Reducing car servicing costs
Among the costs of running a car is essential maintenance: regular servicing for new vehicles (without them your warranty is invalidated – check your handbook for a schedule) and annual MoT test checks for cars over three years old. However, there are ways to keep both costs down.
- You don’t have to get your car serviced at the garage that supplied your car, and it pays to shop around. Even between dealers for the same manufacturer, you’ll find big regional price differences on hourly labour charges.
- Many motorists are inclined to stay within the manufacturer’s dealer network in order to maintain the dealer service history. However, you may want to consider whether the value that such a history adds to your car is justified by the extra cost. EU legislation says you can go where you want for servicing, even to a non-franchised garage, without invalidating your warranty.
- There’s no shortage of non-franchised service specialists with all the diagnostic equipment and staff quality necessary to fulfil normal servicing needs. To find garages that have signed up to the Government-backed Motor Codes scheme, which sets and regulates standards for garages, go to www.motorindustrycodes.co.uk.
- If you do go to an independent garage, make sure it’s VAT-registered. Before you let them loose on your car, establish whether they use genuine manufacturer products or aftermarket alternatives (which are often half the price and maybe no different in quality). Ask for receipts and for part numbers to be noted on the service docket, and make sure that the service book is stamped after the work is complete.
- The maximum of an MoT test is currently £54.85, although garages are allowed to charge less so it’s worth calling several test centres to find a competitive rate.
- Repair or warranty work on a new car is different from servicing in terms of keeping your warranty intact: it has to be done at a franchised dealer. Before you book your car in for repair work, make sure you’ve checked the terms of your warranty in detail as the work may be covered by it, saving you unnecessary costs.
- Cars out of warranty can be repaired by any reputable garage; you are no longer obliged to take them to a franchised dealer. This means you can shop around for the best prices for both labour and parts. It can also be worth sourcing parts yourself if you think you can get the correct ones for a cheaper price than your garage is quoting, and offer to supply these to your garage for them to fit.
DIY – do it yourself
You can help reduce the number problems found during a service or MoT test by doing some easy maintenance jobs yourself on a regular basis. Apart from avoiding costly repairs, you’ll also give yourself some peace of mind.
- Check engine oil and other fluids (where possible) at least once a month, and always before long journeys.
- Coolant, windscreen-washer and brake-fluid levels can be checked simply by looking at the markers on the side of their translucent reservoirs.
- The protocol for checking oil varies between cars: the routine and technique will be in the owner’s manual, or somewhere online if you don't have that.
- Recommended pressures are stated in the owner’s handbook, inside the driver’s door frame, or behind the fuel cap cover. Legal minimum tread depths are 1.6mm across 75% of the width of the tyre, but your car will drive better and be safer (especially in wet weather) if you replace tyres when they get below the 2mm tread depth barrier.
- A high percentage of small chips and cracks in windscreens can be quickly and cheaply mended with ‘liquid glass’ repair by a specialist. It’s worth catching these flaws early, because cracks will only ever get worse, and total screen replacement is going to be several times more expensive than the early repair. Your insurance might cover replacement but there’ll almost certainly be a hefty excess to pay.
- If your screen always seems to have a blurry ‘film’ on it, no matter how much washer fluid you squirt on there, it's almost certainly down to your wiper blades. They might look normal, but more than likely they’re worn out. Replacement blades can be picked up very cheaply on the internet. Soldiering on with old ones makes no sense and can be very dangerous. Your car will also fail its next MoT test.
- We’ve all found ourselves behind cars whose windscreen washers seem better at cleaning our windscreens than their own. Don’t be one of them: changing the direction of the washer nozzles is more often than not a 10-second fix, and local garages will often perform this adjustment for free.
- Ask a friend to check your lights from the outside. Get them to look at the front as well as the back when you’re testing the brakes.
- Replacing blown indicator or other minor bulbs is simple – consult your handbook. Replacing headlamp bulbs should be easy, too, but has become less so in recent times as under-bonnet space becomes ever smaller and cramped. Most manufacturers still consider the basic needs of the motorist, but a disappointing number will advise you to take your car into a dealer for a new bulb to be fitted.
- A handbrake that fails to hold a car on a hill can be extremely dangerous. Check how yours performs, and if you have even the slightest doubt of its effectiveness, contact your garage. Don’t let cost fears get in the way of your family’s safety.
Last updated: about 3 years ago