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What's Involved in a Vehicle Tune-Up?

Preventive maintenance is always a good idea to make sure your vehicle continues to run as you would expect it to. Experts state that once a year is usually a good rule of thumb in order to keep your car in tip-top shape.


Tune-up or not to tune-up 

Because of sophisticated electronic ignition, sparkplugs with lifetimes that exceed 160,000 kilometres, and on-board diagnostics, the traditional tune-up for engine timing and plugs is a thing of the past. The same goes for lubrication of joints, bearings and other suspension bits. All these moving parts are sealed and lubed for life. 

Now when a routine service is called for, it’s to inspect wear items primarily. This includes the brakes and wiper blades, and to check and replace air filters. Even coolant flushes or transmission oil change intervals are no longer an annual need. Engine coolant may be replaced every two or three years, while transmission oil can go even longer. 


Check your interval 


Beyond oil changes, most routine service intervals are six months or 8,000 kilometres. These intervals are based on a 3-year/60,000-kilometre warranty, which is more or less the industry standard. Powertrain warranties commonly extend to 100,000 kilometres. Some carmakers offer more extended warranties—Hyundai and Kia offer a 5-year/100,000-kilometre standard warranty. Volkswagen's standard warranty is 4 years/80,000-kilometre bumper to bumper and under the hood. 

Another element of contemporary warranties is that some of the first routine maintenance visits are free while others are not. 

Still, nothing lasts forever. A tune-up usually involves the replacement of various wear-and-tear parts that do just that. They eventually wear out and fail to do their jobs. Sometimes though, failure to replace a worn-out part can affect the performance on other parts of your vehicle. A perfect example would be the air filter, which should typically be changed once a year. A blocked or dirty filter can restrict the engine's airflow, causing the fuel mixture to run richer. This wastes fuel, which can cause problems with other parts under the hood. 

Typical Tune-Up Service includes: 

Spark Plugs 

Spark plugs ignite the fuel mixture in the engine, providing the power to make your car go. Sitting atop your engine’s cylinder head, it receives a spark from the electronic ignition in modern vehicles or the distributor cap and rotor found in older cars. Eventually, at around 50,000 kilometres to as high as 65,000 kilometres, conventional spark plugs will wear out, which could cause stalling, starting problems and engine misfires. Higher-cost platinum-tipped spark plugs may not need to be replaced as often. At the same time, it might be appropriate to replace your oxygen sensor, spark plug wires, PCV valve, and fuel filter. 


Oil Changes 

One of the main components of a tune-up, the oil change, is the equivalent of a blood transfusion for your engine. Owing to its long life and the ability to combat high heat and thermal breakdown, synthetic motor oils are capable of going approximately 16,000 kilometres or 12 months between oil changes. An exception would be if you regularly operate your vehicle in dusty, dry regions, in which case we recommend an oil change every 8,000 kilometres or six months. Follow the service schedule in your individual vehicle’s owner’s manual. 


Filter Replacements 

Filters help to protect your engine and vehicle from ingesting dust and other particles, either fluid or airborne, from the inside of your engine. Air filters are your first line of defence in keeping dust and debris out of your engine. Oil filters help to trap metal particles or other contaminants from entering and circulating through your engine, which could cause premature wear. Fuel filters prevent contaminated fuel lines and tanks, which can cause hesitation when accelerating, rough idling and even fuel pump failure in extreme situations. The positive crankcase ventilation valve, or its more common name, the PCV valve, can become clogged by carbon buildup. This can cause the engine to consume more oil and fuel than usual. It’s an easily replaceable device whose installation can be completed in a matter of minutes. 


Belts and Hoses 

Belts are vital to the operation of your engine. They are used to operate your air-conditioning system, water pump, alternator, and some older vehicles, the power steering unit. Typically lasting between 80,000 and 160,000 kilometres, they need replacement when they squeal or chirp. Other indications include cracks and wear or power steering failure. Timing belts, which drive oil and water pumps in modern vehicles, will typically last around 160,000 kilometres. Hoses help to circulate coolant through the engine and radiator. Swelling, leaking or bulging hoses are a sign they should be replaced immediately. 


Wiper Replacements 

Windshield wipers exposed to heat or the cold usually squeal if left to do their job for too long. Change your windshield wiper blades the same time you are in for an oil change. It’s a little bit of money to spend for a whole lot of peace of mind. 



Each has a particular lifespan, whether its engine coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, motor oil or power steering fluid. Check your owner’s manual for more information or consult with your dealership’s service advisor. 


Checks and Balances 

Consider that while your car is in for service, it’s also an excellent time for the technician to test your battery. A brake test is also appropriate. A technician can inspect and replace your brake pads and rotors if they have worn into the “danger zone.” A little bit of preventive maintenance goes a very long way. 


Tire Tech 

Have your tires gone prematurely bald? That could be a sign that they are out of alignment, out of balance, in need of rotation or all of the above. While not precisely part of a regular tune-up, there’s never a better time to address these issues than while in for regular service. 


Most auto dealership service departments sell tires alongside their other parts, often at prices that are competitive with local tire retailers and big-box stores. Many can get specific specialty tires, even if you did not buy your vehicle from a particular dealership. 


Tire Balancing and Rotation 

Tire balancing ensures a smooth, vibration-free ride after they have been mounted on your wheels, with the added bonus of extending their life. After they have been in one position on your vehicle for a specific interval, it is a good idea, following instructions from your owner’s manual, to move them to a different position. By doing so, your tires should wear evenly regardless of their position on your vehicle. 


All-Wheel Alignment 

Is your vehicle pulling to the left or the right when you apply the brakes to slow down or when you accelerate away from a stoplight? That’s usually an indication it’s time for an all-wheel alignment. After the tires are balanced and rotated, a technician checks and makes adjustments to guarantee they are all going the same way. The end result is a smooth ride and long life for your tires. 


Having a proper tune-up performed on your car, SUV, truck or minivan is one way of making sure that it is ready to take you where you want to go. Consider it a little bit of preventive maintenance to make sure your vehicle never leaves you in a tough spot. 


What’s the Cost of a Tune-Up? 

Most dealership service departments advertise their ability to “service all makes and models.” However, there are many places to get service at competitive prices, ranging from $75 to $200 CDN for a minimal tune-up that replaces spark plugs and spark plug wires. More specialized tune-ups run anywhere from $250 to $1,000 CDN, depending on how exotic your vehicle may be. Still, a “we service all…” shop may not be the right thing for all cars. For example, we would not recommend having your Ferrari serviced at your local Kia dealership. That’s because they likely will not have the specialized tools and parts necessary for the job. Also, electric hybrid and pure-electric vehicles may need to be serviced at select shops or dealerships.  


By following the suggestions above and consulting with your owner’s manual and the service advisors at your local automotive dealership or auto care center, you will ensure that your vehicle continues to offer reliable and safe transportation for many kilometres and years to come. 


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