What Is a Car Tune-Up? Here’s What You Need to Know

Your car is one of the most important investments you make – which means you’ll want to take care of it. Over the years of owning your car, you’ll take it into the local dealership or garage for a tune up. What should you expect, and what is a car tune up exactly? Here, we’ll cover what you need to know.

So what is a car tune up? It is designed as a preventative measure to help prevent potential problems later on while improving your vehicle’s current performance. Small elements may be replaced, belts might be swapped out, the spark plugs can be changed, and so on. A tune up will address minor problems that might not receive typical attention during other, more major inspections of your vehicle.The exact makeup of a car tune up will hinge on a number of factors. This includes the kind of vehicle you drive and when the vehicle was last serviced (you don’t need to replace spark plugs every year, so this will not be required during some tune ups). For your vehicle to run its very best, and to identify potential performance problems down the line, it is important for you to understand what is a car tune up and how it helps improve the overall vehicle performance.

What Happens during a Tune Up?

car engine

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When it comes to what is a car tune up there are a number of services performed on your vehicle. The mechanic will first check your car’s computer to see if there are any error or warning codes. These issues will need to be looked into first. From there, the mechanic will inspect your vehicle and identify what needs to be replaced or updated to boost vehicle performance.

Some of the standard repairs you can expect during a car tune up include having the engine air filter replaced, the spark plugs replaced, having the distributor cap and rotor replaced (if you have an older vehicle), plus system checks to see if further adjustments or assistance is needed.

What Systems Are Checked during a Car Tune Up?

When looking into what is a car tune up, you’ll probably have more than a few parts replaced. The mechanic will also perform a number of system checks. The checks are usually included with the price of the car tune up, but if the individual systems need attention, then you may have additional services needed.

Tire and Brake Inspection

This is a straight-forward system inspection. The mechanic will look at the tread and suggest if you should replace the tires now or if you can run on the tires for longer. The mechanic may also rotate the tires to keep the wear on the rubber the same.

Brake inspections will also be performed. The mechanic will look at the thickness of the brake pads and make brake replacement suggestions. They will also likely top off the brake fluid in your vehicle (as well as any other fluids that are low).

Air-Conditioning System

The AC in your vehicle runs not only off the coolant but there are a number of smaller features connected on the vehicle that help the AC function (unlike the heat, which is taken off the engine block, the vehicle must produce cool air, so you essentially have a portable AC unit built into the car). During the system check the mechanic will look into the individual parts to see if something is not working correctly. They may suggest a coolant flush as well (especially if you have an older vehicle).

Electrical System

The electrical system can be inspected both visually and through the car’s computer system. The car will log error codes when something goes wrong. When the mechanic connects their computer to the vehicle they can download the error codes and find out if there are any electrical system issues going on. They will also perform an inspection of the electrical system. This includes looking at the tail lights, brake lights, bulbs over your license plate, and other problems you might have (and not know about).

Check Your Owner’s Manual


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Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will provide some of the best insights regarding what is a car tune up for your vehicle. This includes not only what to expect during the tune up but also at what mileage points you can expect to require certain replacements for your vehicle. The owner’s manual will recommend the replacement of certain belts and filters.

If you take your vehicle into the dealership, they will have all of this information immediately on file. Most ASE-certified mechanics for your particular vehicle will have the same information, but it’s a good idea to go over the information with the mechanic so you are kept up to speed on what is going on with your vehicle.

Additional Vehicle Maintenance

Beyond your tune up, there are a number of other routine forms of maintenance you need to perform in order to keep the vehicle running correctly. These include an oil change. When you have your oil changed, you should also have the oil filter changed. Your owner’s manual will provide you with insights regarding how often you should have the oil changed on your particular vehicle.

While many drive-through oil change facilities will provide you with a basic mileage sticker, this is a standard number that may not be accurate for your vehicle. Always look to the owner’s manual whenever it comes to maintenance schedules and concerns regarding your vehicle.

Keep Vehicle Records

hands holding pens and documents

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Now that you know what is a car tune up and what to expect during the tune up, you’ll want to keep vehicle records on hand. These records will indicate what was changed and also what to keep an eye on in the coming months. The mechanic may suggest you don’t need to have the brakes replaced right away but that you should eventually have new brakes installed.

Keeping the records will provide you with two important points of data. First, you’ll have the recommendations on hand so you’ll know when you need to have certain areas of your vehicle inspected and corrected in the coming months.

Secondly, when you take your vehicle into a mechanic the following year, you’ll already have the necessary information on file. Having the information on hand is beneficial, should a mechanic attempt to replace spark plugs or other areas of the vehicle that you know were addressed during the previous year.

Spark plugs can quickly add up in costs (especially if you have 16 platinum-tipped park plugs). So keep these papers on hand and, when the mechanic gives you the repair suggestions, make sure to look over the previous year’s changes so you know if what is being doing is necessary or not.

Related Questions

How Should I Find a Mechanic for My Vehicle?

How Often Should I Get a Tune Up?

How Long Does a Tune Up Take?

Are There Signs I Need a Tune Up?


In conclusion, we hope this article helps inform you if you’ve been asking “what is a car tune up?” These days, our vehicles are important parts of our lives and it is imperative that automotive problems are promptly addressed before they lead to more serious problems.

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