Car servicing: the complete guide

Get cheap car servicing without affecting your car's value: the complete guide to getting a vehicle serviced

BuyaCar team
Nov 6, 2018

Having your car serviced is essential - and a condition of warranties and finance agreements. Yet, it’s something many drivers find stressful.

Most worry about paying over the odds - hardly a surprise at a time of wage stagnation and stretched household budgets. And a third of women believe they have been ripped off by a garage, when having a service or repair carried out on their car, because of their gender.

Women aren’t alone, however. Nearly half of men say they have been overcharged for a car service, according to MotorEasy, a garage-booking business.

As many motorists can testify, the process of maintaining a car can be expensive. During a routine service, charges are calculated on a combination of replacement parts required and the time taken to do the job, expressed as an hourly rate.

Hourly rates can vary enormously with, according to a recent report, the lowest being £36 at a garage in Birmingham, and the highest, £256 at one in Byfleet, Surrey.

However, caring for a car is important. In the simplest terms, following the schedule of maintenance laid out by the vehicle manufacturer will ensure that a car remains fit, healthy and safe to drive. That last point is especially important. Nobody wants to slow for a roundabout on the A1, from 70mph, only to find that their brakes are as worn out as Keith Richards.

No wonder motorists like to shop around for their servicing but how do you know what garage to use and are there occasions when you must use one type of garage or workshop over another? We answer your most common questions surrounding servicing below.


Does my car need to be serviced?

In short, yes. Every car needs to be serviced in order for it to work properly. Regular servicing ensures your car performs above all safely, as well as efficiently. Diesel engines in particular have complex exhaust treatment systems that need regular maintenance, while their fuel injectors and filters require periodic cleaning or replacement.

Many problems with older petrol and diesel cars can be traced back to a lack of routine servicing. Modern engines especially can be sensitive to poor-quality oil and clogged filters.

Finally, service history can directly influence the value of a car. According to leading car valuation expert, CAP HPI, a car with no history of maintenance could lose sellers thousands of pounds.

Derren Martin, head of current valuations at CAP HPI, said: “If buying a three-year-old Golf, for example, it could be around 10-12% of the vehicle's value. A full-service history from a franchise dealer is more important in the prestige market and will affect both value and desirability, especially at lower mileage."

Main dealer or independent garage service?

Main dealer garage advantages

✔  Vetted and monitored by the car maker.
✔  Fully trained in the manufacturer’s models and has all the correct tools.
✔  Can do warranty work.

Main dealer garage disadvantages

Hourly rates are among the highest.
Only uses OE (original equipment) parts which are expensive.

Independent garage advantages

✔  Can be much cheaper than a main dealer both in terms of hourly rates and parts used.
✔  Doesn’t always follow the book and may repair rather than just replace.
✔  Tend to have greater experience of older vehicles.

Independent garage disadvantages

May not be aware of the latest technical service bulletins.
May not have the latest tools and diagnostic equipment.
Mechanics may be less experienced or not as well trained in a particular make and model.

Do I have to get my car serviced by a main dealer?

This gets to the heart of shopping around for servicing. The good news is that you’re free to have your car serviced by whatever garage you like. This is thanks to a law passed in October 2003. Before that date, car makers could insist your car was serviced by their dealers during the term of its new car warranty. They had no control outside the warranty period.

Since the law was passed, motorists have been free to take their cars to whatever garage they choose, main dealer or independent, while it’s still under the new car warranty. However, services must be performed to the manufacturer’s schedule and approved parts must be used. The car’s owner must also keep records (a stamped service history and invoices itemising work carried out) proving the work was carried out.


Can I have my used car serviced by any garage I choose?

You can, but if it’s covered by a used car warranty you should check the terms and conditions contained in the small print. A few insist the car is serviced by the selling dealer. However, it’s rare and instead, like the rules surrounding new car warranties, you’re more likely to be free to have the car serviced where you like, as long as it is to the manufacturer’s schedule and evidence of the work is available.


Do cars on PCP finance have to be serviced by a main dealer?

No – regardless of what sales staff may suggest. The same law that allows you to have your new car serviced by an independent garage during its warranty period applies with a PCP or any financial product.

However, because with a PCP the car’s future value is based on it being in satisfactory condition and properly serviced according to the manufacturer’s schedule, it could be simpler to have it serviced by a main dealer garage rather than an independent. In any case, to keep your business, most car makers offer subsidised servicing plans during the term of the PCP contract.


How to find reputable garages near me 

Every car manufacturer will have a dealer locator function on their website. But for added peace of mind, browse sites such as, or the These help motorists find a local garage that meets certain standards, or is approved by the Office of Fair Trading.


Is my car worth more with a main dealer service history?

The used car market attaches a higher price to a car with what is called full service history – that is, every service has been undertaken according to the manufacturer’s schedule. However, that price can be higher still, at least for cars up to three years old, where all the services have been carried out by main dealer garages rather than independent ones.

