How often should you service your car?

December 08, 2023 by

Your car is a complex machine, with lots of moving parts. You’ve also spent a fair amount of buying it, so the last thing you want is to pay out even more money to fix anything that goes wrong.

However, having your car serviced regularly not only keeps your car in good running order, but it can also pick up any issues before they result in expensive repair bills.

In this article we’ll explain what a service is and why it’s important to owners.

What is a car service?

Servicing your car involves getting a technician or mechanic to inspect key elements of your vehicle, so that will involve the likes of oil, brakes, filters and the various mechanical and electronic systems, to ensure everything is in full working order.

There’s a fee to pay for having a vehicle serviced, which might also include the cost of replacement oil and filters.

With a relatively new car, how often your car needs a service will depend on what the manufacturer’s recommended intervals are: traditionally, it’s every 12 months or about 12,000 miles, but some cars are so clever these days that they can sometimes determine when they need a service, based on how the car has been driven.

Older used cars are slightly different. Irrespective of the number of previous owners and how faithfully they’ve adhered to the recommended servicing schedules, we’d recommend you get into a routine of having the car serviced on a regular annual basis. Remember: the less you have your car checked by a qualified technician, the more likely it is that problems will arise in between services – problems that could end up being very expensive to fix.

After a thorough inspection of your car, the mechanic might point out components that should be replaced before they wear out and/or fail. The cost of any replacement parts won’t be included in the price of the service, so you’ll have to pay extra to have any issues fixed.

A service is different to the MOT that the law requires for vehicles over three years old. The MOT is an annual mechanical test that demonstrates that your car is safe and roadworthy, so it can be driven legally on public roads in the UK. However, the MOT is a snapshot of a car’s condition, while a service is more thorough, designed to identify any mechanical issues at an early stage and before they lead to a major failure.

Unlike the MOT, a service is not a legal requirement, but car companies recommend regular, routine servicing to keep a vehicle running smoothly for as long as possible. It also makes good financial sense to deal with issues when they just involve a replacement part, rather than letting them develop into a bigger issue that could mean a much bigger bill.

When does your car need a service?

While new cars will have specified service intervals you need to stick to in order to keep the warranty valid, all cars should be regularly serviced. You should take your car for a service at your local dealer or independent garage every 12,000 miles or so (manufacturer recommendations vary). It’s best to check the service intervals in your car’s handbook for a guide to when you should book your car in for a service.

Depending on the age and mileage of your car, and the last time it was serviced, there are different types of service, alternating between a minor and major service.

Which service your car will need will depend on its age and mileage and often which type of service was carried out the previous year.

Interim service

Every six months or 6,000 miles (whichever comes first)

An interim service is a less comprehensive version of a full service, designed to be carried out every six months or 6,000 miles, for example (whichever comes first). The mileage figure can vary drastically depending on manufacturer. It usually involves draining and refilling your engine oil, as well as replacing the oil filter, plus a visual inspection of certain components. An in-depth inspection at an interim service is helpful in pinpointing any issues before they become more serious.

Full service

Every 12 months or 12,000 miles (whichever comes first)

This is a more intensive service, with an even more comprehensive inspection, that should be carried out every 12 months or at a figure such as 12,000 miles – again, whichever comes first. This service also includes changes to engine oil, oil filters and air filters, but a full service must involve a mechanic analysing how all the vital parts of the car are working, along with the safety and mechanical systems.

Manufacturer service

Service intervals specified by the car manufacturer

If you have a car with a higher specification than most mainstream cars, you might also want to have a manufacturer service. The schedule is set out by the manufacturer, to ensure that it’s maintained in line with its recommended operating parameters. As this is a rather specialist endeavour, you’ll need to take the car to a dealership with a franchise from your vehicle manufacturer. All servicing is by technicians who are trained and qualified by the manufacturer.

When was my car last serviced?

If you’ve just bought a used car and aren’t clear what type of service it needs next, your first port of call is the service manual, which is usually bundled up with the handbook.

If you don’t have access to records of previous services, you should still be able to find the information you need by checking the car’s service history online. You’ll need the car’s registration number and the vehicle identification number (VIN).

Armed with this information, you can check the service history of a car by contacting the dealership or garage where your car has been previously serviced. They should have their own records of your car’s service history and past maintenance.

