Car Tune-up Cost

How Much Does a Car Tune Up Cost?

Last Updated on September 14, 2023 | Written by CPA Alec Pow
First Published on August 22, 2016 | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popivker

A car tune-up is maintenance done to a vehicle periodically, to ensure it works within optimal parameters. It is usually done at least once every year. Depending on the type of car, the mileage and age and the vehicle’s make and model, the tune-up might vary, but you will usually have to replace the air filter, check and if necessary change parts like spark plugs, and wires, fuel filter, and other engine parts and also run full computer diagnostics. But how much does a tune up cost?

How much will a tune-up cost?

On a normal tune-up, you’ll spend a minimum of $50-$100, but depending on the problems you’ll encounter, you could end up spending $800 or even more. For the minimum price, you’ll usually only get a general check-up and sometimes the replacement of the spark plugs and wires.

If your tune-up will cost more, for $300 to $900 you’ll get a lot more, like the replacement of the fuel filter, distributor cap, power steering fluid, spark plugs and wires, air filter and PVC valve, and rotor, along with full computer diagnosis or inspection, testing of the emission and ignition systems, adjustment of the dwell and any other tweaks that need to be taken care of.

The final costs will depend on the hourly labor rate (You’ll spend around $40-$90 per hour for labor in repair shops and $75 to $200 at dealerships) and on the parts that need to be changed or fixed.

Normal Tune-Ups Could Include An Oil Change. Here’s How Much It Will Cost You Just To Change Your Car’s Oil.

What are some signs your car needs a tune-up?

You should be able to identify some of the signs that the car you are driving needs to get an immediate tune-up, although you should try to get this done at least once every year. It will be time to schedule a tune-up as soon as possible when you notice that your car’s average gas mileage has dropped visibly.

Among other very common signs of a tune-up being necessary are a general lack of performance while driving, knocking noises that come from the engine, frequent stalling, or the Check Engine light being lit.

Details on car tune-ups

To make sure that your car, which is an asset, is protected and works flawlessly, there are several aspects of the tune-up that are necessary every time. Most service-providing professionals will usually appoint a team of technicians that are prepared to recognize the cause or causes of your car’s performance issues.

Most of the time, your car’s computer will have all the information they would need. To ensure that your car will be performing at its full capabilities, your mechanic might also check the recommended service schedule.

Before getting their hands dirty, it’s important for mechanics to check both your car manufacturer’s recommendations and the vehicle’s computer, to get a general idea of what they should do and in what order during the standard tune up process.

It’s also important to check moth, if not all of the tasks we go over below with every tune-up, although you should remember that vehicles are different one from another, so they might require just some of these checks, and the cost of the tune-up can vary significantly.

  • Changing the Oil and Oil Filter

Among the most important preventive maintenance tasks for a car is the oil change because the oil is required to coat all kinds of components like the pistons, but it also lubricates the engine. The oil filter is known to accumulate contaminant debris and dirt over time, something that has been checked to make sure that it doesn’t cause any restrictions in oil flow. These restrictions can lead to the wear of some components in time.

If you need to train the remaining oil from the engine, you will have to release the oil filter and the plug that can be found under your car. The oil replacement cost is somewhere between $30 and $60 depending on how much oil will your car needs. Make sure you ask a professional what type of oil you will need. If your mechanic considers it appropriate, go for the synthetic and high mileage oil even if it might be a little more expensive, as it will ensure your car will work properly for a longer amount of time.

  • Performing an Alignment

The car’s suspension system is connected to the tires. It can be knocked pretty easily out of alignment when it gets into contact with rocks, potholes, or other things it might encounter on the road. This will cause the car to swerve and sway over time, leading to additional problems with the steering wheel.

When this happens, it should be a sign that the tires have to be realigned. This process will ultimately save you a lot of money in replacement costs.

You won’t be able to do a wheel alignment yourself as it is a job that requires the knowledge and expertise of a professional technician. This service typically costs $75 to $175. As with all kinds of repairs, it is a good idea to look around until you find a good deal, but make sure that the provider you’re opting for has great reviews and uses electronic measuring systems. This is so that the tires are readjusted in a proper way, following the specs of the manufacturer.

