Tips on servicing and maintaining your car

If you look after your car properly, you’ll be far less likely to be hit by hefty repair bills in the future. Find out why your car’s service manual is your best friend, how to locate a good garage and get a fair price.

Caring for your car saves money

Getting your car serviced each year – and maintaining it between services – is money well spent. Problems are likely to be caught early on when they’re cheaper to fix, and your car will have a better resale value and longer life.

A well-maintained car is also more efficient, so you’ll save money on fuel as well. If you need to claim on a warranty you’ll normally have to show that you’ve got a complete service record.

Get to know your car’s service manual

Your car’s service manual is the key to keeping your vehicle in good repair. Written by the people who designed and built your car, it should show:

  • how often you’ll need to get your car serviced
  • how often regular maintenance tasks need to be carried out – for example, oil changes
  • when the car’s replaceable parts might need to be changed

It’s also a good idea to use the service manual to plan ahead for the cost of your car’s maintenance and repair bills.

To avoid spending money on your car unnecessarily, always follow the schedule in the service manual. For example, many dealerships and quick oil change chains will typically recommend an oil change twice as often as your car needs.

Watch out for dashboard messages

Most cars now have dashboard warning messages about a wide range of topics, including issues with the braking system, engine, oil and coolant levels, and tyre pressure. Your car owner’s manual will explain what each lit-up warning message means and what you need to do.

A few of the messages are particularly urgent – they mean you need to pull off the road and stop the engine immediately.

So if you see a lit-up warning message, always check it out straight away. It could save you hefty repair costs at a later point or even prevent you being a danger to other motorists and pedestrians.

The cost of skipping servicing

When money’s short it can be tempting to skip servicing your car. But if you do this you run the risk of much bigger bills down the line.

The average cost of a basic car service is around £125 – far less than the cost of having to replace parts later because of damage through poor maintenance.

For example:

  • engine exchange – £2,575
  • cylinder head gasket – £520
  • radiator – £430
  • water pump – £240

(Source: Motor Codes website, June 2014)

Keep an eye on the cambelt

Check your service manual to find out when your car is next due to have its cambelt (the camshaft drive belt or timing belt) replaced. This varies from car to car, but is often needed at around 70,000 to 80,000 miles.

Cambelt replacement can seem expensive (as much as £250 or more) but if it fails while you’re driving, you could face serious engine damage that could cost much more to fix than changing it when recommended.

Look after your tyres

Caring for your car’s tyres will not only save you money, but also keep it safe to drive. If your tyres are in poor condition they could blow out on a busy road or lose traction in poor weather and cause a crash. Stick to the recommended tyre pressures in your manual and check them regularly.

Tyres that are over or under pressure wear unevenly and will need to be replaced sooner. Check the tracking regularly too as wheels that are out of alignment wear unevenly. Depending on your car, tyres can cost anything from £70 each so it makes sense to get maximum mileage out of them.

Choosing where to get your car serviced

With higher overheads and staff commission, dealerships are nearly always a more expensive choice for servicing and repairs than independent garages.

The average rate for franchised dealers is £92.11 per hour, while independent garages typically charge £63.56. Find out your local labour rates here. (Source: Warranty Direct 2014 Survey of Labour Rates.)

On the other hand, a dealership with a franchise for your make of car may have a better understanding of the faults that it tends to develop.

Finding a good independent garage

Top tip

If a garage you’ve not used before gives you a long list of work that they say needs doing, always get a second opinion from another garage. This will help show whether or not you can trust the first garage’s advice and costings.

To help you find an independent garage that you can trust, ask friends and work colleagues for their recommendations and experiences.

Look for a garage that provides:

  • open and transparent pricing
  • clear information about any problems
  • good quality work that’s carried out as agreed and on time

How to complain about a garage

If you’re unhappy about the quality of a garage’s work, its charges or the way you’ve been treated, find out your rights at the Citizens Advice website.

Tips for getting a fair price

Before contacting the garage, check in the service manual about the type of service your car needs (for example, 12,000-mile or 1-year) and the checks and tasks this should include.

Then follow our tips for getting the work done at a fair price:

  • Ask the garage for a detailed breakdown and costing of all the work required so you can see how they arrived at the total cost. Make sure they include all parts, costing and VAT.
  • Check that the garage will carry out the service following the manufacturer’s procedures, and use original parts or those of ‘equivalent quality’.
  • Get quotes from several other local garages and use the cheapest quote as a negotiating tool – one of the other garages may be prepared to beat it.
  • If you prefer to stick to your usual garage, a cheaper quote from elsewhere may persuade them to give you a price reduction.
  • When looking at different prices, remember to compare like for like. Make sure that you compare the same list of work items and either use quotations or estimates, not a mixture of the two, and that all prices include VAT.

The difference between a quotation and an estimate is that:

  • a quotation is a promise to do the work at the price agreed, so you’ll normally have to pay this quoted price
  • an estimate is what the garage thinks the work is going to cost before they start it – the final cost can be more or less than this, depending on what they find when they carry out the work

You can save as much as £70 on an oil change by using a chain such as Kwik-Fit and Halfords instead of a main dealer. They charge around £30, whereas the dealer would charge £100 or more. Just make sure that they use the grade of oil shown in your car’s service manual.

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