How much for a "tune up?"

“How much for a ‘tune up’?”

I receive about 3-5 calls a week (or more), where the callers asks; “how much for a tune-up?” I can understand why, as there are certain terms and phrases that are so ingrained into our vocabulary that their actual meaning is all but lost. Phrases such as: “I could kill you”, “I’ll be there in a minute”, and of course, the topic of today; “I think my car needs a tune-up.”

Most people do not have in-depth knowledge about their cars, how it has evolved, or even sometimes how the presets on their radio work. But who can blame them. The car starts, they drive it, it gets them home safely, what’s to know about it?


“But he said it would fix it!”

When something does go wrong, they do what everyone does; they ask their brother-in-law, since he “used to be a mechanic”. Of course, since the last car he worked on was a 1957 Chevy, he tells you that you “probably need a tune-up.” Back then, he might have been right.

The term “tune-up” is very much part of our past. Back in the early days of automobiles, certain parts of the engine needed to be replaced regularly, along with many adjustments to other parts as well.

Now, I could list all the things we used to replace and adjust, along with the firing order for a Pontiac V8, but I don’t want to bore you or cause your eyes to glaze over, but let’s just say the list of things to “tune-up” on cars older than 1975 is extensive. Btw, the firing order is 1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2, but now I’m just showing off.

Without all these adjustments and parts replacements, the cars would begin to run poorly, use more fuel, and even become extremely hard to start, if they started at all.

A “tune-up” used to be a big deal, and on many cars, it might need to be done every year. However; with the evolution and the introduction of solid state electronics, many of the services once required, began to fall away.


Fast Forward

Virtually every part and/or adjustment that was once a critical component of a “tune-up” has been replaced by a solid state electronic part controlled by a computer.  About the only thing left-over from the “tune-up” is the good-ole spark plug.

Today, most car manufactures call for a spark plug made with a platinum or iridium electrode - which can last for 100,000 miles or more. Compare that to the spark plug of the 60’s which commonly needed replacement before 30,000 miles. I think there was a guy in Boise once, who went 30,000 miles on a set of spark plugs. It was such a shock that “60 Minutes” did a story on him. At least, that’s the way I heard it.

Having said all that, let me make sure I don’t leave you with the false impression that the only thing your car needs is the spark plugs replaced every 100,000 miles. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Your car still needs regular service and maintenance, and more importantly, regular periodic inspections performed by a seasoned automotive professional. If your car is not running right, or the “check engine” light is on, some sort of diagnosis is required to identify the faulty part(s). A diagnosis is a much less-expensive proposition than throwing parts at it hoping to make it run right. I mean, how much money do you have to waste on guesses?

So; the next time your car starts making a strange noise, the “Check Engine” light comes on, or is having a hard time starting, ignore your know-it-all brother-in-law when he tells you that “You probably just need a tune-up.” Instead, just smile, pat his head, and keep him away from any sharp objects.


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Rich Machado is an ASE Certified Master Technician, an AMi Accredited Automotive Manager, and a seasoned veteran of the automotive industry. Rich is the founder of Machado’s Auto Care in Livermore, CA and currently owns Machado’s Auto Care in Garland, Texas.  Please contact Rich Machado directly at for questions or comments.

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