Car servicing costs compared

There are ways to keep car servicing costs down, without cutting corners that can cost you more in the long run. We explain how...

Car service costs compared

We're all looking for ways to save money, and one in 10 people in the UK has reduced how often they service their car, in bid to cut costs. According to research by the RAC, 14% of people are also putting off car repairs, and it’s a bigger concern among younger motorists, with 37% of 17 to 24-year-olds postponing remedial work to save money.

While taking your car for an MOT test each year is a legal requirement once it reaches three years old, regular servicing is not. However, scrimping on regular maintenance could be costly in the long run. That’s because trips to the workshop are likely to expose minor faults long before they develop into more major defects that could cause a breakdown or lead to major expense.

For example, if you let your car’s brake pads wear beyond the recommended limits, not only will your car’s braking performance be worse, but it’s also likely to cause the brake discs to wear prematurely and need costly replacement.

One way to save money and not cut back on servicing is to find a cheaper garage, and a simple way to compare costs is to find out the annual labour rates they charge. This is a good indicator of which garage will be the most affordable, because each one should use broadly similar labour timings when working out maintenance costs for a specific car.

To find out how much you can save by shopping around for servicing, we asked 279 car maintenance businesses around the UK to tell us their hourly labour rate. All the companies approached are members of the Independent Garages Association and are listed on the Trust My Garage website.

Car service costs compared

To find out how much regional variation there is in labour rates, we looked at prices by postcode, obtaining at least three prices for each of 105 different areas. Not all locations had three Trust My Garage workshops; in these instances we’ve grouped two or three nearby postcode areas together so the sample size is still a minimum of three.

Our research reveals that the average labour rate for servicing in the UK is £76 per hour, but many garages charge less than this. In fact, overall there is a £94 difference across the UK. Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, is the cheapest place for servicing, with an hourly rate of just £47. That’s just a third of the price charged in South-West London, which – at £141 an hour – has the highest rate in the UK.

Huddersfield’s prices are also £31 an hour lower than garages in Leeds and Oldham, both of which charge an average rate of £78. These three areas are only around 20 miles apart, so residents of Leeds and Oldham could make big savings by using a garage in Huddersfield. 

Car owners in south-west London could make even greater savings by shopping around for servicing. By travelling just a short distance to Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey, where the average labour rate is £74, they could almost halve the amount they pay for labour. 

It should be noted though that individual labour rates can vary hugely within postcode groups. The highest we found was £216 an hour from a garage in Belgravia, central London – six times the £36 hourly rate of the cheapest garage in Bradford, West Yorkshire. 

We also asked all the garages how much they would charge for a full service for a 2009 Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI diesel with 110,000 miles on the clock. The most expensive quotes – each of £480 – came from two garages in Twickenham and west London, while the cheapest came from a garage in Edinburgh that would charge £108 for the same service. While the two places are a vey long way from each other, it still shows how important it is to shop around for servicing, even if it means travelling; the £372 saving here could pay for a lot of future car servicing, or even a weekend away. 

Bear in mind that what's included in a car service is very likely to vary between garages, so check what's included before you agree to have any work done. You should always keep a record of what's been done, because some things don't need doing at every service. 

How often should your car be serviced?

Car service costs compared

Having your car serviced can seem like a financial burden, but keeping it regularly maintained will extend its life and help it retain more of its value. When you come to sell the car, being able to show that your car has been serviced according to its maker’s recommended schedule will make it more appealing and boost its resale value. And if your car is written off after an accident, its insurer is likely to pay out more for a car with a full service history.

The technicians working on your car will inspect the condition of the brakes, suspension, tyres and other crucial parts, and this will enable them to identify any potential problems and recommend fixes before they get too serious.

In most instances, you should have your car serviced annually or before it reaches a certain mileage outlined by the manufacturer (typically 12,000 miles), whichever comes first. Most cars will remind you with a warning light or a message on the dashboard when it’s time for a service, but you can also check the service interval information in your car’s handbook.

The work carried out during a service depends on the service interval your car has reached. Most initial services for new cars involve an oil and filter change and visual inspection of safety-related items, then the next service will also include the replacement of components with a 24-month lifespan, such as brake fluid and interior pollen filter. In addition, depending on the model, other items such as fuel filters and spark plugs (for petrol cars) will need replacing based on time or mileage.

It’s important to take your car’s service booklet to the garage or dealership so they can stamp it and record the date the service was carried out, as well as noting exactly what work was performed.A growing number of cars come with no physical handbook, but the servicing agent should be able to log into the car maker’s online portal and add in information about the service that has been performed.

Are car servicing plans worthwhile?

Car service costs compared

A servicing plan can help with budgeting, because it allows you to spread the cost of maintaining your car into smaller, more manageable monthly chunks instead of annual £100-plus lump sums.The most common plan lengths are two and three years. If you’re already paying monthly finance instalments for your car, the relatively small additional monthly outlay for a service plan could make sense.

Another important factor is that servicing plans are inflation-proof, because you’re paying a set price at the current rate, so in the current economic climate they might be a good idea if you’re concerned about prices rising.

Plans start at as little as £17 to £20 a month for a 24-month policy; that typically covers two services and might include two MOT tests for older cars. However, most service plans only cover labour and consumables (such as oil, filters and brake fluid) to comply with scheduled servicing, leaving you to pay for additional wear and tear items.That means you’re likely to still face additional bills when tyres and brake components need replacing.

Some car makers don’t expect to make any money on servicing plans offered for new cars; in fact, some might make a slight loss.They do this because it’s more important to keep customers coming back so they can offer other products and services, or even a replacement car a couple of years down the line.

In contrast, you’re unlikely to save money with an aftermarket service plan for a used car. A typical 24-month plan costs around £480 in total, but that is more than you’d pay for two services and MOT tests from an independent garage charging the average UK labour rate.

Taking out a service plan with a franchised dealer means your car will gain a main dealer service history, making it easier to sell when it’s time to move it on. However, main dealer servicing is often pricier than going to an independent garage, so if paying the lowest price overall is your priority, you’ll probably be better off without a servicing plan.

Bear in mind, too, that the price of a plan will be based on the recommended service schedule, so you can’t save cash by opting for a smaller service if your car’s mileage suggests a larger one is due.

The highest and lowest labour rates in the UK

Nine of the 10 most expensive areas for servicing are in Greater London, but Oxford also stands out for being pricier than average. Huddersfield has the lowest average rate, and other regions in the North of England, as well as areas in Wales and Northern Ireland, are among the cheapest.

What Car? says...

As the rising cost of living continues to stretch budgets for people across the country, our research highlights the postcode lottery facing motorists when it comes to garage labour rates. However, you can avoid paying too much for servicing by comparing prices up front. And if you’re prepared to travel a little farther afield to get your car worked on, you’re far more likely to get the best price.

Next: How to save money on your car insurance >>

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