Much like the human body, your car requires annual checkups and preventative maintenance to ensure a long and productive life. Routine maintenance can help catch, correct and prevent serious problems. If you wait until a problem arises, it may be too late. One of the most important steps in preventative maintenance is getting routine Tune-Ups.

Tune-Ups have changed a lot over the years, in part to adapt with the newer makes and models. Many newer vehicles have parts that are now “life-long” and do not need replacing. The addition of more computerized parts means that, instead of replacing actual engine parts as was previously done, mechanics can now check sensors that communicate any performance issues. With modern tune-ups the only remaining similarities are changing out the spark plugs and replacing the air filter. The majority of new vehicle’s owner’s manuals will not mention a tune-up by name, but do mention getting the routine maintenance that is included with modern tune-ups.

Starting with the outside of the vehicle, the turn signals, brake lights, headlights and taillights will all be checked and bulbs replaced as needed. The technician will check your wiper blades for wear and tear. These services may or may not be offered, depending on where you take your car. It is very important to research before taking your car to a mechanic. Try to find out what all is included in that particular shop’s version of a tune-up.

The spark plugs are perhaps the best known feature of a tune-up. On a 4-cylinder engine the spark plugs are located either on the top or side of the engine in a row. On a V6 or V8-cylinder engine the plugs will be distributed evenly on each side of the engine. Check your owner’s manual to see where exactly they are located as well as what measurement of tool may be needed to remove them. The leads going to each plug should be checked for any damage and replaced as needed. The spark plugs are removed, being careful to keep track of where each plug goes. The spark plugs will be checked for corrosion and replaced as needed. Old or faulty spark plugs can cause your car to idle roughly, engine misfires or surging and high fuel consumption.

Next, the battery and its surrounding area will be checked for any corrosion. The life of the battery should also be tested. The average car battery lasts approximately 4 years. Life expectancy will change depending on climate, extremely hot weather causes a speed up of the chemical reactions inside the battery. This shortens the life expectancy. Conditions of the roads you travel can also bump or jiggle loose the connecting cables. The introduction of MP3 players, GPS systems, DVD players and charging other devices has also quickly shortened the average car’s battery life. The technician will remove any built up batter acid from the surrounding area, including the battery cables themselves. If the battery tests low or shows excessive corrosion it should be replaced.

The condition of the belts and hoses are a large factor in a poor performing car. The technician will make sure the hoses to the radiator are clamped and secured. The serpentine belt and timing belt will be checked for cracking or dry rotting. If there are signs of excess damage or age, the belts will be replaced. By having belts that are in good condition, your vehicles engine runs in time and a lot smoother. The hoses should be flushed and checked for tight seals and to rule out any leaks. This will ensure proper delivery of fluids to and from different parts of the engine.

If you’ve ever noticed a pulling sensation on the steering wheel while driving, it may mean the alignment of your car is off. Technicians will check the tire pressure to rule out that any issues in steering are not the result of improper inflation. The front end suspension will also be inspected for any loosening or worn parts. Any issues with the suspension should be addressed and will cause an increase in the cost of the tune-up since there will be more work and parts involved. Each vehicle will have its own measurements for correct alignment. Measurements will be taken and compared to your car’s own specifications. If there is any discrepancy, the alignment will be adjusted.

Pros of a Tune-up

One of the biggest benefits to getting a tune-up is having the fluids flushed. Antifreeze, power steering, brake and transmission fluids are all checked for quality and quantity. Dirty or low levels can cause your car to run too hot, decreases fuel efficiency and lowers acceleration rates. Technicians will top off any low fluids and advise you if there are any concerns. If the level of the power steering and brake fluids are low, this can indicate a larger mechanical issue since these levels should remain the same throughout the life of the vehicle. Clean and properly maintained fluids will increase the life of your vehicle by cutting down on engine buildup and emissions.

Like the other fluids in your engine, the oil will also be changed. The oil filter, located on the underside of the car, will be removed. Once this is done, the old oil will be drained from the vehicle. If the oil level is low or the oil itself is excessively dirty, this may be an indication of a mechanical problem. Once the old oil has completely drained, the oil filter will be replaced and new oil will be added to the engine. Each vehicle requires a specific weight and/or type of oil, so check the owner’s manual to see what type is best. Lastly, the air filter will be checked for clogs and age. Any old or dirty filters will be replaced and the housing surrounding it cleaned as well. Dirty or old air filters can significantly reduce gas mileage and can cause engine misfires.

Some places may offer different options when getting a tune-up. The average cost of a tune-up can range from $75 to $175. Any major issues or parts that have to be replaced may result in a change in cost. The Auto Club recommends getting a tune-up once every two years or every 30,000 miles. You will significantly lengthen the life and efficiency of your car, saving you time and money in the long run.