What to expect from a 'Tune-up'



I am the owner of a 1988 V6, 5 speed Toyota Camry. My car has 121,000 miles on it. When I purchased my car, nine years ago, it had about 70,000. I’ve had standard work done on it over the years. New timing belt/chain? at about 111,000 miles, new water pump, brakes, clutch etc. It has been a fabulous car!! I hadn’t ever taken it in for a ‘complete’ tune-up. The car was running perfect but I thought I should have the tune-up done to make sure everything was up-to-date. I soon found out that tuning a 6 cylinder was MUCH more expensive than a 4 cylinder. I also had them go ahead and do some repairs on my rear brakes. My total bill came to $997. When I picked up my car I heard a kind of moaning coming from what sounded like the front of the car. Since it has just been worked on, I thought it might just be related to possible recent tightenings or new belts or something like that. When I reached my destination (a couple of miles) the noise had stopped so I thought everything was fine. When I started the car again later the same day, the noise was back. It reminded me of a power steering noise I had heard a couple of months prior. Back then I had noticed that my power steering fluid was almost empty (around Christmas), added some fluid and the noise went away. At that time I wasn’t concerned because I had not checked the fluid in a couple of years. Anyway, to make a long story short (I know, it’s much too late for that) I thought everything was fine. The next morning (after the tune-up) I got in my car and the noise was back. I called the shop (closed on the weekend) and left a message saying that I was concerned that there might be a problem with my power steering. I drove to my destination, got out of my car, lifted the hood and (you guessed it) there was NO POWER STEERING FLUID in the reservoir. I added fluid and the noise has gone away. I’m afraid that I might have a leak that I beleive should have been detected by the mechanic doing my tune-up. Shouldn’t I have expected them to check all of my fluids during the tune-up? Am I wrong to be upset that they gave it back to me with NO fluid? And, why didn’t they hear the very distinct noise of the power steering? Finding the power steering leak might have been easier to detect when they had my car taken apart to do my tune-up. Now, the repair (if I do have a leak) may end up costing me more since they might have to take the same parts apart to get to the leak. Am I right to be concerned and irritated?


You have a 20 yr old car. You jinxed yourself in having any repairs done. Murphy’s law prevails.


You’ve done remarkably well considering the age of your car. There is no such thing as a tuneup anymore. The owners manual has certain things to be done at certain mileage or age, and that’s it. If you read the manual carefully, you will note items like “inspect wiring and connections”, and so on. These thing are inserted to make sure that when the mechanic replaces the spark plugs, he also checks the electrical circuits so that the car works as expected.

In other words, a good mechanic will check all those things that need checking when you bring the car in and will identify any problems. My mechanic does exactly that; the High Mileage checkups the dealers ( $525 for a 30,000 mile checkup for a 1994 Nissan Sentra!!) do are very expensive and include many things you can do yourself or your mechanic will do for free when he is doing required work.

To go back to basics; a production car with the standard engine will incur its OWN NEW VALUE in maintenance and repair over its lifetime; it is designed that way, like most mechanical equipment. A 1998 4 Cyl Camry which might have cost $16,000 new will have about $16,000 in repairs and maintenance over its natural life. That natural life includes being cared for and worn out items replaced. A Toyota is capable of 30 years of reliable service or 400,000 miles of reliable driving if all its needs are attended to. It is almost a lifetime car; something Volvo used to advertise before their reiability went to pot.

There is no “free lunch”. Those who try not to do necessary TIMELY maintenance and repairs will pay dearly later for much more expense replacements.

This is the most difficult thing to get across to people when they have to choose between a night out on the town and doing some needed repair on their cars.


But don’t you think that once I have taken it in for those ‘timely’ repairs that I could expect to have had my fluids checked and FULL?


Not really. When you take it into the shop for a “tuneup” they don’t generally go through the entire vehicle looking for anything they can find wrong, they just do the tuneup. As a matter of fact, if a shop does that the customer often posts here complaining that the shop is telling all this stuff is needed that they didn’t ask for!

On an unmaintained high-mileage '88 Camry any shop could find more work that needs doing than the car is worth.


But don’t you think that once I have taken it in for those ‘timely’ repairs that I could expect to have had my fluids checked and FULL?

All those things should be done based on the list in the owner’s manual. Different things are listed for different times/miles.

Let’s look at fluids.

