In this guide to learning what an engine tune up is, we determine what exactly goes on during an engine tune up and why one is ever needed. Following on from that, we investigate how often an engine tune up is needed and what should be on everyone’s engine tune up checklist. Lastly, we touch on whether an engine tune up can be carried out by a DIY mechanic or whether it should be carried out by a professional.

check engine

What Is An Engine Tune Up?

An engine tune up is a necessary exercise for all car engines to undergo regularly. It is a way of making a car’s engine work at the level and standard intended by the car manufacturer when the car was first made. All manufacturers will stipulate a schedule of when a car will require an engine tune up to ensure a car runs at its most efficient.

As cars develop and engineering becomes better and better, the amount of engine tune ups that cars need are starting to diminish. In fact, only a handful are really often required in modern day cars over the average 10 year life span, or just over 200,000 km. This is obviously down to improved design and how cars themselves are produced. Given that cars are largely made by robots and automated computed systems these days, the room for human error that often caused the need for more regular engine tune ups has largely been removed. Plus, we are lucky in our day and age with the marked improvement in engine oil and other such car accessories that can help improve the performance of our cars while they are running. Electronic computer units are another reason for this as they run operating system upgrades regularly as a matter of course.

That is not to say however that the need for engine tunes ups has been completely eradicated. Tune ups are definitely still needed, but will largely have to do with inspecting and ensuring that the carburetor is running ok with the correct balance of air and fuel. Tune ups also look at replacing, if necessary, parts of the ignition system. These include vital car parts like spark plugs and a distributor rotor. Air filters will also most likely be replaced during a routine service and tune up while emissions will also be checked owing to an increased awareness in the environment in recent years. Some mechanics may like to adjust the valve train too.

Why You Need To Do An Engine Tune Up?

As briefly mentioned above, engine tune ups are imperative to ensure that all the power and efficiency that your car is capable of is being reached. Mechanics, or well educated DIY amateurs, will start an engine tune up by visually inspecting all components within an engine and then fitting new parts as needed. This is when the parts like spark plugs or fuel filters could be replaced as required in addition to the contact breaker points or the distributor cap.

One of the best ways to answer the question ‘why do you need to do an engine tune up’ however is in the results of when a tune up has been completed. Drivers will immediately notice that their car is running in a much smoother fashion and is far more efficient in terms of the amount of fuel the vehicle goes through. Fuel economy often almost pays for an engine tune up in itself as well as the fact that a tune up restores some power that is lost over time and usage.

Manufacturers recommend having an engine tune up, not to make car owners part with more money throughout the lifespan of a car, but actually to help car owners ensure the longevity of that lifespan and get far more back in terms of return on investment of the vehicle. Plus sticking to the servicing schedule can make selling a car that much easier when you have decided the time is right to part ways.

How Often Should I Have My Car Tuned Up?

As briefly alluded to earlier in this guide, a car needs tuning up perhaps every 250,000 km, 160,000 miles or every 10 years – or simply when your car’s manual stipulates upon the recommendation of your car’s manufacturer and maker. This is the best place to confirm when to have a tune up as engines, and when they need servicing, really vary a great deal when it comes to the vehicle and the model as well as how many miles that car has driven as well as its age.

Bearing that in mind, it sometimes pays to have your car serviced earlier than recommended in your service manual as your car, and the demands you have put on it, may require a tune up. Therefore, there are some other symptoms or points that can prompt a tune up that little bit earlier. They are:

  • A decrease in fuel economy and how far a car runs per gallon of fuel
  • If the power seems to be limited in some ways
  • Consistently stalling when coming to a stop
  • If the car ‘runs on’ after the ignition has been switched off
  • If the engine makes a knocking sound while it is accelerating
  • If your check engine light comes on when the engine is started.

Engine Tune Up Checklist

Understanding what an engine tune up is, helps car drivers realise the costs involved behind having their car regularly serviced as well as learning why cars need a tune up in the first place. Here is an engine tune up checklist so that drivers can run through with their mechanic what they have completed in a tune up, or it can even be used by well educated amateur DIY mechanics who are trying to get their car to run that little bit more smoothly.

  • Look at the spark plugs and see what state they are in. Things to look out for are whether they are worn and what the color of the insulator firing noses are. If the engine is in a good enough condition it means that the spark plugs will look a healthy light tan and the insulator firing noses will simply be gray. If your spark plugs look different, or your insulator firing noses are any other color, there could be a problem with your engine.
  • Now it is time to see how the spark plugs actually perform. To do so, look at what color the plugs create and whether the spark is lighting the fuel as it should.
  • Next, look at the spark plug wires. Owners or mechanics will need to check that these wires are not hard or cracked in any way as this can affect the spark plug performance.
  • Moving on from the spark plugs, check that the fuel filter does not need changing. If it is dirty in any way, or clogged up, it is time to replace it.
  • From the filter, check that the fuel pump is functioning efficiently.
  • The fuel injectors then need to be inspected to ensure that the fuel is not being restricted from reaching the engine by any dirt or debris.
  • From here, the fuel injector needs to be checked to ensure that any build up that is occurring is not stopping the spark plugs igniting. If possible, use a fuel injector cleaner to help with this.
  • Check, and adjust if needed, the engine timing and idle.
  • Inspect the PCV valve and see if it is leaking or bunged up at all.
  • Check all the vehicle’s points as well as the condenser.
  • Check all oil and coolant levels
  • Check the engines air filter as well as the cabin air filter

This may all sound like a lot, but they’re little jobs that add up to making your car’s engine run so much better that it really is a worthwhile service for your car. It is seeing this checklist, however, that may persuade at home amateur mechanics to have their car professionally serviced.

spark plug

An Engine Tune Up – The Bottom Line

Having an engine tune up is just one of those things that all cars require from time to time so is necessary for car drivers to be aware of and take on the chin – even if it costs them some cash. In the long run, a tune up will actually save drivers money in terms of fuel efficiency – at the very least. Tune ups are also good opportunities for drivers and mechanics to find fault with vehicles before they turn into big problems that could cost the car owner far more. So it really does pay to know the tell tale signs that your car needs a tune up as well as adhering to your car manufacturer’s recommended servicing schedule.

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  1. How to Perform a Basic Tune up for Your Car – wikiHow
  2. How Automotive Fine-Tuning Works – howstuffworks