Is there something such as a "tune-up" or is that just a rip off?

I have two cars, both which run fairly well and are approaching 100,000 miles. One is a '98 Chevy Cavalier and the other is a 2000 Chevy Cavalier.

I want to keep these cars running for as long as possible. In fact, I’ve been thinking about taking them to the local shop and ask them to do a tune-up. However, I’ve always thought asking for a tune-up is like asking them, “Hey! Please find things to fix and charge me a lot!”

  1. Is a tune-up a real thing?

  2. If so, what should I make sure is included in a tune-up?

  3. About how much should it cost(if nothing major is broken)?


I’ve got a vehicle that’s within spitting distance of 200K miles. What I’ve done is follow the manufacturer’s instructions concerning preventive maintenance. I get the oil changed regularly, and when I hit the milestone mileages, I get the recommended service done. If you’ve got the owner’s manual, there should be a chart that tells you what to get done when - take that to the garage and tell them what you want done.

It’s worked for me, both going to dealers and using a local small-shop mechanic.

What I don’t know about cars could fill volumes, but I’m pretty sure that a tuneup is a Good Thing.

They’ll make sure that the spark plugs are properly gapped, the timing belt is aligned correctly, stuff like that. You should see better milage afterwards.

You should see better mileage afterward if and only IF something was wrong. If you’ve been doing your routine maint on a regular basis, and the car was running well before, it won’t help anything.

Look in the owner’s manual for these vehicles, and see what service is recommended at this interval. Have that done. If the vehicle is running well, ask the mechanic to do an inspection on it. He (or she) will check things like brakes, hoses, belts, fluids, etc and tell you if anything needs attention.

People tend to think that a tune-up is some miraculous service that will cure a car of ills, but usually it just involves replacing spark plugs and sometimes wires, and nothing much else. It’s better to find a mechanic you can trust and have them look at your car briefly. If you can leave it with them for a while, all the better, because then they can do it when they are not in a hurry.

Because of electronic ingition, fuel injection, and unleaded gasoline, spark plugs last a lot longer than they did 40 years ago. There’s usually no reason to replace them ahead of schedule.

Little things do wear out, though. If the Positive Crankcase Ventilation valve doesn’t rattle when you shake it, it’s bad. Fuel filters eventually fill up with crud. Belts wear out. Keep the old belt in the back of your trunk, in case you lose a belt in the middle of nowhere.

The Old Husband’s Tale about cracked plug wires goes like this. Run your engine with the hood up in the dark. Bad wires will show sparky spots. Is it true? I don’t have a clue. :confused:

Yes, there is such a thing a tune-up, and you should get one done periodically. The service that most newer cars don’t need that garages still advertise and charge for is a “lube job”, although the oil change that it is usually paired with is in fact vital.

I think tuneups are mostly bunk. Modern cars have no spark plug wires to be replaced-they have coil packs which connect to the spark plugs. The plugs are supposed to last 100,000 miles. The ignition is all solid state, no adjustment possibe. The era of the “tune up” ended around 1980 or so-all you need now is a oilchange.

Define “tune-up.”

“Tune-up” has never been a rigorously defined or consistently used term, but it was more helpful in decades past. The narrow definition was an ignition tune-up. This was applicable to technology used through the 60’s on virtually all cars, and into the 70’s and even 80’s, but on an increasingly smaller proportion of vehicles on the road. A basic ignition tune-up including replacing the points and condenser, adjusting the dwell/point gap and ignition timing, and replacing the spark plugs. Most cars of the era needed this yearly (~10,000 miles), and often needed dwell and/or timing adjustments once or twice during the year.

Most shops would also include inspecting the spark plug wires, distributor cap, and distributor rotor, and often replacing the air filter and fuel filter, which had the same service life as points and spark plugs. Usually basic carburetor adjustments were part of the package as well. But where the line was drawn and exactly what was included as part of a tune-up was up to each shop to define as it saw fit.

Then there was also the lesser-used term “major tune-up,” which might include a carburetor overhaul and/or valve adjustment. To complicate the matter, one would hear of a transmission tune-up or fuel system tune-up. And none of these terms had universally accepted definitions - the meaning depended on who was speaking. And now some refer to modern scheduled maintenance as, for example, a “30,000 mile tune-up” - which includes a lot of stuff never even considered as part of a tune-up 30 or 40 years ago.