Fuel: Don’t expect any mechanic to check that one for you.
Windshield washer fluid: Some places will check that when changing oil some not. ASK, but you really should be doing that yourself anyway.
Oil: That they better check when you get an oil change, but that would be the only time they would likely change it. You need to check it on a regular bases. That became your job when full service gas stations went out. back in the late 50’s.
Coolant: That may be checked as part of an oil change, but there is no rule about it. Again learn to do it yourself.
Automatic Transmission fluid: Some of the better shops will include that when changing oil, but don’t count on it. This is another DIY chore.
Brake fluid: You should learn to check this one also. It should be checked as part of any brake service, but it needs to be done more often. BTW it should be changed every few years.
Tyre Pressure: This one is for you to do. Many tyre stores don’t even check it when they put on new tyres.

The instructions for all this and a lot more are in your owner’s manual. If you really don’t want to do all this then find a local mechanic and stop by about once a month and pay them to do it for you.



Take a look at the manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule that should be sitting in your glove compartment. We’ll wait while you look for it.

Okay–Now, see if it lists anything called a “tuneup”.

Yup, that is correct, there is no mention of something called a “tuneup”.

Because there is no longer any standard definition for this now archaic term, anyone who tells a mechanic, “give me a tuneup”, is actually giving that mechanic free rein to do whatever he wishes to do, now matter how extensive or how limited it may be. Anyone who uses that non-specific term is, in essence, saying, “here is my wallet–please take whatever you want from my wallet, and do whatever YOU choose to do to my car since I have no clue”.

For your own protection, NEVER say the word “tuneup” as it marks you as a neophyte who can be taken advantage of. Instead, follow the…are you ready…Manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule that is sitting in your glove compartment and give the mechanic a specific list of service procedures that you have copied from that book. That way, you know ahead of time what will be done and what will not be done.

If there was a specific list of service procedures on the invoice, (including something like “check all fluids”), then you might have been able to argue your point after the fact. As it is, the mechanic DID NOT agree to check the fluids because you chose to use a term without real meaning. (A check of Contract Law will verify this point for you!)

As to the power steering fluid, you acknowledge that you were aware that there was a leak (certainly the fluid did not evaporate, now did it?), so you had a vested interest in monitoring that fluid once you realized that there was a problem with it.

So, in essence, the OP’s problem is twofold:

*Not following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and instead choosing to use an outmoded, non-specific bit of terminology that has had no real meaning for…at least 20 years…if not more.

*Failing to monitor a known problem.

I’m sorry, but I cannot find a whole lot of empathy for the OP.


When I take my car in for a specified item to be fixed or adjusted, my mechanic will inspect ALL ITEMs related to that function. For instance, when working on the brakes, he will check the master cylinder, brake lines, drain the fluid if I ask him, inspect rotors and turn or replace them as required, etc.

He will, however,not touch the A/C, power steering, and other non-related systems, unless he spots something dangerous or postentially expensive, like a ruptured CV joint. That’s a good mechanic.

Toyota, Nissan, and others have 2 maintenance sections in the owners manual; 1) things to have a garage do, and 2) YES, things the owner should do. These include all the things other posters have pointed out, checking fluids, checking for obvious leaks, tire pressure, etc.

When I was a kid, the garage where my father went did all those things. No more; the owner is now responsible for what is known in industry as “perdictive condition monitoring”, a fancy term for checking things regularly and determining if nasty things are developing.


Well…I kind of have mixed feelings about this. One time I took my car in to have the tires rotated and balanced (for free) and found that they had removed the air filter housing to check the air filter and neglected to refasten all of the clamps. Were they being throrugh? I suppose. Were they doing it for my benefit? No. They were doing it to find a way to sell me something.

The last time I had my timing belt changed, the mechanic warned me that I needed a brake job. Again, he was looking for things to sell me, but I ended up doing the brake job myself. He was right and if he hadn’t checked my brake pads, I might not have changed them in time to prevent damage. I was a little annoyed that he said I needed new spark plug wires when I didn’t. He said they looked like the originals becuase they had numbers on them. They had numbers on them because I bought them at a dealership.

So it is a mixed blessing that your mechanic isn’t poking around in areas where he is not authorized looking for ways to charge you more money. I think the best thing to do is talk to your mechainc about the level of service you expect. He might assume that you take good care of your car and check your own fluids, while my mechanic thinks that I don’t know how to change my spark plug wires. See how easy it is for them both to be wrong? If you want your mechanic to check the fluids each time he puts his hands on your car, you should ask him to.