Last updateWed, 20 Sep 2017 9am

On The Road

Getting to the bottom of the tune up


Q: I think my car needs a tuneup, but everywhere I call I get a different price. Why are there so many different prices, and how do I decide where to go?

A: Although the term “tuneup” is still widely used, there is no universally accepted definition as to what “tuneup” means.

Many years ago, it generally meant installing new spark plugs, ignition points and condensers, and this was done about every 6,000 miles. With today’s vehicles, there are no longer any ignition points and condensers, and spark plugs last 30,000 to 90,000 miles. So, when you ask different auto repair businesses about the cost of a tuneup, they are all talking about something different.

For today’s vehicles to last a long time and run reliably, vehicle services need to be performed at periodic intervals. The different levels of servicing involve inspections, fluid changing and parts changing.

Generally, inspections include brake condition, tire rotation and balance, fluids’ condition and level, exterior lights operation, steering and suspension component condition and a check for any fluid leakage.

Fluid changing pertains to engine oil and filter, transmission oil and filter, differential lubricant, engine coolant and brake-system, power-steering and washer fluids.

Parts changing during servicing can include engine and air-conditioning filters, spark plugs, burned-out lightbulbs, engine timing belts, accessory drive belts and batteries.

Servicing intervals are most commonly every 5,000 to 75,000 miles, with major services performed at 30,000, 60,000, 90,000 and 120,000 miles. It is good to know that every vehicle manufacturer has its own list of items that are required to be taken care of at each service interval to maintain the warranty. But it is important to understand that manufacturers do not have a vested interest in the longevity of your vehicle past the warranty period. They would prefer to sell you a new car every three to five years, so their list of services may not include all that should be done to keep your vehicle on the road for the long term.

One example of this is that manufacturers in general are not changing transmission fluid. But if you want your vehicle’s transmission to last, changing the fluid when needed is paramount.

It is also worth noting that manufacturers do not make the service parts for their vehicles. They are contracted to outside vendors. Oftentimes money can be saved and higher quality can be achieved by going directly to the outside vendor.

It is important to take your vehicle to a facility that has your best interests in mind when it comes to servicing or repairing your vehicle. Your decision shouldn’t be based on the price, but rather the value you are receiving per dollar spent.


Warren McCord is an ASE certified master technician and owner of Dean’s Automotive Inc., 2037 Old Middlefield Way, Mountain View. For more information, call 961-0302 or e-mail McCord at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Submit a Letter to the Editor

The Town Crier welcomes letters to the editor on current events pertinent to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Write to us at 138 Main St., Los Altos 94022, Attn: Editor, or email editor Bruce Barton at bruceb@latc.com. Because editorial space is limited, please confine letters to no more than 200 words. Include a phone number for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

You can also have your say right here at losaltosonline.com – scroll to the bottom of any story to add a comment. 

Schools »

Read More

Sports »

Read More

People »

Read More

Special Sections »

Special Sections
Read More

Photos of Los Altos

Browse and buy photos