Does Your Car Need a Tune Up?



Up until quite recently, one of the most common services your mechanic would perform was a 'tune-up’. A tune-up meant that a mechanic would spend some time with your car, checking how it was running and making any adjustments to get it running smoother, such as changing the spark plugs, resetting gaps and adjusting the fuel flow.


So why don’t modern mechanics talk about tune-ups anymore? Is it all just included under the general term of servicing or should you be making sure to get a tune up with every service??


Well actually, it's kind of neither of these. A tune-up is still a very different job to a service but, as you’d expect, a good mechanic would never miss an opportunity to use a fancy word to describe something as menial as changing the spark plugs.

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The actual reason we don’t talk about tune-ups in modern cars is because mechanics don’t actually do tune-ups for most cars nowadays because they don't actually need them. As we’ve talked about many times (here and here and here), everything began to change in the automotive industry with the introduction of computers.

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Modern cars that run full engine control computers and have all sorts of fancy systems such as variable valve timing, coil on plug ignition and more, don’t require the same looking after as their older, mechanically driven counterparts.


The big difference between the cars of yesteryear and today is mostly covered by spark and fuel. Before computers began to invade the automobile, these systems all relied on tediously designed mechanical components that would meter or adjust how much fuel or spark and the timing based on how much throttle input was seen at the lead foot adjustment department (aka. you, the driver).

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By removing these systems and replacing them with a computer that was able to just output more or less fuel and time the spark precisely, the need to tune the cars to run properly was slowly negated.


So do you still need a tune up?


If you own a reasonably modern car (roughly much from 1990 onwards), not really. The most ‘tune-up’ available to you on most of these cars is changing the spark plugs as a part of the logbook service. Otherwise, it's really not necessary.


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