Why and When Cars Need Servicing?

Cars are complex machines and though a lot has been done to reduce the servicing they need, they still need it in order to work efficiently and remain safe. It used to be common for cars to need servicing every 5,000 or 6,000 miles, though usually this was an oil change at, say, 6,000 and a full service at 12,000. But oils and oil filters have been improved to remove the need for an intermediate change so now a 12,000 mile service interval is normally a minimum. For many cars the service interval is even longer because many things that used to need adjustment have either been made self-adjusting or harder wearing.

But even with all this technology, various fluids need replacing because they can no longer do their job. Engine oil absorbs a lot of impurities from the combustion process, all lubricants get ‘tired’ from the constant thrashing around and brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air, increasing the risk of brake fade. Mechanical parts also wear, with brake shoes getting worn down, drive belts getting stretched and worn, nuts and bolts working loose and things suffering physical damage as a result of driver error or road debris.

You could leave it until something goes wrong, but that something could be life threatening and if you replace, say, a camshaft drive belt before it breaks, it avoids the expensive engine repairs its failure would have caused. In addition, as things go out of adjustment the car runs less efficiently, so you increase day-to-day running costs with higher fuel consumption, increased tyre wear and the need to top up the oil. This also increases the car’s impact on the environment.

It is easy to get upset about the cost of servicing because it is a big bill. But for most motorists it is a once a year event and though it might hurt the pocket at the time, it is nothing compared to the annual cost of fuel, taxation, depreciation and, for some drivers, insurance. In addition, unlike those things, it keeps you safe. Many people complain about the labour costs of car servicing, but forget that this reflects the training technicians have to go through along with the considerable cost of equipment. In many places the hourly rate for even a prestige marque dealership compares favourably with getting a washing machine serviced in spite of the far greater complexity and responsibility of the work.

When you are checking prices for servicing and repair, remember the difference between an estimate and a quote. An estimate is what the garage thinks it is likely to cost and it is best to set a maximum above which they can’t go without consulting you. A quote, which should be written, explains what work will be done and parts required and gives a price for the work.

How often?

Your car’s handbook, or a service book enclosed with it, explains service intervals. This can be difficult to understand because some manufacturers include variables for extreme use, like the need for more frequent services if you use the car for towing, in extreme temperatures or in dusty conditions. However, by that they may mean towing several times a week or driving your off-roader through the dust-laden heat of the Mojave Desert. If you are in doubt, ask a franchised dealer or the car manufacturer’s customer service department.


New and used car warranties always demand that the car is serviced to the manufacturer’s requirements. The warranty conditions usually state how much leeway you are allowed, which in most cases is 1,000 miles or a month, but check because they vary. If you fail to comply with this they can refuse to pay for repairs, especially if it can be shown that a lack of maintenance could have contributed to a failure.

One thing it is important to check is whether a time interval is also laid down. Many manufacturers say the car must be serviced, say, at 20,000 miles or annually. This means that if you do 40,000 miles a year you need to get it serviced twice a year at 20,000, but if you only do 10,000 miles a year you need to get it serviced annually even though it hasn’t done the mileage. This is because things still deteriorate over time even if the car is parked. Indeed, some things may even deteriorate more quickly, like an exhaust that never gets hot enough to prevent chemical-laden moisture condensing inside.

Service indicators

A few cars, like those made by the Volkswagen Group and BMW, have sophisticated service interval indicators. These take data on how the car is used and adjust the service interval accordingly, telling you when one is required. So, a car used for a lot of short journeys, rarely reaching the engine’s full working temperature, may need servicing more often than one used for regular long trips.

However, some so-called service indicators are little more than an odometer that lets you know when the set mileage is up, so, unlike the VW and BMW ones, it won’t tell you an annual service is due if you haven’t done the mileage.

If you have a car with a service interval indicator, make sure the garage zeros it when the service is carried out.

Related posts:

  1. Audi Complete Servicing Package
  2. Service Packages For 2011 Kia Picano
  3. How to Choose a Garage to Repair Your Car
  4. Diesel Golf Clocks 450,000 Miles
  5. How to Select the Right Ventilation System for Your Cars

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