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How to Tune a Car

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By Alex Neely on August 27, 2021 in Life Hacks

Grab the cucumbers and the nail polish, we’re having ourselves a spa day. Wait – the spa day is for the car? Okay, scratch the cucumbers (or eat ‘em). Instead, we’ll need to grab car repair items like air filters, spark plugs, and more!

What’s car tuning?

According to the trusty Wikipedia, “Car tuning is the modification of a car to optimize it for a different set of performance requirements from those it was originally designed to meet.” So, it’s a bit more than just a spa day – unless your spa day includes the whole nine yards. We all feel like we can take on the world after a manicure, pedicure, facial, and full body massage.

Car tuning does the same! It usually focuses on engine performance and dynamic handling. Racecars, we’re looking at you.

However, Auto Service Costs defines a tune up as, “a scheduled set of specific repair items performed throughout the life of your vehicle. They are intended to prevent a variety of major failures from happening and are necessary to maintain the reliability of your car, SUV, or truck on the road.”

Let’s assume if you’re reading this you aren’t a racecar driver, just a normal everyday commuter looking to keep your car in tip-top shape.

How often should you tune your car?

If you’re wondering if it’s time to tune your car, it’s probably not. Lucky for us cars like to give some warning signs when it’s time.

The signs include:

  • Check engine light: ON
  • Lower fuel efficiency and overall performance
  • Squeaky engine
  • Breaking, turning, idling, or stalling unresponsive or running rough

Use these warnings as an indication your car’s time for a tune is here. Most manufacturers give you an outline of how often certain maintenance needs to be performed too. Scope out that list and plan them out on a calendar or yearly budget to avoid forgetting something!

How to tune a car

At Say, we love the DIY spirit. Some members of our team have the can-do attitude and car knowledge to maintain their cars almost 100 percent at home, while others much prefer their auto shop take care of business.

If you’re in the first group of car owners, check out one (or both) of these YouTube videos to help walk you through a tune up at home.

The main car parts you’ll be checking are sparkplugs; oil/air filters; fluids like oil, brake, and transmission; tires; O2 sensors; and engine wires.

If you’re in the second group of car owners, you can get a tune up at your preferred local dealership or other car stores such as AutoZone, Midas, Big O Tires, Firestone, or Jiffy Lube. The main cost associated with car tune ups is the service cost, so it’d be smart to get a couple of quotes before deciding on a location. This ensures you get the best service AND the best price – you already know we love a win-win.

How much does it cost to tune a car?

Auto Service Costs compiled a complete list of what maintenance you need to do, at what mileage, and average cost based on nationwide averages. A huge shoutout to them for the following information!

For 3,000-10,000 miles focus on oil changes; filter changes for oil filters, air filters, and cabin air filters; wheel alignment; and tire rotation/balance. Most of these repairs range between $20 and $75, except wheel alignments. They can cost up to $150 at some auto shops.

Every 10,000 to 50,000 miles check on or replace sparkplugs, fuel filters, PCV value, transmission, rotor, and distributor cap. These repairs are a bit pricier because of the number of miles, plus they’re just a tad more complicated. The range is from $50 to $400 with rotor replacement typically being the most expensive.

When you get to 50,000+ miles you need to scope out your power steering, sparkplug wires, timing belt, mass air flow sensor, and oxygen/air sensor. These are the highest price ranges for repairs with averages between $50 and $1,000.

This isn’t the end-all-be-all for car maintenance and tune up – just suggestions and average costs. Ultimately, listen to your car and your mechanic to know if it’s time for these to be repaired or just tuned up. Hopefully, if you tune them up regularly, you can avoid extra replacement costs!


To conclude this informative (and super-duper fun) blog, car tune ups can be done at home or at your favorite auto shop. The main purpose is to maintain all your car’s vital organs and, hopefully, extend its life! Reference your manufacturer’s manual for average timelines for your specific car or listen for the car to tell you it’s ready for a little TLC.

If you have any other pressing car questions you want answered, message us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter and our team will get right on it.

Alex Neely is a Data Analyst at Say Insurance. He graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics with an emphasis in Actuarial Science. His experience is in Statistical and Financial Analysis. Alex enjoys applying his analytical background to the Say team to help guarantee the best experience for our customers.