9 Signs Your Car Needs a Tune-Up

With so many events at work, at your kids’ school and with family this time of year, it’s more important than ever to make sure your vehicle can reliably get you from point A to point B. To do so, your car should get regular tune-ups.

But how do you know when your car needs a tune-up? As it turns out, your vehicle will give you plenty of warnings that it needs attention. Don’t ignore these signs — the longer you wait to get your vehicle serviced, the worse the problems can get. This will cost you more money in the long run, and it can make driving your vehicle less safe.

Now is the perfect time to check in with your vehicle and keep an eye (or an ear!) out for the following signs your car needs a tune-up.

Signs Your Car Needs a Tune-Up

Taking a vehicle into a shop for regular tune-ups is part of being a responsible driver. Without tune-ups, you may miss early warning signs that parts of your car are worn out or damaged. The longer these issues persist, the worse the damage gets. This can make driving more dangerous, and it will cost you more in repairs and fuel over time.

Here are nine signs your car needs a tune-up:

  1. Dashboard lights are on. Many modern cars can quickly tell you when something is wrong with sensors that illuminate specific lights on the dashboard. If you notice your check engine light or other warning lights on the dashboard, like an oil can symbol or other symbols in yellow, orange or red colors, it’s time to take the car to a shop for an inspection and repairs.
  2. You notice poor gas mileage. When your car parts start wearing out, it can make the entire vehicle run less efficiently. This puts more strain on the system and reduces your fuel economy. If you notice that you’re not getting quite as far on a tank of gas, it’s probably time for your car to get a tune-up. 
  3. Your car feels bouncy while driving. If your car feels like it is bouncy or seems to sway or vibrate while you drive, it may mean the tires need an alignment, the tire pressure is too high or low, the tires are unevenly worn, the struts are worn out, or there’s another issue with the suspension system. Because there are many different possible causes of a car that feels bouncy, it’s best to get a tune-up to find and fix the problem.
  4. Braking takes more force. Brakes are a crucial safety feature in your car, so if they aren’t working properly, your vehicle needs a tune-up, stat! Over time, brakes will naturally wear down. A tune-up can ensure the brake pads and rotors are in good condition and refresh the brake fluid. If braking requires you to press harder on the brake pedal or if you notice any screeching sounds in the brakes, your car needs a tune-up.
  5. The car is making strange sounds. Any time your car starts making an unusual sound, it’s time to take it in for a diagnostic check and a tune-up. Cars can make strange noises for many different reasons. Parts may have broken or come loose, or you could be low on a certain fluid. If you hear pounding, rattling, screeching, clunking, grinding or anything other than the usual noises your engine makes, get your car to an auto shop as soon as you can.
  6. The steering wheel pulls. Your vehicle may pull to the left or right while you’re driving, even if your hands are barely touching the steering wheel. When this happens, it usually means the tires need an alignment. However, this can also happen when there are problems with the suspension or if there’s uneven wear on your brakes. Any of these problems can make driving less safe, so if your car starts pulling to one side, schedule a tune-up appointment as soon as possible.
  7. The car shakes while idling. Sitting in a running parked car or stopping at a long red light, shouldn’t be uncomfortable. If sitting in your idling car feels shaky or rumbly, it’s time to take the car in for a tune-up. There are many potential causes for rough idling: clogged fuel injectors, a defective fuel pump, faulty spark plugs, dirty air filters, vacuum leaks, and damaged oxygen sensors, just to name a few. Determining the exact cause will require a tune-up.
  8. The engine struggles to start. You turn the key in the ignition, but your engine sputters or takes a few tries before it finally turns over and starts the car. This may mean that your battery is weak, or it may mean the starter, the alternator or the spark plugs aren’t working properly. A tune-up can diagnose exactly what’s causing the vehicle not to start and fix it before it becomes an even larger and more expensive problem.
  9. The vehicle stalls. Stalling is when your engine stops suddenly while your vehicle is in motion. This is not only a sign that your car needs a tune-up, but it’s also dangerous and an urgent problem. If your vehicle stalls while trying to merge onto a highway or drive through a busy intersection, it puts you, your passengers and the people in other cars on the road all at risk of an accident. Faulty spark plugs, low fuel, a bad alternator, poor airflow or a clogged fuel filter are just some of the potential causes for a stalling vehicle. 

How Often Does a Car Need a Tune-Up?

Although you’ll typically notice signs that your car needs a tune-up, you may need a tune-up before your car starts pulling one way or rumbling while idle. But, without warning signs, how do you know when to take your vehicle in for a tune-up?

First, you can check your vehicle’s user manual, which should give you guidance on how often to get a tune-up for your specific make and model.

If you don’t have your manual handy, there are some general guidelines to follow. Tune-ups are typically recommended by mileage. Newer models can go about 25,000 miles between tune-ups, with some models lasting up to 100,000 miles. Older models, such as those without fuel injection systems or electronic ignitions, need a tune-up about every 10,000 to 12,000 miles or once a year.

If you’re unsure, plan to get a tune-up annually. You can also ask your local auto shop for their advice on how often your specific vehicle should come in for a tune-up.

Don’t Put Off Your Vehicle Tune-Ups

During this busy time of the year, there always seems to be something more pressing than taking the car to a shop for a tune-up. But the truth is, nothing is more important than your family’s safety. The best way to ensure your car is operating smoothly and safely is to keep up with regular tune-ups. If you’ve been putting off a tune-up appointment, or you can’t even remember the last time your car had a service, make an appointment with your local shop today for quick and efficient diagnostics and tune-ups.

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