car tune up

How Often Does A Car Need A Tune-Up?

Daniel McDonald
Daniel McDonald8 min read
How Often Does A Car Need A Tune-Up?

How Often Does A Car Need A Tune-Up?

The car is probably one of the most significant investments in one’s life. So, scheduled maintenance once in a while is a great way to ensure your investment will last.

To confirm that your car is running smoothly and in great shape, you should have a tune-up yearly.

What Is A Tune-Up?

There is a big difference in the meaning of engine tune-up throughout time. In the past, the car tune-up was related to the vehicle’s ignition system.

When a car needed a tune-up, it required the replacement of the condenser, the breaker points, the distributor cap, spark plugs, and the rotor. Additionally, the ignition timing was set, and the carburetor was altered.

Since the vehicles were older, this procedure was essential. Nowadays, an engine tune-up is the name of a service that consists of two parts: an inspection and a tune-up.

The first part is the inspection and involves a visual examination of the components of the fuel system. This is done to check if the fuel filter is unclogged and if there is no damage to the fuel pump.

The inspection also includes checking the PCV valve, the ignition timing, the performance of the spark plug, the air filters, and the coolant levels.

The second part of the service is the primary engine tune-up that revolves around the results from the initial inspection. If the results indicate that your car needs a rotor, cap, spark plug wires, PCV valve, or wires replacement, then the replacement happens in this second stage.

What Does A Proper Tune-Up Include?

The main goal of a car tune-up service is to ensure that your vehicle operates as it should. Regular tune-ups help vehicles to stay in good shape. This type of service includes a couple of essential things, which are listed below:

Changing Wires, Plugs, Or Ignition Parts

A car’s ignition system has a lot of plug wires, spark plugs, coils, and many more electrical components.

Ignition systems on newer vehicles function very well, but they all need spark plugs or wire changes once in a while. That was not the case with older cars since they needed replacement of distributor caps, rotors, etc.

If your vehicle shows misfire when the air in the cylinder fails to ignite, you need new spark plug wires.

You must consult the owner’s manual before replacing the spark plugs; you must use pins with the original metal equipment.

Another thing that breaks down over time is ignition wires. You probably need new ignition wires if you notice a rough idle, engine performance loss, misfire, or a dead cylinder.

Over time, you will also require new ignition coils. Indicators of worn-out locks are engine misfires, rough idle, reduced gas mileage, and weak acceleration.

If the engine malfunctions or fails to start, you might also need a new distributor cap. If replacing the distributor cap, you should also replace the rotor simultaneously.

All the indicators mentioned above mean that your car needs a tune-up.  

Putting New Filters

Another essential part of the tune-up service is filter change. Filters can get easily contaminated since they contain fuel, oil, and air.

When the filters are dirty or damaged, many particles pass through them and infect the vital parts of your engine.

If your filters are dirty, your car will struggle to get fuel, oil, or air –all essential for a functioning vehicle. The clogged air filter will reduce the engine performance and MPG by 6%.

When you have a dirty air filter, it is recommended that you change it for a new one. The procedure is effortless, and you can do it yourself.

The same thing applies to all other filters in the vehicle, the cabin air filters, the oil filters, the fuel filters, and the PCV filter.

Clogged cabin air filters let pollen, dust, and fumes into the passenger compartment and limit airflow. Clogged fuel filters lead to low fuel pressure that can result in rough idling and hesitation during accelerating. Eventually, a dirty fuel filter can cause fuel pump breakdown.

Therefore, every filter should be thoroughly examined and replaced in time before it provokes more damage.    

Replacing Belts And Hoses

Belts and hoses are essential parts of every vehicle. The belts connect the whole accessory drive system while the hoses help transfer the most critical fluids inside the engine.

Because they are exposed to heat/cold conditions of daily usage, belts and hoses tend to wear down and crack over time.

  • Serpentine Belt – this belt connects the pulleys on the front of the engine. The serpentine belt is constantly exposed to stress and heat, so it can easily crack over time. If you notice any crack, fluid contamination, or fraying, you must replace the serpentine belt before it breaks.

  • Belt Tensioner – as the name suggests, the tensioner maintains the correct tension of the belts. If the belt tensioner is weak, it can cause untimely belt wear; if it is too tight, it can cause untimely belt wear. So, if the belt tensioner is too weak or too rigid, you must take it off and place it correctly. Before putting it, you should rotate the tensioner until it provides firm and smooth tension. If you notice any noise or roughness in the pulley, you must replace the belt tensioner.

