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What Does A Car Tune Up Consist Of?

Discussion topic: what does a car tune up consist of

Performing regular vehicle maintenance is crucial for protecting your investment and prolonging the life of your vehicle. Check out our comprehensive guide to discover how you can optimize your trip and tailor it to your needs.

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What Is a Car Tune-Up?

A car tune-up is a comprehensive preventive maintenance service designed to optimize the performance of a vehicle. During a tune-up, various critical wear-and-tear components are typically replaced, including the air filter, fuel filter, oxygen sensor, positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valve, and spark plug wires.

Additionally, spark plug inspection and cleaning are essential. Other important tasks that may be included are an oil change, oil filter replacement, tire rotation, inspection of brakes, transmission fluid change, cabin air filter replacement, and coolant system flush. For specific service intervals recommended by your manufacturer, refer to Kelley Blue Book Maintenance Schedules or consult your owner’s manual.

What Does a Tune-Up Consist of?

1. Replace Plugs, Wires, and Other Ignition Parts

The ignition system is composed of spark plugs, plug wires, coils, and other electrical components. Its purpose is to ignite the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber. Over the years, this system has undergone significant changes. In newer ignition systems, only spark plugs and wires/coil boots need to be changed at specific intervals. However, older vehicles may still have a distributor cap and rotor, or even breaker points.

Spark Plugs

Maintaining your spark plugs is crucial for optimal performance and preventing misfires. Over time, the metal tip (electrode) of spark plugs wears down from high heat and constant electrical arc.

To replace your spark plugs, follow these steps:

  • Consult your owner’s manual, repair manual, or the experts at AutoZone to determine the recommended spark plug metal for your vehicle. It is highly recommended to use plugs of the original equipment (OE) recommended metal.
  • Before installation, apply a light coating of anti-seize on the threads of the spark plugs. Make sure the anti-seize is only applied to the threads.
  • For DIS (distributorless) applications that use one coil for multiple plugs, it is advisable to use either Double Platinum or Iridium plugs as recommended by the manufacturer.

If you need guidance on replacing your spark plugs, refer to our comprehensive guide on how to change spark plugs.

Ignition Wires

Over time, ignition wires can degrade and ultimately fail, resulting in various symptoms such as rough idle, misfire, performance loss, and even a dead cylinder.

When replacing the distributor cap or ignition wires, it is important to transfer one wire at a time from the old cap to the new cap to avoid cross wiring and ensure a smoothly running engine. To make this task easier, a spark plug boot tool can be utilized.

Additionally, applying dielectric grease in the boots not only helps prevent arcing but also facilitates future boot removal. Lastly, make sure to secure the wires properly and route them away from exhaust components for optimal performance.

Ignition Coils

  • Coils play a crucial role in converting low battery voltage into thousands of volts. However, over time, these coils can wear out due to the constant exposure to high voltage electricity.
  • Identifying signs of coil wear is important for vehicle owners as it can lead to engine misfires, weakened acceleration, rough idle, and reduced gas mileage.
  • It’s worth noting that different vehicles utilize different coil designs, such as coil packs located near the valve covers or coil-on-plug designs that are positioned over or close to the spark plugs.
  • To ensure optimal performance, it is recommended to apply dielectric grease on the boot of coil-on-plug coils.

Distributor Cap and Rotor and Breaker Points (If Applicable)

Regular maintenance is crucial for optimal functionality of a distributor in a vehicle. Here are some key considerations to ensure smooth operation:

  • Wear and tear: The rotor inside the distributor experiences multiple rotations, leading to the gradual wearing down of metal contact points.
  • Impact of a failed distributor cap: A malfunctioning cap can result in misfires or, in severe cases, prevent the engine from starting altogether.
  • The importance of a complete tune-up: During a tune-up, it is recommended to replace both the cap and rotor simultaneously to maintain the system’s integrity.
  • Methodical wire transfer: To prevent the ignition system from becoming cross-wired and causing rough engine performance, transfer ignition wires individually from the old cap to the new one. A spark plug boot tool can simplify this task.
  • Breaker-points in older vehicles: Vehicles manufactured before 1974 typically feature breaker-points, which require regular adjustment or replacement.