If your car has been regularly serviced by a franchised dealer, the dealership will probably have digital records. Failing that, you can contact the car manufacturer directly online.

If your car has previously been serviced by an independent garage, it might be more difficult to get the information you need. Older models, in particular, are less likely to have service records stored online, but it’s still worth checking.

Alternatively, you can request information about your car directly from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). This information could include details about previous owners and dealers that have worked on your car in the past. You’ll have to fill out a V888 form and pay £5 for your enquiry.

What are the benefits of servicing a car?

There are plenty of good reasons why you should have your car serviced regularly.

  • Safety. If you don’t stick to service schedules, any potential defects in your car could go undetected, developing into a bigger problem further down the line. Regular servicing means any issues can be identified and fixed, making your car as safe as possible when on the road.
  • Lower running costs. Regular servicing of your vehicle, with frequent fluid and filter changes, will help it run as smoothly and less likely to experience major engine issues. It also minimises the chance of any unexpected costly repairs.
  • Maximise your car’s value. Evidence of your car’s full service history will show any future buyers that your vehicle has been well-maintained, increasing its resale value. A car with no service history means that potential buyers have no documentary evidence that a vehicle has been looked after – which almost inevitably will reduce what a buyer will pay for it.
  • Reduced chance of breakdown. A car that hasn’t been serviced regularly could have any number of undiagnosed problems that will go unnoticed – right up to the point that the car breaks down. Regular services will offer peace of mind that everything is working correctly and the reduced possibility of breaking down.
  • Extend a car’s life. It stands to reason that looking after your car should mean that its useful and usable life will be longer. Regularly changing fluids and filters, and inspecting key components, should help extend the lifetime of your car and keep it running for longer.
  • Protect your warranty. New cars require an annual service to protect the warranty, as per the manufacturer’s specifications. If you don’t get regular mechanical checks, the warranty might become invalid.
    Better fuel efficiency. Ensuring that fluids are topped up, brakes are working correctly and key components are in full working order helps improve your car’s fuel efficiency. Team that with smooth braking and acceleration, and you’re well on the way to lowering your fuel bills.

How much does a car service cost?

The cost of a service depends on the car’s condition, any repairs that might need to be done and the cost of the mechanic’s labour.

Manufacturers each have an itemised list of the required tasks at each service on a car’s service schedule. Some services can be more expensive than others, so the price will vary for different types of service.

Research shows that an average family hatchback will cost anything between £90 and £200 to service (i.e. before the cost of any repairs). If you own a more premium or luxury model, or a sports car, then the cost of a service will climb considerably and you should expect to pay anything from £500 to £1000 – and beyond. Any repairs or replacement components will be more expensive, too.

We tend to associate mechanical problems with older cars, but it’s just as important to get newer cars serviced. A manufacturer or leasing company might require you to have your car serviced annually during the term of the deal, to maintain its condition and protect its value.

Car servicing FAQs

Do I need to service my car every year?

As a general rule, your car will need to be serviced at least once within a 12-month period. Check your car’s handbook for exact intervals, though.

What happens if I miss a car service?

Nothing. There are no legal repercussions (unlike with an MOT) for missing a car’s service, as long as your car isn’t still within its new car warranty period – normally at least three years but as many as seven with Kia. However, your car may not be operating in its best condition, leading to potentially expensive and disruptive failures down the line. If you don’t keep up with servicing requirements on a new car, the warranty may be declared invalid if there is a problem.

When should I service a new car?

A brand-new car might need an interim service not long after you buy it. The dealer can advise you when this is needed, but it’s usually within 12 months or a certain amount of miles from new.

What is a car service history?

A service history shows a vehicle has been maintained in line with a manufacturer’s service schedule and includes all the relevant documents as proof.

Taking your car to an approved dealer for each service or for any repairs means the vehicle will have full main dealer service history, helping your car retain its value. Non-approved dealers can also keep the vehicle serviced correctly, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, so the car will still have a full service history.

What is a car service book?

The service book is a document used to officially record any and all services, including details of maintenance carried out, along with the date and mileage of the vehicle at the time. You tend to find it bundled up in a wallet, with the vehicle handbook, in the glove compartment, although for modern cars it will also be electronic.

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