  • Timing Belt – this belt helps control the engine’s mechanical timing. The lifespan of the timing belt is a maximum of 100,000 miles; after that, it needs to be replaced. If you don’t replace it in time, you can cause it to break, which will cause terrible damage to the engine. Check the crank seals and the cam for leaks to see if the timing belt needs replacement.

  • Hoses – as you already know, heater and radiator hoses transfer the coolant over the engine. Hence, if they break and cause your engine to overheat, you should inspect for bulging, leaks, or swelling to check if the hoses need replacement. You can also wait until the engine cools down and see if there are hard and soft spots in the rubber hoses. If you notice any damage or loss of tension, you need to replace the hoses to avoid engine overheating.


Regular Fluid Change

Many essential fluids keep our vehicles running – coolant, transmission fluid, motor oil, power steering fluid, and brake fluid.

If these fluids were to be contaminated, it could cause significant damage to the engine. So, to save money, you should service the necessary fluid before real damage happens.

  • Engine Oil – although the oil filter keeps particles away from the motor oil, it cannot protect the oil from heat and pressure. It would be best if you did an oil change every 3,000 miles.

  • Coolant – since the coolant is responsible for keeping the optimal engine temperature, it is essential to flush it with a particular product that will improve the performance and remove contamination. The coolant should be flushed every two years if it is a silicate and every five years if it is a drain coolant. To find out which is recommended for your car, read the owner’s manual. Also, do not forget to mix the coolant with water!

  • ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) – Transmission fluid needs to be replaced when the vehicle reaches 60,000 miles. However, if your car is automatic, this number is much higher, so you must follow the manufacturer’s manual. If the transmission fluid has brown coloring, looks muddy, and smells like something’s burning, you should take your car to the mechanic ASAP.

  • Brake Fluid – brake fluid is vital! Therefore, it needs to be replaced every two years. The brake fluid has been contaminated if you notice dark-colored or muddy liquid.

  • Power Steering Fluid – the changing interval for the power steering fluid differs depending on the vehicle. To be specific, you should check the owner’s manual. An evident indicator that the power steering fluid needs replacement is if it appears muddy and isn’t among the max and the min reservoir level. If you fail to change the power steering fluid on time, it may cause damage to the power steering pump.     

Indicators That Your Car Needs A Tune-Up

Now that you know what a Tune-up service is, let’s see the most usual indicators that your car needs one immediately.

1.    Warning Lights

The warning light is the first and most serious indicator that your car needs a tune-up.

Many people do not take a warning light as a severe sign – they keep driving while ignoring it. You will pay big bucks for your negligence if you notice an engine warning light and you choose to ignore it.

2.    Reduced Fuel Mileage

Unless you have an MPG monitor, keeping track of the fuel mileage is almost impossible. Still, if you have had your car for some time now, you will notice a drop in fuel efficiency.

Suppose you want to determine the fuel economy; In that case, you should pay attention to the overall operation of the engine, the execution of the emissions fuel system, and the way your vehicle functions.

It is time for a tune-up if you notice anything strange with your car that indicates a reduced fuel mileage.  

3.    Strange Noise

Strange noises are always indicators that something is not correct. If you hear weird noises while driving, it can indicate that your car is having some problem.

While there are many harmless noises, there are ones that can signal that your car needs a tune-up service. In particular, some part of your vehicle is loose if you hear a thumping noise. If you hear a screeching noise, the engine is low on fluids.

If you don’t take your car to a mechanic, once you start hearing strange noises, you risk causing permanent damage to the vehicle.  


4.    Decreased Braking Capacity

The car brakes are one of the essential parts that guarantee your safety. If they are not functional and responsive, it could be fatal. In some vehicles, the brakes gradually decline without any reason. Noticing a decreased braking capacity is very difficult, especially if it happens little by little.

It is best to schedule regular engine tune-ups to avoid any severe damage. This way, your mechanic can check the functionality of your brakes every once in a while.    

5.    The Engine Doesn’t Start

We all know this is a cry for help. If your engine struggles to start, it may indicate some serious problems.

One of the reasons is if the spark plugs are misfiring, which results in the engine refusing to start. This issue can be easily dodged if you proactively schedule a regular tune-up service.

If you catch damaged spark plugs or any other car issues early on, you will save yourself from paying enormous amounts for extensive repairs.


Since every car is different, it is hard to know when to schedule a tune-up. Usually, if your auto is older, you should get its services every 12,000 miles or once a year.

This does not apply to newer vehicles since they have a fuel injection system and electronic ignition – you should service your vehicle every 25,000 to 50,000 miles.

Still, there is an exception from these rules if you notice strange noises, a decrease in the braking capacity or the fuel mileage, your engine does not start, or you see a warning light. It would be best if you did an engine tune as soon as possible in any of these cases.