Why Your Vehicle Doesn’t Need a Tune Up

Tune up is an old term irrelevant to modern vehicles in most aspects. So, when you call a shop and say you need a tune up, you are going to get a different answer depending on the shop.

As I have discovered from talking with several mechanics from across the country, some shops have given into the fact that their clients are still in this old tune up mindset. The “tune up” they offer is actually a maintenance package. However, that doesn’t always address the concern you really have, which risks your disappointment if the problem is unresolved.

Other shops, as they should, ask you questions to find out what you are really after. Do you need regular maintenance? What maintenance are you due for? Are you experiencing symptoms? We believe this is the correct approach because you might be asking for a tune up because you may not know what else to ask.

What if you could call the shop and know from the beginning what questions you really should be asking? That’s what I hope to help you with in this post.

So what is a tune up?

Henry Ford first coined the term “tune up” when he noticed that the magneto ignition coils made a specific buzzing sound. The coils adjusted properly all tuned to the same sound. 

Typical procedures in a tune up included:

  • Inspect ignition points or breaker points either clean or replace and adjust (These are a set of electrical contacts that switch the coil on and off at the proper time)
  • Adjust the carburetor (This is a device that mixes air and fuel for internal combustion, or spark ignition, engines in an appropriate air–fuel ratio)
  • Replace or adjust and lubricate distributor components (The distributor is a device in a gasoline engine for passing electric current to each spark plug in their proper firing order)
  • Replace ignition coils (These are induction coils in an automobile’s ignition system that transforms the battery’s voltage to the thousands of volts needed to create an electric spark in the spark plugs to ignite the fuel)
  • Replace spark plugs
  • Replace spark plug wires (These are carry spark energy from the distributor (or coil) to the spark plugs)
  • Replace the fuel filter 

Additionally, it would receive some maintenance procedures modern vehicles still need, such as replacing spark plugs and filters. A tune up was part of standard maintenance needed to keep the vehicle running. That’s why when most people ask for a tune up, what they are really looking for is regular maintenance.

Why don’t I need a tune up?

For one thing, components that previously needed adjusting or replacing simply do not exist in modern vehicles. The following have been replaced with more efficient parts and computerized technology:

  • Carburetor
  • Distributor
  • Ignition or breaker points
  • Spark plug wires (in many cases)

Now, your vehicle’s engine control computer makes the adjustments needed to keep your engine running efficiently. Also, modern vehicles frequently do not have replaceable fuel filters since they are in the fuel tank module.

Donald Lewis of Don’s Automotive in Austin, Texas, explains it like this:

“A concert grand piano has more than 200 strings [and 88 notes]…. Before a concert in Carnegie Hall these strings are all ‘tuned’ to ideal pitch to facilitate a perfect performance.

“At home, besides my traditional pianos that need periodic tuning, I have a Yamaha electric piano. When I press a note, a signal is sent to the piano’s computer which has stored in its memory how to emulate the sound of that concert grand piano–and many other instruments. There is nothing to ‘tune.’ If something goes wrong with the electric piano it will require a targeted repair for a specific fault, not to be ‘tuned.’”

What has replaced the tune up?

Different people have a different idea of what a tune up is. Additionally, as I mentioned, different shops answer the request for a tune up in a different way. Some shops have a list of regular maintenance items they package as a tune up because it’s easier than trying to figure out what the client’s vehicle specifically needs. Sometimes the client is experiencing symptoms, such as a rough idle, and they don’t know what else to ask for. See the problem? At our shop, if you ask for a tune up we will ask, “Do you think you need regular maintenance or are you experiencing symptoms?” We want to be sure your vehicle is getting specifically what it needs rather than a predetermined maintenance package.

If you are experiencing symptoms, we will ask you to describe them and address the problem through diagnostic testing and evaluation to determine what needs to be repaired. If you are asking for a tune up because you know you haven’t had maintenance done in a while, we will consult your vehicle’s manufacturer maintenance schedule and make recommendations. If you haven’t had a vehicle inspection recently, we will encourage an inspection because it will help advise you of future repairs and maintenance your vehicle might need.

What will happen during my maintenance visit?

Your vehicle still needs regular maintenance, and likely that’s exactly the reason you are calling. The vehicle’s manufacturer has a set maintenance schedule for you to follow. What your vehicle needs depends on its mileage. Additionally, there are other components of your vehicle that are good to check on from time to time for preventative measures.

Maintenance schedules usually include:

  • Inspection of various components
  • Replace fluids: differential, brake, transmission, engine coolant
  • Replace spark plugs
  • Replace fuel cap gasket
  • Replace cabin and engine air filters

Different manufacturers have different items on the maintenance schedule and the mileage at which items need to be taken care of will vary by vehicle. Additionally, your driving habits can alter the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. Ask your mechanic or consult your owner’s manual to determine what your vehicle needs.

As mentioned previously, when your vehicle is in for a maintenance visit, it’s a good idea to have an inspection to catch anything the maintenance schedule may not address.

Vehicle’s have come a long way since the first automobile was made in 1885. They continue to become more efficient and reliable. While your vehicle doesn’t need a “tune up” per say, when you take care to get the oil and oil filter changed at the right time and follow the vehicle’s maintenance schedule, you are preventing problems down the road.

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

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