Once a car is older than three years, the price difference closes, except on some prestige and specialist cars where a full main dealer history can still fetch a premium.


What's the benefit of a main dealer service history?

If your new car warranty has expired but your car develops a fault soon after, it can help having full main dealer service history since the manufacturer is likely to look more kindly on your claim. It’s not obliged to do anything but it may make a contribution to your car’s repair costs as a goodwill gesture.


What is variable servicing?

Variable servicing, where the service intervals are not fixed as in a normal schedule but change depending on the way the car is driven and the sort of journeys it does, are becoming popular with car makers. Generally speaking, cars that do lots of short, cold journeys need more regular servicing than those that cover long journeys at running temperature.

Some cars, such as Audis, offer drivers two types of service schedule. The so-called Fixed Service is for low mileage drivers doing lots of short journeys, and is every year or 9000 miles. The Flexible Service Schedule is for higher mileage drivers and is every two years or 19,000 miles.

Some cars tell you when they need servicing. For example, depending on the vehicle’s age, Minis have two types of service indicator. Current models have Condition Based Servicing (CBS). This monitors various service components for wear, ensuring the car only requests attention when it needs it. When the car requires servicing, a CBS icon will be displayed on the dashboard. In addition to this, the vehicle data is stored in the car key and read using the MINI KeyReader, allowing the technicians to identify what work is required.

Earlier Minis have a mileage and time-based service indicator that monitors the car’s mileage and illuminates when it’s time for the next service. Additional warning symbols report the health of key components.

Variable servicing should ensure your car is maintained when it needs to be but the fact that it doesn’t follow set servicing intervals means it can catch you unawares. That said, things are far from critical when it first alerts you so you have plenty of time to book the service.


Does my car need servicing after an MoT?

An MoT checks safety critical areas only, so while the test will tell you if your car’s tyres or brakes are worn, its windscreen washer fluid is low, its exhaust emissions are outside the legal limits or it’s dangerously rusty, it won’t attend to any of these problems and it certainly won’t prevent them happening in the first place. Not only that, things like engine oil, spark plugs and air filters, the things your car relies on to run efficiently, won’t be checked or changed.


What is a service interval?

This is the period a service falls due. Most intervals are every 12,000 miles or 12 months.


What are intermediate (or interim), main (or full) and major services?

These describe different types, or levels, of service. The simplest is the intermediate and tends to be every six months. It’s probably too frequent for most cars. It includes an oil and filter change – one of the most important things you can have done in a service. Most components will be checked, too.

The full service is like a more intense version of the intermediate. One of these each year, or every 12,000 miles, will be sufficient for most cars. More components will be checked and fluids (for example, brake and coolant) will be topped up if necessary.

The major service takes place every two years or 24,000 miles and in addition to the work carried out in the minor service, will involve even more checks and maintenance actions including changing the engine coolant, spark plugs and all filters.

Compare car service quotes

Franchised garages general will have a rate card that means every job should be priced according to the cost of any replacement parts, how long the job ought to take and the labour rate. So start your comparison with them.

Then try independent garages. Most will work to standard prices for a major or minor service, and have costs for common jobs. Their labour rates are lower than franchised outlets, and they can often source spare parts at highly competitive rates.

Always be clear over the jobs being performed and that these fulfil the car maker’s service schedule.

Check ratings and prices online

There is a wave of newly established garage comparison websites for drivers to use. Just as you might compare car insurance quotes and scan customer satisfaction ratings online, so you can enter a postcode, make and model of car and choose from a list of jobs that need performing. Local garages can choose to submit quotes and you get to see how highly other drivers rate their work. A quick Google search will give plenty of choice.

Diagnosis? Is it free?

Unless you are on extremely good terms with a local garage, the likelihood is that all will charge for diagnosing a problem. After all, mechanics, tools and workshops don’t come for free…

Authority to proceed

Any reputable workshop should contact you to highlight anything untoward or explain what was causing a fault, and give a clear indication of the remedial work required and what they will add to the bill. But for the avoidance of doubt, tell them to contact you for authorisation should additional work be required.

Genuine parts

Wear and tear parts, such as brake pads, shouldn’t be replaced until they reach the end of their life, but the garage should advise you of remaining life of such parts in its servicing report.

Branded, genuine parts should be exactly the same as the items fitted by the vehicle manufacturer the day it was assembled at the factory. However, these may be the most expensive option; frequently it is possible to request that the garage fit parts of comparable quality, saving a small sum in the process.

Use a credit card for bills over £100

Why pay by credit card? Because if there is a fault with your car that is related to the goods and services provided by the garage, the credit card provider is jointly liable together with the retailer.

Unhappy with the work done?

You might not be happy with the work done, but if you signed a contract when handing over the car to the garage, you still have to pay. They are entitled to keep your car until the bill is paid – known as a 'lien' over the goods.

In that case, make it known that you are paying under protest to release your vehicle, and maintain your right to challenge the bill.


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