Back to the basic tune-up, technology eroded its usefulness. Points and condensers gave way to electronic ignition. Carburetors were replaced by fuel injection. Distributorless ignition did away with caps and rotors. Coil-on-plug designs eliminated spark plug wires. Computer control systems took over the adjustments. All that’s left for many cars is replacing the spark plugs, and replacing the air and fuel filters (which are never included in advertised “tune-up” prices). On modern vehicles, “tune-up” is an obsolete term.

So don’t ask for a tune-up. For your purposes, ask for an evaluation of maintenance done/maintenance due. What you need, and thus what it costs, can vary widely depending on the particular make and model, the model year, and the service history of the vehicle.

Timing belts defy useful inspection, and are not normally checked. The best bet is to replace them at the recommended interval.

Arcing from spark plug wires can often be seen in the dark.

The “lube” part of an oil, filter, and lube service includes not only greasing grease fittings (which some vehicles still have), but also checking and topping up basic fluid levels.

You can include O2 sensors in a modern tune up, and a small host of other things. Modern day cars doesn’t mean tune-up free. They’re more efficient and reliable, but not something to neglect.

I was just coming in to point this out. I’m facing either or both of spark plug replacement and O2 sensor replacement on my car right now to get that pesky check engine light off before inspection is due.

I’m really hoping it’s the spark plugs, because those run about $10 to replace all of them. If it’s the O2 sensor I’m looking at $70 just for parts. Ugh.

Basically, what others said: don’t ask for a tune up, ask for the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance for your current mileage.

And don’t let the mechanic prod at your car’s belts and say, “Oh, these need to be replaced.” I’ve found this is a favorite trick, because it’s damn near impossible to tell for sure when a belt actually needs replacing. Just keep a spare on-hand (they’re dirt-cheap) and replace when the manual says to, not before.

Depending on the car you drive it could also be as simple as the gas cap.

My mechanic and I are on the same page - when I say tune up, he knows check belts, hoses, filters, and fluid levels, and to replace/top off as needed. Generally, I’ll have him rotate the tires at the same time, so I’ll also get a quick brake inspection, and he’ll check the air pressure in the tires and the spare (which I always neglect when I check pressure). As I know next to nothing about car repairs, I prefer to err on the side of preventive maintenance.

This thread points out what I say when asked about tune ups.
If you ask 10 mechanics what is included in a tune up, you will get 12 different answers. :slight_smile:
Gary T hit was used to be considered a tune up.
There is also the Tune up Masters “tune up” (TUM was a chain store selling one low price tune up, started by Andy Granatelli of STP fame) If you came in with your car running bad from one bad spark plug, they replaced one bad spark plug.
O2 sensors part of a tune up? Never heard that one. ::: Shrug::: I would not replace unless my testing showed it was bad. Modern pre-heated O2 sensors are generally considered a wear item. And trust me some of them can cost waaaaaay more than $70, and there might be as many as 4 of them on the engine.

Actually we can tell, and on a modern engine if a belt breaks things can go from zero to stupid in nothing flat. On some engines if the aux drive belt breaks, in some cases the bits of broken drive belt get into the timing belt area, and cause the timing belt to either jump or break. On many engines this can destroy the valve train and sometimes the complete engine. On other engines the water pump will no longer be driven causing the engine to overheat and destroy itself. (never underestimate the ability of a driver to ignore his dashboard)
Or the shop might be talking about the timing belt which in many cases if it breaks will cause damage to the head as mentioned.

Getting back to the OP, read your owner’s manual. It should have a section on what items need to be replaced when. Look at that section and your repair bills. Make sure that you are at least even with the schedule. The guys that built your car know the most about it.

I had a tune up on 4/12.

My average mileage went from 25.44 to 26.87.

I’ve saved myself about $40 in gas since then.

I don’t know what they did. They call it “points and plugs”. They changed the oil, though.

The OBD-II doohickey spit out an error code which my mechanic buddy tells me is due to the O2 sensor -or- the plugs. I know the plugs need to be replaced, because they’ve put in over 100k miles of service at this point… so I’m trying them first. I’m really really hoping it’s not the sensor, because if it is I can’t fix it until not this coming paycheck but the next one, which is past the due date for my new tabs, which need the inspection to be passed first, which requires yet MORE money I don’t have… sigh

Anyway. It’s one or the other, hopefully not both, and I should know tomorrow for sure after I get in there and replace the plugs.

