Keeping your car well maintained and in tip-top condition will help ensure it has a long life and runs efficiently, with as few expensive repair jobs as possible.

There are several important ways to do this: stay on top of the regular and easy car maintenance you can do yourself, get your annual MOT - as required by law - and have your car serviced regularly. 

What is a car service? 

When you take your car to a garage to have it serviced, it goes through a series of health checks to ensure it can run, check for wear and tear, and help identify any potential problems.

However, many people don’t really know what goes on once they drop their car off at the garage. In fact, research by the AA found that 92% of motorists don’t know what’s included in a service. The answer to this depends on the garage you take your car to, the plan you choose and the vehicle itself.

There are different types of service on offer. Broadly, an interim service will include a visual inspection of your vehicle, engine oil and oil filter changes, as well as checks on your car’s fluid levels such as washer fluid, brake fluid, anti-freeze and steering fluid. A full service includes these tasks, but goes further, with around 50 checks, including more time spent under the bonnet, and checking the brakes and other safety-related features.

Some major garage chains provide a list of checks they undertake online. Alternatively, you can simply ask the garage what the service will include when you book it. 

How does a service differ from an MOT?

An MOT and a service are two different things, although drivers often choose to combine the two in the same trip to the garage. 

A service is like a health check, whereas an MOT is a safety inspection to ensure roadworthiness – one that all cars over three years old must pass each year. An MOT doesn’t involve replacing any parts.

Why is my car’s service history important?

Keeping your service record up to date with a ‘full service history’ can help to increase the value of your vehicle when you decide to sell it.

So, it’s worth taking your vehicle logbook with you when you pick up your car after your service, to have it stamped.

How long does a service take? 

This depends on the type of service you choose. An interim or regular service may take 1.5 hours, with a full service probably taking twice that time. You should always check with the garage, though, as this may differ.

How often should I take my car in for a service?      

To keep your vehicle in the best possible condition, manufacturers normally recommend a service every 12,000 miles or every year, whichever comes first. 

Your car’s manual will explain this. Alternatively, if your car has a self-diagnostic system, you’ll receive an alert when a service is due. 

Your dashboard may also alert you if your car needs attention. So it’s important to get to know your dashboard lights. Similarly, if your car starts making strange noises, it’s probably time to have it checked over.

How much can I expect to pay?

According to the Money Advice Service, the average rate for a service at a franchised dealer is £92.11 per hour, while independent garages are cheaper, typically charging £63.56. This price can rise closer to £200 for a major, more comprehensive service package. These prices don’t include the cost of any new parts or repairs.

It pays to shop around. And, don’t feel you have to automatically opt for your car manufacturer’s local dealership - even if they do pester you with reminders - as they’re likely to be more expensive than an independent garage. 

Can’t I just do it myself?

In theory, it’s possible to service your car yourself, but it’s not recommended unless you know exactly what you’re doing and have the right tools and equipment. So, for most people, a garage is the best option.  

What you can certainly do yourself - even if you don’t have experience under the bonnet - is to keep your car regularly maintained between services, to keep it running as smoothly and safely as possible.

Go to Solved to get more guidance on some of the issues that matter to drivers.