2. Let Your Engine Run Clean with New Filters

Filters are crucial components in your vehicle, including oil, fuel, air, and cabin air filters. They serve the vital function of preventing contaminants from reaching essential engine and related systems. By maintaining clean filters, you can optimize engine performance and efficiency. On the other hand, dirty filters place additional strain on your vehicle, creating the need for increased effort to supply the necessary air, fuel, and oil. Ultimately, this can result in engine constriction and reduced delivery capability of air, oil, or fuel at the correct pressure.

What Does a Car Tune up Consist Of (1)

Engine Air Filter

  • Proper maintenance of air filters is crucial as they perform the task of filtering thousands of gallons of air for every gallon of fuel.
  • Over time, these filters may become clogged, which can adversely affect performance. For fuel-injected engines, clogged air filters do not impact fuel efficiency, but it’s a different story for carbureted engines.
  • In carbureted engines, clogged air filters can reduce MPG by 2-6% and up to 14%.
  • To address this issue, replacing your air filter is generally a simple task.

*Based on a testing claim from fueleconomy.gov

Cabin Air Filter

  • Vehicles equipped with a cabin air filtration system have a replaceable filter element. This filter keeps the air inside the vehicle clean by preventing dust, pollen, exhaust fumes, and other contaminants from entering the passenger compartment.
  • In addition to maintaining air quality, it also ensures unrestricted airflow into the vehicle.
  • Changing most cabin air filters is a quick and simple process, typically taking less than 15 minutes.

Oil Filter

  • Dirty oil can cause excessive wear on internal engine components. To prevent contamination, an oil filter is used to filter vital engine oil.
  • However, if the oil filter is not replaced at recommended intervals, it can become clogged.
  • In severe cases of clogging, it can lead to high oil pressure.
  • Therefore, it is advisable to replace the oil filter with every oil change at recommended intervals to ensure optimal engine performance.

Fuel Filter

  • Dirty fuel and contaminated fuel tanks can clog your fuel filter, resulting in low fuel pressure and causing issues such as hesitation while accelerating or rough idling.
  • In severe circumstances, this can even lead to premature fuel pump failure.
  • To prevent these problems, it is recommended to replace the fuel filter at every oil change, following the recommended intervals.

PCV Valve

  • Over time, carbon build-up can clog the Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) Valve, resulting in various engine issues.
  • Such problems include increased oil consumption, poor fueling conditions, misfires, and even blown gaskets due to crankcase pressure build-up.
  • Fortunately, replacing the PCV valve is usually a simple task that can be completed in a matter of minutes.

3. Keep Your Auxiliary Systems in Check with New Belts and Hoses

Belts and hoses may seem like small components in the grand scheme of your vehicle’s engine, but they play a critical role in its operation. Belts are the connections between pulleys in the accessory drive system; they transfer the power from the crankshaft pulley to various systems throughout the engine. Hoses, on the other hand, transport vital fluids like coolant, oil, and fuel. Unfortunately, the elements take a toll on these components over time. Heat, cold, and constant use all work together to wear them down, causing them to become brittle, crack, and even break.

What Does a Car Tune up Consist Of (2)

Serpentine Belt

  • The serpentine belt is responsible for powering various engine components using a series of pulleys.
  • Regular inspection is crucial to identify signs of wear, such as cracks, fraying, glazing, or fluid contamination.
  • These conditions can lead to belt slip or breakage, necessitating prompt replacement.
  • For detailed instructions on how to replace the serpentine belt, refer to our comprehensive guide.

Belt Tensioner

  • The belt tensioner plays a vital role in maintaining the correct tension of the serpentine belt.
  • A weak or malfunctioning belt tensioner can cause premature belt wear.
  • If the tensioner is excessively tight or sticking, it can lead to premature wear of the water pump and other accessory bearings.
  • While replacing the belt, ensure smooth rotation of the tensioner and thorough inspection of idler and tensioner pulleys, as well as accessory pulleys for proper alignment and smooth rotation. Replace any pulleys exhibiting roughness or noise

Timing Belt

  • The timing belt controls the internal mechanical timing in many engines.
  • Due to the critical nature of its function, the recommended replacement interval is typically between 80,000 to 100,000 miles.
  • Failure of the timing belt can result in significant engine damage due to contact between pistons and stuck valves.
  • To prevent such catastrophic incidents, adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended mileage intervals for timing belt replacement.
  • During inspection, also check the cam and crank seals for any leaks.