Speaking of: what the hell happened to the store gapping the damn plugs for you? Oh, sure, they’ll sell me a gap tool (dirt cheap), but still. They can look it up and write it on the box, but won’t gap it? I remember that used to be part of the service, or at least was at every auto store I went to in my teenage years… :frowning:

I’m guessing you’re a mechanic, based on the way you wrote that, so I’ll take your word for it. But I have to point out that, in my experience, “I need to replace your belts” really means “I want more money and you’re too dumb to know I’m ripping you off.”

Until I got to the point where I’m not afraid to work on my own car, I took it to mechanics. And because I’m a cheapskate, I’d usually take it to a couple of them when I wasn’t sure what was wrong – kinda like getting a second opinion from a doctor.

On several occasions, I’d have Mechanic A tell me my belts needed to be replaced because they were too worn to be safe, while Mechanic B would say “Huh? Nah, you’re good for another 30,000 miles on those.” Or worse yet: on one occasion I had a mechanic tell me I needed to replace my belts… when I had just HAD them replaced at the 70,000 mile mark not a month before. By the same guy, as it happens; I stopped going to him, after that.

My point is, “belt replacement” seems to be a VERY gray area, and I’ll believe you if you say mechanics can tell it needs to be replaced (I’m not a mechanic, after all), but that doesn’t mean every mechanic is honest about it, because they’ve found that it’s an easy way to squeeze more money out of those dumb schmucks who don’t know enough to tell on their own when they’re being lied to.

Whether a technician can tell is a different question from is he honest.
A trained technician can tell. I would hope a trained technician is honest, but there is no guarantee.
I note that in your post you have taken your car to multiple shops. I submit to you that in the long run you would be better served to find one good honest shop and take all of your business there. When you find a good honest shop, it will save you time and money (no more taking your car to multiple shops for diagnosis, no more paying multiple diagnostic fees, no more getting ripped off) It will also allow you to build a relationship with the shop, which can help you in the long run.
I know Gary T had a thread a while back on this subject. Maybe he can dredge up a link for it, as I don’t see it. Or maybe we can start a new thread if there is interest.

As far as your error code goes, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any error codes that resolve to new plugs, or O2 sensor. But then again, I don’t have the entire list memorized. I would strongly suggest you change the plugs first as they are way cheaper. As far as plug gapping goes, I have never seen a parts house gap plugs as a matter of course, and I used to manage one. :shrug::: sounds like a local thing to me.

What? No attention paid to the muffler bearings or piston return springs? Philistines!

I suppose its how you look at it. You’re the mechanic, so you may know better. But I look at it like this… The O2 sensor aids in fuel trim. When perfectly functional, your car is tuned correctly for fuel. If it’s out of range because of the sensor itself, you’re going to have a tuning problem and not get the correct fuel trim you need for maximum efficiency. I tend to look at it as a modern tune up item, but only replace based on readings like you said. Because an O2 sensor can still be out of range and not trip a CEL. Therefore, waiting for a CEL to replace it might not be the best thing. But if I brought my car somewhere and asked for a tune up, no, I suppose I wouldn’t expect an O2 change based on the request of a tune up. Although it should be tested for the proper Mv range, and not based on whether it has tripped up a DTC or not. I mean, isn’t this more of a modern tune-up item, than say an air filter change? Like Gary T stated, “tune-up” is an obsolete term these days, likely due to new introductions in technology. I’m surprised you don’t get more then 12 answers to the question…

OK, I screwed up that last post, I left the word NOT out of the sentence. It should have read:
Modern pre-heated O2 sensors are generally not considered a wear item. :smack:
Anyway back to your comment. Yes you are correct about the O2 sensor regulating the fuel trim. Yes you can get an O2 sensor that is out of whack. However what you are overlooking is that on a modern car (say 1996 or later) there are two O2 sensors, one before the catalytic converter, and one behind it. The front sensor has the job of fuel trim. The rear sensor monitors if the converter is working effectively and if the front sensor is doing his job correctly. Also over the last 6 or7 years car makers have been going to what is called a wide range or lean air fuel sensor. There is no way that we have ever found other than the in shop diagnostic computer to measure this signal. Rather than vary in voltage it varies the current carried on the wire. Strange stuff. So assuming that there is no code for front sensor being out of whack, I am going to leave it alone. Especially since some of those wide range sensors can cost $250-300 each, and on some engines there are two wide range and two standard rear sensors. You are looking, with labor, at about a grand to replace all four sensors.
Pretty spendy tune up if you ask me.

Okay, I’ve had two shops recently tell me that my car needs a tune-up. That it would cost around $150-$200. I have a Honda Accord Coupe 2002. It has 86,000 mileage.

Why so much $?