Running A Car - Cutting car service costs

24 May 2012

Cars need regular servicing. The time and/mileage between services vary depending on the make and model and whether it's a petrol or a diesel car. You should always stick to the car's servicing programme but you're not obliged to use the same garage that supplied your car as your servicing garage.

Even between dealers for the same franchise, you'll find big regional price differences on hourly labour charges. Depending on the work involved, the savings can even be enough to pay for an overnight stay in a nice part of the country.

Many motorists are inclined to stay within the manufacturer's dealer network in order to maintain the dealer service history. That's understandable, but you need to be sure that the value such a history adds to your car is justified by the extra cost. EU legislation means it's OK to 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 fulful normal servicing needs. Bosch is a good example of a service chain with a trustworthy name. To find more garages who have signed up to the ideal of raising customer service standards, go to the Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair ( for a list.

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're using genuine manufacturer products or aftermarket 'pattern' items (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.

Repair or warranty work is different to service work in terms of keeping your warranty intact: that does have to be done at a franchised dealer.

Understanding the terms of your warranty could save you a lot of money. Make sure you're not entitled to claim some work for free before you book your car in for servicing.

See also: What Car? Reliability Survey >>

Easy car maintenance jobs

It's common to complain about the inconvenience and/or cost of the MoT test, but in fact the MoT a very good way to establish the condition of your car, to pick up on any potential problems and to do something about them.

You can reduce the inconvenience of MoT retests and enjoy more peace of mind at the same time by doing easy maintenance jobs yourself in between services.

Fluid checking is easy. Coolant, windscreen-washer fluid and brake-fluid levels can be visually confirmed against the markers on the side of their translucent reservoirs. The only gloops that aren't immediately visible are engine oil, gearbox oil and power steering fluid. Gearboxes don't normally consume oil, so you can leave the garage to sort this within the normal servicing schedule.

Steering fluid can leak out of rusty pipes on older cars. If the steering suddenly gets noisy or inordinately heavy you may have a leak. Again, pipe replacement is not complicated, and will be cheaper in the long run than simply topping up the reservoir and coating your drive in steering fluid.

Check these engine oil and 'translucent' fluids at least once a month, and always before long journeys. The protocol for checking oil varies between cars: the routine will be in the owner's manual, or somewhere online if you don't have that.

At least once a month check the condition and pressure of your tyres from cold. Recommended pressures are 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 by a ‘liquid glass' repair. It's worth catching these flaws early, because if cracks are left to their own devices they'll only 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 they're worn out. Replacement blades can be picked up very cheaply on the internet. Soldiering on with old ones makes no sense and is horrifically dangerous on a summer's day, let alone on a wet winter's night.

We've all found ourselves behind cars whose windscreen washers are better at washing our cars than they are at cleaning their screens. Changing the direction of the washer nozzles is more often than not a 10-second fix. 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, because bad earths or damp contacts can cause weird things to happen to the lights when you press the brake pedal while the indicators or side lights are switched on.

Replacing blown indicator or other minor bulbs is simple. Replacing headlamp bulbs should be easy too but has become less so in recent times as underbonnet space is stolen by designers in the interests of reducing a car's ‘footprint'. Most manufacturers still do 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.

The ability of the handbrake to hold your car on a hill is more than just an MOT fail, it's potentially dangerous. Again, the adjustment is simple, so don't let cost fears put you off contacting your garage.

Next: Warranties >>

Haymarket Logo What Car? is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media
What Car? is part of Haymarket Motoring
© Haymarket Media Group 2016