While inspecting the suspension of your vehicle, the technician could also notice other issues that would need to be fixed, although this isn’t a must. However, when you do get recommendations about parts that need to be fixed or repaired, it never hurts to get a second opinion before spending more money.

  • Replacing Air Filters

Engines run with a combination of air and gas because this is what ignites internal combustion and activates the spark plugs. Considering that the outside air is filled with particles like bird feathers or pollen, if it isn’t properly filtered, it can damage your car’s engine or decrease fuel efficiency.

This is why the air filters have to work a lot more nowadays. So by replacing the air filter regularly you will ensure that the engine always has clean air to work with.

Although you will find donut-shaped air filters in older vehicle models, newer ones will have a rectangular type. There are also different types of car air filters so before buying one, make sure you find out the exact model you need.

The filters are made from a material that is porous and feels like paper that is folded up in multiple pleats. They are very simple but efficient, and their sole role is to filter out the debris and dirt that otherwise would damage the engine of your car.

Furthermore, modern cars will have not one, but two air filters. The first one can be found in the cabin, while the second one is located inside the engine compartment.

These filters are usually easy to replace and will only cost around $10. 

  • Fuel Filter Replacement

There is some debris that would float above the liquid gas you have in your gas tank, as happens with most liquids. This can cause the gas tank to rust, which in time will affect the combustion, fuel economy, and overall engine performance. This is why it is very important to have clean fuel filters.

These can usually be found in the line between your gas tank and your engine and can be either attached to the fuel pump or in a separate enclosure.

The usual cost of a fuel filter is between $20 and $30, but having it replaced at a mechanic or auto shop could cost you close to $120.

  • Spark Plugs Replacement

Spark plugs are used by your car to spark the mixture of air and fuel. These are located on the top of cylinders and are attached to a wire that gives them the electricity they need to ignite. Once you get over a certain mileage, these spark plugs will start to deteriorate. Their lifespan also depends on their material. As they start to deteriorate, the car won’t run as smoothly as it used to.

The usual car engines will come with four spark plugs, while larger ones like SUVs and trucks can have eight spark plugs. The total cost of the service will obviously be affected by the number of spark plugs, but most repair shops will charge you somewhere between $120 and $250 for the job.

However, as long as you have the necessary tools and knowledge to get to and replace the spark plugs, you can do this part of the basic tune up yourself. Tools are necessary, as reaching these car parts might prove to be pretty hard with your bare hands. For the DIY project, you can buy the needed spark plugs from any auto parts store for around $60.

  • Transmission Fluid Flush

Unlike motor oil, transmission fluid is red or green in color and is less viscous, which is why it is easier to notice. It has the job of ensuring proper transmission function. It also keeps the gears lubricated and enables heat distribution for automatic transmission.

This service is often unnecessary but mechanics will still over-recommend it. This is why you should check the condition of the component and your car service manual before going forward with the flush, even if the professional recommends it. If you are sure that you need to get it done, then you should let a professional do the transmission fluid flush to ensure the best results. Be prepared to pay anywhere between $175 and $350 for this job.

  • PCV Valve Replacement

PCV is the acronym for positive crankcase ventilation valve. This is a component that will ensure pressure release from gases accumulated in the crankcase. This gas has to be vented periodically to avoid problems like blow-by. This component is considered low maintenance and will only need to be replaced once per year.

The PCV valve replacement cost will only be $10 if you replace it yourself, you will only need to pay for the part in this case. If you go to a professional, the same procedure might cost you $50.

  • Brake Pad and Rotor Replacement

Brake disks, or brake rotors as most people call them, will be the first things that your brakes will have to touch when you push on the brake pedal to stop the car. Although they have a similar job, brake pads are separate parts, and will be located right above the rotor. This combination of parts should always be ready to work when you push on the pedal.

The exterior part of the rotor will be considered worn out when it gets very thin. As long as you replace the brake pads regularly, you will extend the lifespan of the rotors.

The replacement of brake pads will usually cost around $150 per axle, while the rotors will be an additional $100 per axle. If you need to have both types of parts replaced, be prepared to spend around $500.

