it may be best to find a good mechanic.

How much is a car tune up?

The amount you’ll pay for your tune up greatly varies. Different shops charge different rates. More expensive cars can cost more to work on. And the exact nature of the work your car requires will have a huge impact on price. If all you need is a few spark plugs replaced, you may pay as little as $40, however a more serious tune up may run that price up as high as $800.5

Just like a regular tune up helps protect your car from wear and tear, a good auto insurance plan helps protect you from surprise costs if something goes wrong. Get a free quote from Nationwide today and learn how auto insurance can protect you and your car.

1https://www.autozone.com/diy/maintenance/tune-up-guide, Accessed November 2021.
2https://resource-center.meineke.com/signs-its-time-for-an-auto-tune-up/, Accessed November 2021.
3https://www.aaa.com/autorepair/articles/how-often-should-you-change-engine-oil, Accessed November 2021.
4https://resource-center.meineke.com/replace-timing-belt/, Accessed November 2021.
5https://www.kbb.com/car-advice/whats-involved-in-a-vehicle-car-tune-up/, Accessed November 2021.

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