  • Radiator hoses and heater hoses play a crucial role in circulating coolant to regulate engine temperature. Over time, rubber hoses may deteriorate, leading to potential issues.
  • To determine if hose replacement is needed, inspect for signs of swelling, bulging, or leaks.
  • Squeeze the hoses, checking for both hard and soft spots when the engine has cooled down.
  • Additionally, assess the hose clamps for any damage or loss of tension.
  • Preventing a hose failure is vital, as engine overheating can result in severe, possibly irreversible damage.

4. Maintain Your Car with the Right Fluids

Proper operation of your vehicle requires essential fluids such as engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid. Contaminated fluids can cause excessive wear on internal components, leading to costly damage. By servicing these fluids regularly and adhering to recommended change intervals, you can save money in the long run. To learn more about the specific service intervals for each type of fluid, consult your owner’s manual or visit Repair Help for comprehensive guidance.

Motor Oil

  • As oil circulates through your engine and is exposed to heat and pressure, it can become contaminated.
  • While an oil filter can prevent large particles from being recirculated, it cannot stop the oil from providing a protective lubricating barrier.
  • Make sure to replace the oil filter during every oil change.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommended mileage or time intervals for oil replacement. Refer to your owner’s manual for details.


  • Your vehicle’s cooling system keeps the engine from overheating in summer and from freezing in winter.
  • Over time, coolant can break down and become contaminated, leading to reduced flow and decreased ability to fight corrosion.
  • Regularly flushing your cooling system with a specialized flush product can enhance its performance.
  • Always consult your owner’s manual to determine the recommended coolant for your vehicle, as different manufacturers may require different types of coolant.
  • Ensure the coolant is mixed with the correct amount of water or opt for a pre-mixed product for convenience.
  • For guidance on changing your coolant, refer to our coolant flush and fill guide.

Brake Fluid

  • Brake fluid is a crucial component for stopping your vehicle.
  • DOT 3 and DOT 4 brake fluids are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture from the air. This moisture can impair the fluid’s efficiency as a hydraulic fluid and lead to internal corrosion in the braking system.
  • If the brake fluid appears dark or muddy, it indicates hygroscopic contamination.
  • It is recommended to replace the brake fluid with fresh fluid and bleed the brake system to ensure the circulation of clean fluid throughout.
  • The recommended interval for changing brake fluid is typically every 2 years. Learn how to perform this task yourself with our guide on how to bleed brakes.

Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

  • Automatic transmissions rely on friction packs and gearing, requiring fluid to regulate friction and heat.
  • This heat and wear leads to internal component wear and fluid contamination.
  • It’s crucial to adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations for fluid and filter changes.
  • If the fluid appears brown, it’s time for a change. However, if it’s muddy or smells burnt, consult a professional for diagnosis and advice on the next steps.
  • Always refer to the owner’s manual for recommended change intervals and the correct fluid type.

Power Steering Fluid

  • Over time, contamination can cause damage to the power steering pump.
  • Check that your power steering fluid is between the MAX and MIN levels in the reservoir and appears clear.
  • Consult the owner’s manual for recommended change intervals and the correct fluid type.

5/Other Checks

Windshield Wiper replacement

  • During an inspection service, a technician will check the condition of your windshield wipers.
  • Windshield wipers are regularly exposed to harsh weather conditions and can become dry and cracked over time.
  • If the wiper blades are dry and cracked, replace them as soon as possible to ensure optimal visibility in inclement weather.

Wheel Alignment check/replacement (if applicable)

  • If the vehicle is pulling to the left or right when driving, it’s possible that the wheels are out of alignment and require adjustment.
  • Mechanics will check the wheel alignment during the service and adjust it if necessary to ensure the vehicle drives straight and evenly.
  • Checking for any worn suspension components is also important as they may require replacement over time.
Timothy Ballard

I’m Timothy Ballard, owner of a used car dealership in Springfield. I love just about everything automotive, but I have a special place in my heart for trucks. I’m an ASE Certified Master Technician, so I know my way around a car. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling with my family and hiking new trails.

1 thought on “What Does A Car Tune Up Consist Of?”

  1. During a tune-up, the engine undergoes a comprehensive inspection to identify components that require cleaning, fixing, or replacement. Common areas inspected include filters, spark plugs, belts and hoses, car fluids, rotors, and distributor caps. Most of these components only necessitate a visual inspection or a straightforward test.


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