How Much Should a Tune-Up Cost?

Probably the most famous aspect of regularly recommended car care is an engine oil and filter change, but it is highly likely that you have heard people recommending that you get a tune-up occasionally as well. However, while oil changes are frequently advertised by the roadside, tune-ups seem to be a bit less common. If you have been wondering what exactly a car tune-up is and what the average tune-up cost is, you are not alone. A tune-up tends to cost between $40 and $150, but in some cases the cost could be $800 or more, depending on what a tune-up consists of. Understanding what a tune-up exactly is and the proper cost of a tune-up is important.

What is a Tune-Up?

Essentially, a tune-up is a catch-all phrase for inspecting and performing preventative maintenance on the parts of your vehicle that are the most likely to need replacing. The reason why the term is so vague is that what exactly is being checked and what will need to be replaced depends heavily on your car, where you have driven it, and other factors specific to your car and the way you drive it.

There are many pros to getting a tune-up, and consistent maintenance on your vehicle will help it last longer and keep the price of overall maintenance down. Failing to keep on top of basic maintenance can result in costly repairs that could have been avoided. Maintaining your vehicle can also help performance and fuel economy.

When you go in for a tune-up, it is likely that one of the components checked will be the air filter. Generally speaking, an air filter should be replaced at least once a year, though depending on where you drive your vehicle (for example, if you drive on a lot of dirt roads), you may need to have it replaced more often.

If an air filter is not replaced when necessary, the engine will not receive the amount of air it needs to run optimally. This in turn will cause the air-fuel mixture inside of your engine to run rich, which means that it has too much fuel in the fuel-to-air ratio. Not only does this waste fuel, it can potentially cause other parts of your vehicle to fail earlier than necessary.

It used to be that when you asked about tune-up prices, you were asking about the cost to replace the spark plugs. Older vehicles typically needed the spark plugs replaced much more often than modern cars – as frequently as once a year. Although spark plugs last many years longer today, spark plugs should still be checked or replaced if necessary during a tune-up.

A tune-up should also involve looking at the spark plugs and cleaning them, but only during intervals with an in-depth inspection or when they’re scheduled for replacement. It’s unfeasible to take them out during every oil change since that would jack up the tune-up cost unnecessarily. If you have an older vehicle with manual ignition, a tune-up may involve looking at the rotor and the distributor cap. Fuel filters may need to be replaced during a tune-up, as well as spark plugs, wires, the PCV valve, or the oxygen sensor.

Again, the nature of tune-ups depends on your car. If you happen to have a car that runs platinum spark plugs, as is common with most modern vehicles, it is likely they will not need to be replaced as often as the general variety of spark plug found in older vehicles. If you have an electronic ignition, you are not going to need to have a rotor or distributor cap replaced as these do not exist in cars with electronic ignition systems.

Depending on your situation, a tune-up may also reveal bigger problems with your vehicle that need to be addressed. The mechanic should do a check of all your vehicle’s general systems, such as the brakes, clutch, and air conditioning systems. Different cars require different levels of maintenance, so it is important to check your owner’s manual to advise the mechanic to look at certain systems during the tune-up.

You may also choose to have an oil change at the time of your tune-up but remember that an oil change should happen multiple times a year while a tune-up typically only needs to happen once a year or even less frequently.

How Much Does a Tune-up Cost?

Your car tune-up cost depends on multiple factors. The cost of a very basic tune-up will run between $40 and $150 depending on where you are. This variety of tune-up tends to focus on spark plugs alone and spark plug replacement. However, if you want a full tune-up involving an oil change, air filter check, distributor cap check, rotor check, PCV valve check, fuel filter check, and all systems getting a cursory examination, this variety of tune-up may cost between $200 and $800.

The overall cost of your tune-up will depend on the hourly rate of mechanics in your area as well as the cost of parts that need to be replaced. It is typically cheaper to get a tune-up at a regular repair shop as compared to a dealership.

If you happen to have an older vehicle or a classic vehicle, expect to pay more for a tune-up. Particularly if your car is over 120,000 miles, you may be looking at a cost of $500 to $1200 or more depending on what exactly needs to be replaced on the car.

It is a good idea to comparison shop before taking your car in for a tune-up. Make sure that when you call the mechanic asking for a price quote that you ask exactly what is included in the tune-up. You may also want to ask about discounts since some shops offer coupons or incentives relatively frequently, particularly for new customers.

If you really want to save money, many people do basic tune-ups at home. Keep in mind most cars today have an onboard diagnostic system that can be checked for misfire codes, indicating that spark plugs are worn out or fouled. However, you need a scan tool to check up on them. Basic maintenance of spark plugs and air filters can be done at home for a fraction of the price, though.

What are Some Signs My Car Needs a Tune-up?

While tune-ups should be part of the yearly basic maintenance of your vehicle, there are some signs that your car may need to be taken in immediately for one. If you notice that your average gas mileage has dropped considerably, it is time to schedule a tune-up. Other signs that it is time for a tune-up include a lit Check Engine Light, frequent stalling, strange knocking noises coming from the engine, or general lack of performance while driving your vehicle.

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