The term “tune-up” refers to a set of maintenance procedures commonly performed to ensure that a vehicle remains in proper working order.
Traditionally, a tune-up might include a number of operations, each aimed at adjusting or replacing engine components. During a tune-up, a technician would commonly replace the engine air filter and possibly the fuel filter. The distributor cap, points, rotor, and condenser that helped to control ignition timing might be replaced, and the timing might be adjusted. A tune-up might also include replacement of the spark plugs and wires, the engine air filter, drive belt, and other items in need of routine replacement. The carburetor might be adjusted as well.
Today’s vehicles, on the other hand, require a different sort of tune-up. Many of the engine components on older models - carburetors, distributors, and the like - have been replaced by electronically-controlled devices that are adjusted automatically by a computer, the engine control module (ECM). And the engine components that do need to be replaced often last much longer than they once did. Spark plugs, for instance, can oftentimes last 100K miles or more because of modern engine technology.
Therefore, a modern tune-up looks different than it once did. Fuel injection, distributorless coil-on-plug technology, and other advances did away with many older mechanical devices that needed frequent upkeep. And the ECM now does most of the adjusting automatically.
There are still a number of routine maintenance procedures that need to be followed on a late-model vehicle. The engine oil and filter still need to be replaced. So do the spark plugs, air filter, fuel filter, and more. But each of these operations needs to be done at a different set of intervals. The oil every 5K miles or so. The air filter every 12-15K miles. And the spark plugs, depending on the type, starting at 30K miles and ranging upwards of 100K miles.
Repair shops differ as to what services they bundle under the term “tune-up”. But the bottom line is that your vehicle needs routine maintenance in order to work as it should. What procedures need to be done and when to do them is laid out in your vehicle owner’s manual or maintenance guide.
On a late-model vehicle - one generally manufactured since the nineteen-nineties - maintenance procedures should be performed according to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations in the owner’s manual or service schedule. However, there are some circumstances under which you might seek a tune-up service at some other time. Your vehicle might need an engine tune-up if you notice any of the following:
Because the term “tune-up” has a different meaning, depending on the age of your vehicle and the types of technology it includes, the procedures will look different from one model to the next. Some procedures that are necessary on an older vehicle - cleaning and adjusting (or replacing) the points in the distributor, for example - are not needed on a newer one because the components do not exist.
In general, although these procedures might be bundled together for some vehicles and separated for others (and, in some cases, unnecessary), the following list includes the procedures that a technician will commonly perform during an engine tune-up:
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