What Does a Tune Up Consist Of? A Deep Dive Into Preventative Maintenance

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Any person who owns a car has asked themselves the question, "what does a tune up consist of?" Owner's manuals advise that you get a tune up when your car reaches a specific number of miles, but most manuals never mention what your car mechanic will check. With the modern distrust of mechanics in general, it is an excellent idea to know what a tune up consists of, what 10 areas your car mechanic should check, and what exactly they are supposed to do.

Since a tune up keeps your car running at optimum efficiency, you should at least know what the standard tune up should cover. Tune ups can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on everything that your mechanic does. If you do not know what you are getting, you open yourself up to paying way too much for way too little.

​What Does a Tune Up Consist of?


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So, what does a tune up consist of? This can vary. The standard tune up consists of testing all of your vehicle's vital systems, checking, refilling or flushing all fluids, and checking or replacing all filters. It also consists of checking and or adjusting the timing, idle, and ignition system of your vehicle. The exact procedures will depend on the age of your car, your car's make and model, and the individual mechanic.

Your mechanic may answer the question of what does a tune up consist of depending on what areas of the car you specifically want checked or how old your car is. The cost of a tune up will also vary. Since a single engine service may include simply checking a fluid level, filling a low fluid, or flushing the system that fluid belongs to and refilling it, the cost of simply checking the level is less expensive than having to flush the system and replace the fluid.

Despite these variations, there are certain standard procedures that a tune up should have. These procedures usually include a complete systems check, a fluid check, and a check of your car's spark plugs and ignition system. Your mechanic should then advise you on exactly what needs to be replaced and/or flushed. During a tune up, your mechanic will go over the 10 major areas or systems of your car at 30,000, 60,000, and 90,000 miles.

The 10 Areas of Your Car Your Mechanic Will Check


Although there are no completely separate systems of your car, the major systems can be broken down into 10 different areas. These areas are the most important things that your mechanic will check. Many of the following systems overlap in some way or other. If you are doing the tune up yourself, you should check all of these systems and order the parts that you need to according to your car's manual or manufacturer.

Belts and Hoses

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No matter what make, model or year your car is, your car contains many belts and hoses. A good mechanic will check to make sure that your belts are tight and are not worn or fraying and that each of the hoses is as soft or hard as it should be. While they are doing this, they will also look at the clamps on the hoses and the pulleys on the belts to make sure they do not need repair. If you are doing the tune up yourself, you might want to purchase a set of hose clamps. They are great for tune ups and minor hose repairs.

Brakes and the Braking System

The ability to brake or slow your car is vital to your safety. Your mechanic should check your brake pads, calipers, rotors, or drums to be sure they are still in good condition. If you are doing this yourself, make sure that you know what a worn pad, caliper, and rotor look like as well as which products are best for your car.

Electrical System

The electrical system is another vital component of your car. Without a reliable code reader, it is always better to have a mechanic check your electrical system. You can use a code reader like the Automotive Engine Fault Code Reader CAN Scan Tool if you want to be able to diagnose problems with any system of your car.

A mechanic will hook your car to a code reader to find out how the cars electrical system is functioning. This will also alert the mechanic to any faults or sensors that are being tripped. It is possible for your car to have a code and not display it with the check engine light.

Engine Cooling System

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One of the more important systems that a mechanic will check is the engine cooling system. Improper maintenance of the engine cooling system can cause thousands of dollars of damage to your car. During a thorough tune-up, the mechanic might flush and refill your radiator. This needs to be done periodically to prevent build up that can cause the engine to overheat.

If it is not time to flush your engine cooling system, the mechanic will simply check that the thermostat is working properly. He or she may also check for leaks which are usually obvious by white residue or the smell of coolant.

Exterior Systems

The exterior systems of your car also need checking and maintenance. The mechanic should check that all of your lights are functioning properly, including your turn signals, and that your windshield wipers are functioning properly. They will probably also refill your wiper fluid.

Fuel System

When asking what does a tune up consist of, make sure that your mechanic is prepared to check your fuel system. This is one of the key components of a tune up. The mechanic should look at the:

  • Injectors
  • Fuel filter
  • Engine idle
  • Injector lines
  • Fuel pump

Each of these fuel system components needs to be working properly in order for your car to run with ease. During many standard tune ups, the mechanic will clean or replace the fuel filter and clean the fuel injectors.

Fluids and Filters

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During any standard tune up a mechanic will check all of the cars fluids including oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid, and even windshield wiper fluid. Most mechanics will top off each of these fluids unless they are performing a flush of the system it belongs to. Each time a mechanic flushes a system, they will usually replace the filter to that system as well.

Ignition System

The ignitions system is another vital system that needs to be inspected. When considering what does a tune up consist of, be absolutely sure it includes checking the ignition system and replacing at the very least the spark plugs. Like brake pads, spark plugs wear out over time.

Your mechanic may also replace the wires that connect the spark plugs. Usually, they will replace both at the same time when you have a car with high miles on it. Each car is different, so you might want to consult your owner's manual in order to see if it is time to replace both or just the spark plugs.

The other parts of the ignition system that a mechanic will check for function are your starter and cylinoid. Although they might not need to be replaced, a good mechanic will check them for signs of wear.

Steering and Suspension

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Another system that needs an inspection during a tune up is the steering and suspension. The mechanic will look at your power steering fluid, arms, shocks, and struts. Each of these parts may be worn and looking during a tune up is a good way to make sure they are replaced when they need to be.

Transmission

The last full system that a mechanic will look at is your transmission. Although they might not look inside a transmission, they will look at the seals and fluid. They might even flush your transmission. The fluid is a good indicator of the health and safety of your transmission.

This is the very basic answer to what does a tune up consist of. A tune up of your car is essentially an examination and check up on all of your cars systems plus replacing vital components such as spark plugs, filters, and other components that wear out over time. Most tune ups include minor adjustments to the cars idle or timing if needed.

Conclusion

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If you need a tune up, it is extremely important that you ask your mechanic what does a tune up consist of before allowing them to perform the work. To some mechanics, a tune up only consists of changing plugs and wires, while others will change these and perform system flushes on each component. The cost of these two types is much different. If you think you need a tune up, it is always best to speak to your mechanic and consult your cars owner's manual before scheduling one.

​Featured photo via Pixabay

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