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Signs That You Need An Engine Tune-Up

Even if your engine tune-up isn’t yet due, certain telltale signs may call for an engine diagnostic and tune up service sooner. 

These include: 

  • Your dashboard Check Engine Light comes on
  • A stalling engine
  • Engine misfires
  • Rough idling
  • Difficulty starting your car
  • Knocking noises when the engine runs
  • A burning smell or exhaust smoke
  • Reduced gas mileage and acceleration

If you observe any of the above signs or are experiencing poor engine performance, it’s time to book an engine tune-up service at your automotive dealership or an auto repair shop. 

How Urgent Is An Engine Tune-Up?

Even though you can continue to drive your car around, an engine tune-up helps fix any vehicle component before it becomes a full-blown issue. You don’t want to end up with a broken-down vehicle in the middle of the road. 

It’s best to follow your vehicle’s routine maintenance schedule given in the owners manual and book an engine tune-up at the required intervals. 

Regular preventive maintenance or engine tune ups (especially in the case of excessive vehicle usage) ensure optimum mileage, fuel economy, and reliable engine performance. So your engine keeps running smoothly and never leaves you in a tough spot. 

How Much Does An Engine Tune-Up Cost?

An engine tune-up maintenance service can start from $40-$150 for a simple spark plug replacement (including old wires.)

However, a more specialized tune up involving the combustion engine, a brake service, clutch service, transmission service, air conditioning service, or hoses inspection can run anywhere from $200 to $800. 

The prices also vary depending on your car make, model, and the labor charges in your area. 

That said, it’s best to take your car for an engine tune up only at the authorized dealership or a  repair shop with ASE-certified mechanics. They’ll have the right skills and specialized tools that vehicles need for engine tune up services. 

5 Engine Tune-Up FAQs

Here are some common queries you might have regarding the engine tune-up: 

1. What Is An Engine Tune-Up?

An engine tune-up involves inspecting and replacing different engine components that may be causing poor engine performance. 

A regular engine tune up consists of: 

  • Replacing a faulty spark plug and spark plug wires
  • Setting the ignition timing or engine timing of a combustion engine (primarily for older vehicles)
  • Checking the idle speed and idle fuel mixture
  • Replacing the engine air filter and fuel filter (to prevent fuel pump failure)
  • Performing a fuel system or ignition system overhaul
  • Replacing the distributor cap and rotor (older car)
  • Replacing the PCV valve (Positive Crankcase Ventilation valve) to improve fuel consumption

In addition to the above car maintenance procedures, an auto service shop may also do a more comprehensive car tune up, which includes: 

1. Battery Maintenance 

An auto repair mechanic will perform a battery maintenance service by testing its voltage. They’ll also look for any corrosion, leakage, or loose wires. 

2. Brake Service 

Depending on your vehicle’s mileage, your auto service technician may suggest a brake service. It can include changing the rotors, brake pads or wires, bleeding brakes, and topping up the brake fluid

3. Belts And Hoses Inspection

A mechanic will inspect and replace the drive belt or serpentine belt on the alternator responsible for powering different components of your vehicle. 

If needed, they’ll also conduct a hoses inspection to check the different pipes responsible for transferring vital fluids to the engine and fuel system. 

4.  Fluids

Depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation for changing each fluid type, your mechanic will change the engine oil and oil filter, transmission fluid, coolant, and power steering fluid. 

Regular transmission service and other oil changes can help prevent excessive wear of critical internal components from contaminated fluids. 

5. Cabin Filter

In addition to changing the fuel filter and engine air filter, an auto repair mechanic will also change the cabin air filter as a part of the air conditioning service. 

An air filter may get clogged up with dirt, causing restricted airflow into the vehicle. 

6. Tire Maintenance 

Though not essentially a part of the regular tune up service, you can ask your mechanic to do tire rotation and balancing. 

Why is it helpful? 

The front tires of front wheel drive cars (for example) experience more torque and friction while turning, accelerating, or braking. So, they tend to wear out sooner compared to rear wheels. Rotating them will ensure evened-out tire wear.

Along with tire rotation, a mechanic will also perform a wheel alignment to ensure that all the tires go the same way. 

2. What Are The Benefits Of An Engine Tune-Up?

Routine maintenance and car tune up will ensure that your vehicle stays in peak condition and your engine has a long life. 

Here are some substantial perks of a car tune up: 

  • Boosts engine performance 
  • Better mileage and fuel economy
  • Lesser chances of expensive mechanical or electrical repairs in the future

3. How Often Do I Need A Tune Up?

The need for an engine tune up and maintenance can vary from vehicle to vehicle. It also depends on your vehicle’s gas mileage and engine age. 

While some manufacturers recommend a car tune service every 20,000 to 30,000 miles, others suggest booking engine tune up services at 10,000 to 12,000 miles (especially for older vehicles) to get better fuel economy. 


Modern vehicles with an electronic engine and fuel injection (computerized fuel injector system) may follow a different car tune up schedule, with intervals as high as 100,000 miles.  

If not sure, you can always refer to your owners manual to know the recommended schedule for a regular tune up. 

That said, the more heavily you use your vehicle, the more regular tune ups you’ll need. 

4. How Long Does A Tune-Up Take?

Generally, an engine tune up service can take anywhere from two to four hours. 

However, the exact time depends on the extent of the required tune up. It also depends on your vehicle’s make and model. 

An engine tune up on a modern vehicle with an ECU (Electronic Control Unit) will take less time. On the other hand, older car engines will usually take longer. 

5. Is Engine Tune-Up And Engine Tuning The Same?

Engine tune-up and engine tuning are not the same. 

An engine tune up involves inspecting your vehicle’s engine and fixing or replacing the components that may have worn out or malfunctioned. 

Engine tuning involves tweaking certain engine variables, like the ignition timing (engine timing) and fuel curves via the ECUs (in modern vehicles). This helps reduce emissions, get the desired fuel efficiency, and have smoother engine performance.  

However, a regular tune up and engine tuning go hand in hand. Components serviced or replaced during an engine tune up can significantly impact your engine tuning.

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