Every car needs maintenance. It can come in the form of new brake pads, new tires, a wheel alignment, or a list of other things. Tune ups are definitely great at keeping your car running in top shape. With that said, If you plan on standing at the parts store asking the rookie behind the counter what do I need for a tune up? let me do you a solid and give you the list you need to succeed!
Why should you tune up your car?
A good tune up keeps your car running well and operating at peak performance. With more people than ever keeping cars for the long term, it’s a no-brainer to get a tune up when you need it.
The benefits of keeping your car tuned up…
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The fact is, a tune up is a good idea, take care of your car and your car will take care of you.
“This is a broad list of common things that get replaced during a tune up on a typical car, always refer to your specific vehicle’s maintenance schedule for exact information.”
What Do I Need For A Tune Up?
1. Air filter and cleaning the throttle blade
Your engine needs to breathe just like you to run, without air the combustion process can’t happen. The air filter traps all of the dirt, pollen, and other contaminants your engine is sucking in before they make their way into your engine.
Believe it or not, there is a lot of crap in the air on the road. I have taken out air filters that were black with dirt and dust. There are two main problems that come with neglecting your car’s air filter…
Reduced airflow: Restricted airflow can cause an overly rich air-fuel mixture, where there is too much fuel and not enough air. This can lead to decreased engine performance, reduced power output, sluggish acceleration, and decreased fuel efficiency. It’s like you or me trying to run a marathon with a Covid mask on, not a good idea.
Premature engine wear: When the air filter is neglected, dust, dirt, debris, and even small contaminants can bypass the filter and enter the engine. These particles can cause increased wear and tear on internal engine components such as cylinders, piston rings, and valves.
What about the throttle blade?
The throttle blade should also be cleaned periodically, simply remove the air intake pipe where it meets the throttle. You will them see the throttle blade within the throttle housing, use throttle body cleaner and a nice clean rag to wipe as much off of the blade and bore. Push the throttle open gently and get in there!
2. Spark plugs
Spark plugs play a key role in combustion, unless you are running diesel, you need spark plugs. Over time spark plugs begin to wear out due to the high voltage arcing between the electrodes.
Here is a close-up picture of a spark plug. The round portion sends high-voltage from the ignition coil. The “L” shaped piece is where the voltage jumps to the ground, causing the spark in between. That spark ignites the compressed air/fuel mixture in the cylinder.
Most manufacturers these days recommend new spark plugs every 100,000 miles, I personally change them around 70-80k.
Worn spark plugs can cause poor power and misfires, if neglected too long, plugs can get seized into the cylinder heads, causing all kinds of fun for the unlucky owner. One thing I highly recommend when replacing spark plugs is to always use a torque wrench to torque them to specification.
3. Fuel filter
Just like an air filter, the fuel filter traps and keeps particles out of the fuel system components. Many of today’s engines are direct injected which means the fuel system operates under extremely high pressure before reaching the very sensitive fuel injectors.
Any small piece can cause major issues that can cost a hefty penny to fix. Another major player here is the fact that when you need power, your engine needs fuel to deliver. If you have an old clogged fuel filter it will restrict and can even clog causing your engine to go “lean” and starve for fuel.
4. Cabin air filter
If you have a newer vehicle chances are it has a cabin air filter. These filters take care of you, the driver, and the passengers. Just like the engine air filter a cabin filter can get GROSS.
Here is a nasty cabin air filter that I removed from a customer’s car. Imagine this blowing into your car… Gross.
I’ve seen everything from dead mice to cigarette butts lodged in these things. Changing your cabin air filter keeps all of this junk out of your vehicle’s HVAC system so it can operate properly. This is a very important tune up item, especially if you have kids in the car.
If you are interested in learning more about cabin filters check out my cabin filter article >HERE<.
I recommend using an HVAC disinfectant while the filter is out as well. Simply spray the product inside of the blower housing box with the filter removed, the into the air intake duct with the blower on high when you are done. The product I use is BG frigi fresh it’s affordable, and simply the best there is.
5. PCV valve
A PCV valve (positive crankcase ventilation valve) is found on many vehicles. This valve controls crankcase pressure and can get sludged up over time due to moisture and crankcase vapor. In many newer makes and models, these can’t easily be replaced. If you have an older vehicle however these are usually easy to access and fairly inexpensive.
This is one of those items your car may or may not need so it’s best to do some research on your particular vehicle.
6. Ignition cap, rotor, and wires
These are pretty much nonexistent with today’s cars, older vehicles will definitely need these replaced during a tune up though.
The cap sits on top of the distributor, as the distributor turns the rotor connected to the distributor shaft passes over each spark plug wire contact, sending the current through each wire to the specific cylinder in time. Think of it like a revolving switch that is spinning around and sending voltage out of each post individually, the spark plug wires connect to the post and the other end connects to the spark plug.
This is all done very quickly and in perfect time.
Wear and tear takes its toll on these components, causing misfires and poor running. As the components start to pit and degrade, there is more resistance within the ignition system. This causes misfires and inefficiency. Replacing these components brings the strong consistent “spark” your car needs to burn fuel effectively.
Newer engines have ignition coil packs that connect directly to the spark plugs, these usually only get replaced when they fail. (see below)
7. BG fuel system cleaner
I highly recommend a good fuel system cleaner at every tune up. These help clean fuel injectors and keep the fuel system operating at peak performance.
BG 44K is the fuel system cleaner I use and recommend, it’s a high-quality professional product. One of these poured directly into your fuel tank every 5,000 miles will work wonders.
Every tune up should include an oil change, as well as a full inspection of the vehicle. The oil change is this far for good reasons.
Reason #1: It’s a good idea get everything replaced while the engine is cool.
Reason #2: After replacing the tune up components you can run the engine to not only check your work but also to get that oil nice and hot before you drain it out.
This shouldn’t be just an oil change, it should be a minor service. Inspect all of the brakes, belts, hoses etc., and replace as needed.
Also, check tire wear and rotate the tires if needed.
Hopefully, this list helped killed the “what do I need for a tune up” question. Get good quality parts and always follow your car’s particular recommendations. This is a very general list that is really intended to show you what you need to buy.
Depending on your mechanical ability this can be an easy way to save some money and do the job yourself. However, if you have doubts don’t take a tune up on yourself, you can cause more harm than good if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Thanks for reading, let me know your tune up knowledge below!