What is a car service?

  • Parkers explains what a car service is
  • When should you service your car?
  • Can you lease a car with servicing thrown in?

A car service is a maintenance check-up for your vehicle. Whether you own a car, pick-up, van or campervan, registered keepers are advised to have their vehicle serviced annually, or every 12,000-15,000miles—whichever comes first. For higher mileage drivers, there’s also the option to have a full service and a winter service.

Having your car serviced regularly means the hard-working component parts of your vehicle get some well-deserved TLC. The thinking goes, if a problem is dealt with proactively, rather than reactively, it’ll cost less. Waiting until components are totally worn through doesn’t just put your safety at risk, but it usually means replacing several components simultaneously, which isn’t very wallet-friendly.

> Read our Ultimate Guide to Car Care

> Find out how to wash your car properly

What is a full service on a car in the UK?

A full service in the UK includes checks on the battery, bodywork, brakes, coolant, exhaust, oil, oil filter, lights, steering, suspension and tyres. A service differs from an MoT test because an MoT is required by law. A service is a voluntary check responsible motorists pay for, to ensure the vehicle continues to run well.

Unless you have the knowledge and time to service your own vehicle, it’s best to outsource the process to a trusted mechanic or a registered dealer. Opting to ignore a vehicle service is choosing to reduce the performance, efficiency, reliability and safety of your car. What’s more, if things go wrong because the car hasn’t been serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals, it could void your warranty as well (if the car is still in warranty, of course).

How often should you service your car in the UK?

The UK, with its often-inclement and always-changeable weather, makes life tough for motorists trying to maintain their vehicles. Granted, in most regions we don’t have the severe snow drifts of other countries, which sees a lot of salt affecting vehicles detrimentally. But rain and wind bring their own nasty weapons to the party. Daily driving throws up all kinds of gunk into crevices of your car. And every car is different.

That’s why service intervals vary depending on the manufacturer and individual models. Many new cars notify the driver when a service is due. This message can appear on the centre display or instrument cluster. If your car doesn’t though, you’ll find the service timing in the manual.

If you’ve opted for a service plan, or you bought a new vehicle from your local dealer, it might try and contact you to remind you it’s due in for a service. And then there’s smartphone apps. Each manufacturer has developed its own companion app and vehicle maintenance is one of the features in the app and if you’ve enabled push notifications, your phone will remind you too.

How much is a car service in the UK?

The price of a car service varies by the size of vehicle. A small car service, at the time of writing this, is about £150. While your car is under manufacturer’s warranty, a franchised dealership service package can generally offer the most convenient and cost-effective service. Using the dealership ensures any work carried out uses genuine parts. What’s more, it’s good to get your service book stamped with a franchised dealer stamp. Having a full service history (FSH) can protect up to 10% of your vehicle’s resale value.

As the car ages and the miles rack up, it’s generally cheaper to have it serviced at an independent garage. Older cars often require more work, and franchised dealers do tend to be more expensive than independent specialists. Nonetheless, it pays to shop around, even between franchised dealers.

Can I protect my warranty if I don’t use the brand’s dealership?

Yes. So long as genuine parts are used, and the correct service schedule is maintained, you can still have your car serviced elsewhere without voiding the manufacturer warranty. Most independent garages will give you two prices to do any repairs needed; one using genuine parts and one using generic parts. Generic parts can often be sourced more quickly, so there may be a wait if you’re wanting genuine parts. However, if it protects your warranty and maintains a great service history, the wait is worth it.

What’s included in a winter service?

A winter service concentrates on six main components: tyres, battery, windscreen washer, wiper blades, lights and oil. The extent of work carried out on your vehicle during a full or winter service will vary depending on the difference in mileage since the last service, the age of the vehicle and which manufacturer it is—some do lengthier checks than others.

At the most basic level, an oil and oil filter change will be done; beyond this air filters and other items such as spark plugs may be changed. In all cases a general health check-up should be undertaken. If you want to find out exactly what’s carried out and when, check the service manual or contact the manufacturer for precise information.

What else do I need to know?

If you buy a car new, you’ll be offered the chance to pay for the car’s servicing in advance, or perhaps incorporate it into the car’s monthly payments if you’ve bought on PCP finance, for example.

This is known as a service plan. These help to keep costs down as everything is covered for the duration of ownership. There are often varying levels of cover, for example, some plans include basic service and maintenance, while more expensive schemes will even cover for wear and tear consumables, such as tyres.

If you are using finance to pay for your new motor, there will almost definitely be contractual requirement to maintain the car within the manufacturer’s recommended schedule, and at a franchised dealer.

Do lease cars need servicing?

One of the biggest selling points for leasing is simplicity; you know how much you need to pay every month for driving. Thus, car service and maintenance costs are part and parcel of this monthly payment.

While these payments are higher, you don’t have the stress of needing to budget £250 here for a service, £200 there for a couple of tyres, £100 here for full breakdown cover and anything else that might unexpectedly crop up.

If you value the ease of having practically all of your motoring costs – bar insurance and fuel – in one monthly payment, you may want to consider ticking the maintenance box.

Maintenance packs generally include:

  • Breakdown cover including home-start, roadside assistance and recovery
  • Scheduled servicing
  • Replacement tyres (within fair wear and tear limits)
  • MOTs (for cars over three years old)
  • Exhaust and battery (within fair wear and tear limits)

Further reading:

>> What is a service history
>> What is an MOT test
>> The best new car deals