Typically done about once a year, a tune-up is regularly scheduled preventive maintenance on a vehicle. The procedures vary by the vehicle’s make, model, age and mileage, but a tune-up typically involves replacing the air filter; running computer diagnostics, and checking the condition of (and possibly replacing) the fuel filter, spark plugs and wires, and other basic engine parts.
Prices can start at $40-$150 or more for a minimal tune-up that includes replacing the spark plugs and inspecting the spark plug wires, but it typically costs $200-$800 or more for a standard tune-up that can include replacing the spark plugs, wires, distributor cap, rotor, fuel filter, PVC valve and air filter, as well as changing the oil, an inspection/computer diagnosis of the fuel, ignition and emission systems, and adjusting the dwell, timing and fuel mixture to specifications. Total costs generally depend on the parts needed as well as the hourly labor rate (typically $40-$90 in standard repair shops or $80-$150 at a dealership).
For older vehicles, a 90,000-, 100,000- or 120,000-mile tune-up can cost $500-$1,200 or more, depending on the repairs and adjustments needed. Smith Specialty Automotive in Kansas lists what might be included in a 120,000-mile major servicing and tune-up.
What should be included:
Check the owner’s manual (or the mechanic will check the shop manual for the year, make and model of vehicle) for a list of exactly what maintenance is needed, and when. Every vehicle has a schedule of recommended and mandatory maintenance, based on the vehicle’s age and mileage.
A tune-up typically takes about two to four hours of labor, depending on what is included. Autozone describes typical tune-up procedures.
Most modern cars use platinum spark plugs, which typically last 30,000-100,000 miles, so they do not need replacing with every tune-up. Some newer cars have an electronic ignition system instead of a distributor, so a tune-up does not include a new distributor cap and rotor.
Symptoms that a car might need a tune-up include a drop in gas mileage, a noticeable loss of power, a “rough” engine or one that stalls at a stop, engine “knocking” or continuing to run after the ignition is off, or a “check engine” or “service engine” light staying on after the initial start. However, these symptoms might be caused by other problems with the computerized systems. Most repair shops will begin by performing a diagnostic test, to determine if a tune-up is a correct solution to the problem.
Running diagnostic tests on highly computerized car systems are typically beyond the skill level of most home mechanics, but many can handle the other steps in a basic engine tune-up. Materials typically cost $25-$100, depending on whether it’s necessary to buy specialized tools.