8 Signs Your Car May Need a Tune Up

Posted by: Lydia on 19/10/2017

Category: Maintenance


Outside of regular servicing, you don’t usually get a warning when your car needs a tune-up. It usually starts out of nowhere, with a bit of smoke or an odd sound you’ve never heard before. It’s always better to get potential problems checked out, but they can be hard to spot sometimes.

With the car repair industry in Australia employing over 68,000 people, there’s always someone at the ready to give your car a servicing. Here are 8 signs it may be time for a trip to your local mechanic, and how to tell the difference between a car’s quirks and a real problem.

1. Loss of speed

Cars are designed for fast performance. True, unless you’re on the Autobahn or at a weekend track meet, you won’t get the chance to drive at high speeds very often. Yet, from the time you turn the key in the ignition to the time you finish your drive, it should be a seamless experience. If your car is suddenly taking more time to accelerate, it’s a key sign your car needs a tune-up.

2. Rough transitions

You may be lucky enough to have a very fast Ford or Ferrari in your driveway, but it won’t matter much if it can’t get up to speed quickly. Alongside a slowdown in acceleration, if you notice your car struggling with transitions, that’s a big warning sign. The exact cause of this can vary, but if changing gears has gone from a pleasure to a pain, it's time for a service.

3. Lights and sounds

It’s obviously easy to recognise that it’s tune-up time if the check engine light comes on.

But beyond this simple indicator, if you find your dashboard or vehicle lights are suddenly dimmer, this is a clear indicator it's time for a check up. Sure, taillights can go out and may just require a new bulb, but if the problem seems to be vehicle-wide, there’s a deeper cause.

Alongside vehicle lights, listening for unusual sounds is also essential. All drivers will recognise an obvious beeping from the dashboard, but always listen a little deeper than this. If you hear an unusual ticking or sudden chugging from your car, there’s likely something wrong beneath the bonnet.

4. Start and stop performance

Most drivers have experienced a stop-and-start car at some point in their life. Even if the car ‘just plays up sometimes,’ by default there’s something wrong with any car not performing consistently. If your car is cutting out at traffic lights, it's clear a servicing is required.

5. Burning through fuel too fast

Did you previously brag about your car’s great fuel economy and now find that it’s poor? Does it seem like the fuel gauge sinks to empty much faster lately? A sudden uptick in fuel consumption can be a clear sign that there is something wrong with your car. Be sure to consider if other factors are the cause; but otherwise, get down to your mechanic.

6. Bad vibrations

Nobody who likes The Beach Boys will complain about good vibrations, but we do need to talk about the other type. Once upon a time, driving was always rough and tumble: no power steering, unpaved roads, and limited technology guaranteed a bumpy ride no matter what. But today, driving should be a user-friendly experience.

That’s why any unusual vibrations need be taken seriously. It’s important to be mindful of your surroundings and car’s setup if you notice this issue. If you're on a weekend drive down the coast, or you’ve changed a setting to ‘off-road’ or ‘sport’ recently, then that may be the cause of rough riding. If it’s not one of these things, though, it may be time to tune up.

7. Braking too slow

This is an obvious issue, and one that can quickly become very dangerous. It's true there are a number of factors behind brake performance. Beyond your brake pads alone, things like tyre wear can also play a role in how quickly your car comes to a stop. Whatever the case, if your brakes are not as responsive as they should be, it's essential to get your vehicle checked ASAP.

8. Your instincts

Racing legend Ayrton Senna famously returned to pit after a lap in his F1 car, telling his team something was wrong with the engine. He then told them to take the whole thing apart to find the problem. His crew was irritated at the idea of working through the night on a car that seemed completely fit to race. They then found a very small hairline crack that in time would’ve blown the engine.

A regular commuter may not be racing around Albert Park or Monaco this weekend, but nonetheless, this story illustrates the fact that sometimes a driver just knows something is off with their car. If you get a nagging feeling that just won’t go away, it’s always good to visit the mechanic just in case.

Be vigilant but don’t panic

Like any machine, each car has its own unique quirks. It is always important to put safety first, but you also don’t need to rush off to the mechanic every single time you hear an odd sound. A good rule of thumb is to wait a week, or five drives, before you take it in.

If after that period of time the sound or issue is still ongoing, then get it checked out. Otherwise, it’s useful to keep in mind that cars will occasionally develop minor issues that ultimately work themselves out. Allowing a couple of days to pass from when you first notice the issue allows you time to confirm if it's an ongoing issue.

The best defence against car trouble

Regular maintenance and servicing are always the best defence against car trouble overall. A problem can arise out of the blue now and then. More often than not, though, you’ll get an early warning of a growing issue. Attend to your car early and often, and your visits to the mechanic will be few and far between.

What other signs show your car may need a tune up? Let us know in the comments below.

Image: Pixabay