  • Timing Belt Replacement

You will find the timing belt just under the hood. This is a part that is easy to see. It will look like a rubber band. The job of this belt is to keep your crankshafts and cam connected, to ensure a smooth run for your engine. When you replace the timing belt you can also consider replacing pulleys and tensioners. It would be best if you can replace the timing belt as soon as you notice it starts to make squeaking noises.

The timing belt service will cost at least $150, with labor being the bigger part of the expense. For some car models, the mechanic will have to remove a few components until they can reach the timing belt, which will drive the cost up to about $900 or more.

On average, people have reported spending on timing belt replacement for a car around $500, while for SUVs or trucks, they have spent over $750.

Although this is one of the most expensive parts of the tune-up, it is also one of the most important, so don’t try to skip it as a way of spending less.

If you have an older car, with a mileage of 90,000 – 120,000, you will spend more for a tune-up, at least $500 to $1,200, if not more.

Where Can You Tune Up Your Car?

  • You can try to do it yourself and save some money
  • A local mechanic or dealership can do it for you
  • Jiffy Lube
  • Pep Boys
  • Sears Auto Centers
  • Firestone Complete Auto Care
  • Midas
  • Walmart Auto Services
  • Meineke
  • Valvoline
  • Goodyear Auto Cente

Here are a few tips for your next tune-up:

First off remember to check the owner’s manual for your car, because you’ll find there a list of everything that needs to be checked and changed on your car by make and model. If you’re going to the mechanic, he’ll usually have a manual for most car makes and models. All vehicles have mandatory and recommended maintenance scheduled depending on the mileage, and not every tune-up will have the same mandatory and recommended checks.

Once you get to your mechanic, be prepared to leave your car there for at least two to three hours, because that’s the shortest time for full tune up services.

Keep in mind that not all car parts will have to be replaced during the yearly car tune-up, as some can last 30,000 miles or even more. A great example of this is the platinum spark plugs that can easily last between 30,000 and 100,000 miles, depending on the manufacturer. Information about this can be found in your car’s manual as it might differ from one car’s make and model to another.

You shouldn’t wait for the “check engine” or “service engine” lights to tell you when it is time for a basic tune-up. Aside from doing this periodically, also get this done as soon as you notice that the engine won’t stop when you stop the ignition, “knocking” sounds coming from the engine, a considerable loss of power, or weird sounds accompanied by the engine stalling at a stop.

Any professional technician should also be able to tell you if a tune-up is what you need to fix your problem or if it’s related to the computerized part of the car. You can also get a computer diagnostic test to get a better idea of what the exact problem is.

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Car tune-up and computer diagnosisCheaper is not always better when it comes to your car. Don’t take it to the cheapest mechanic for the tune-up, because they might not know how to properly run a diagnostics test, especially if you have a highly computerized car system.

If you’re thinking of doing the tune-up yourself, then you need to know that the materials you’ll use will cost you around $50-$150. We won’t encourage you to do the tune-up yourself just to bring down the costs, especially if you don’t have any training or skills as a mechanic.

Before taking your car to a mechanic or dealership, be sure to check all local offers for coupons or discounts.

Always ask what will be included in the tune-up services, because you might find that a more expensive mechanic might do extra checks and add extra services for the money.

How can you spend less?

You should always shop around and compare multiple shops before deciding on where you want to take your car for its next tune-up. When you call a mechanic and ask about the price quote, make sure you also ask about the exact services you will pay for. Don’t be shy and ask about any ongoing deals or available discounts, since most shops, and especially the bigger ones, always have coupons or other incentive programs, especially for newcomers.

You can try to save some money by doing some of the basic parts of a tune-up at home. It will help to know that most of the newer cars will have some kind of onboard diagnostic system that you can check for different misfire codes which will point toward spark plugs being fouled or worn out. You won’t be able to check up on these codes without a scan tool, but as long as you have this tool, it will be a lot cheaper to do basic maintenance related to air filters and spark plugs at home, without professional help.

Should the average working Joe get periodic tune-ups?

Although it might seem expensive to go through tune-ups at least once every year, it will all be worth it. Some parts need to be changed to ensure the car works in optimal parameters, while other parts will be changed to make sure your car is safe on the road. Changing cheaper parts with your tune-up will keep other more expensive parts from breaking down. In the end, spending some money on a tune-up will be cheaper than fixing a broken engine.

Alec Pow
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