Just like filling up with fuel or paying tax or insurance, it’s a fact of life that cars need maintaining. Regular servicing doesn’t just catch little niggles before they turn into potentially time-wasting and expensive breakdowns. It also helps to ensure that your car is running as efficiently as possible and therefore using less fuel. And it should reassure you that crucial safety kit such as brakes and tyres are performing as they should.
But before you take your car to the garage, there are some questions to ask yourself and the garage to ensure your car has the work that needs to be done, carried out in a way you’re happy with.
What to ask yourself
What service does your car need?
All new cars come with a service schedule in the form of a booklet. This is usually found with the user manual in the glovebox. Inside, it will have a series of mileages or time spans when the car will need to be serviced. Each time the car is seen to by a garage, they should stamp or sign the relevant section in the service schedule. Find your service schedule and work out what kind of service your car needs.
What if the service book is missing or isn’t stamped?
Not all drivers are diligent about getting their cars serviced. Some don’t bother until the car either shows signs that it needs work doing to it or it stops running altogether. Unless you can find an appropriately stamped service book, you can’t take it for granted that the car has been regularly serviced. If there’s no evidence of how the car has been serviced, assume the worst and plump for a major service.
What does a service entail?
Don’t confuse a service with an MOT. The former is optional; the latter is the law in cars more than three-years and less than 40-years old. Broadly speaking, there are two levels of service. Major and minor. On a mechanical level, a minor service will usually mean having the oil changed plus a new oil filter. Depending on the garage, the screen wash might be topped up and the tyres checked. A major service will include those items plus a new air filter, new brake fluid and a replacement pollen filter. They may also check the wheel alignment. Your car’s user manual should explain exactly what each kind of service will include.
What to ask the garage
How much is it going to cost?
None of us like unpleasant surprises, particularly of the financial variety. When you know what kind of service your car is going to need, ask the garage how much it’s going to cost. Make sure when you get the quote, it is a quote and not simply an estimate. And confirm that the garage has included VAT in the price. Infuriatingly, some don’t.
Will you OK any extra work with me?
It doesn’t matter if you settle on a price, the nature of cars is that when a technician starts poking around, they might well find something unexpected. Although most garages will call to check before ploughing on with any extra work, asking them to call you first guarantees there aren’t any misunderstandings.
If you’re using a garage for the first time and it calls with a list of unexpected and potentially expensive problems, it’s worth getting a second opinion. This will help you work out if you can trust the original garage.
Do you follow manufacturer procedures and use ‘original’ parts?
There’s a huge difference in cost and quality between original parts and components that are made by non-accredited manufacturers. These are usually called replacement, pattern or remanufactured parts. Although they might be cheaper than the manufacturer components, this may be a false economy if they wear out much quicker. Equally, a garage may have decided that your car doesn’t need certain jobs doing that the manufacturer specifies at that mileage. In all cases, it’s best to stick to car maker recommendations.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.