Car servicing guide

Learn everything you need to know about car servicing.

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There are three types of people in this world. Those who religiously service their car without fail, car owners who think it’s important but find it expensive so skip a few and then those who don’t think it’s necessary to have it done at all. But what exactly is car servicing and what does it entail? Why is it so vital to maintaining your vehicle’s health?

Is car servicing really important?

Cars are probably one of the most sophisticated and intricate pieces of machinery you own, with literally thousands of moving parts. After your house, it’s likely the second largest asset to your name, so it needs looking after.

Why service a car?

Here are four benefits of servicing your vehicle:

  • Saves money. Servicing maintains your fuel efficiency, replaces components before they fail and reduces your chance of having a breakdown – preventatively saving you money.
  • Improves safety. Servicing also includes dozens of safety checks, helping to identify and replace any worn parts and keeping critical components like the suspension, steering, seatbelts and braking systems working.
  • Increases longevity. A consistently serviced engine will last longer than a neglected one.
  • Retains resale value. A car with a full-service history is more attractive to used vehicle buyers.

How often should I service my car?

As a rule of thumb, vehicles need servicing every 10,000-15,000 kilometres or once a year, whichever comes first.

However, if you use your car in any of the below situations, you could feasibly halve the service intervals.

Car manufacturers define the following points as severe operating conditions:

  • Using fuels containing sulphur. Australian fuel has a high concentration of sulphur and this places extra demand on exhaust emission control devices.
  • Making primarily short trips. Frequent short trips mean a car never gets to operating temperature, which can place extra stress on internal components.
  • Sitting for long periods with the engine idling (taxis, delivery vehicles etc). An idling engine won’t get up to temperature and the excess runtime isn’t factored into the odometer reading.
  • Driving in areas with high dust levels. Dust plays havoc with finely machined metallic surfaces, acting as an abrasive. Regular servicing reduces the effects of dust on the engine.
  • Towing a trailer on a regular basis. When pulling a trailer, the brakes, engine and suspension all have to handle extra strain. This accelerates wear and tear.
  • Driving in stop and start traffic, like a car that rarely leaves the city. Constant braking and acceleration stress the mechanical parts of a car.

What’s involved in a car service?

Below is an example of typical servicing tasks and the type of service they form.

Typical servicing checklistWhy it’s includedService type
Brake pad thickness checked: front and rearYour brakes require a sufficient amount of material to operate correctly. The material slowly wears down over time through use.Oil change and interval service
Brake system inspected for leaks/damageAny leaks in the brake system can result in poor braking performance and is a major safety concern. Likewise, any broken or defective components need replacing right away.Interval service
Brake fluid level checkedThe braking system is a hydraulic circuit that needs a specific level of fluid to operate. The brake fluid level drops as brake pads wear down.Interval service
Brake fluid changedBrake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water. Water is compressible and prone to boiling, where brake fluid is not. The moisture in the brake fluid reduces braking performance. The fluid is replaced to maintain the braking action.Inspection service
Engine oil changed/oil filter replacedEngine oil lubricates internal engine parts, which keeps them moving freely. Oil maintains engine performance and stops fast spinning parts from overheating and failing. Oil also removes contaminants like soot and the oil filter cleans the oil: both have a limited lifespan.Oil change and interval service
Battery visually inspectedThe battery is examined for frayed cables, loose connections, powdery deposits on the terminals and to make sure the casing isn’t cracked.Interval service
Tyre tread depth, condition, wear pattern and pressure checkedTyre treads help to shed standing water from the road, improving traction and keeping the tyre cool. Once they wear beyond the minimum levels, a car will not have as much grip and braking distances will increase.Interval service
Power steering fluid checkedVehicles with hydraulically assisted power steering need a certain amount of fluid to operate. Mechanics check the power steering reservoir level and top-up if necessary.Interval service
Exhaust pipe checked for leaks and secure fittingA leaking exhaust can cause fumes to enter the cabin of your car and can also negatively affect engine performance. Likewise, a restricted exhaust, as a result of damage, might result in backfiring or power losses. A loose or wobbly exhaust could fall off.Inspection service
Boot and swivel joints checkedCars have CV joints that transfer drive from the gearbox or diff to the wheel. These joints allow your car to turn and still have drive. Protecting the joint are rubber dust boots. These boots can split and allow dirt and road trash to wear the internal joint prematurely.Inspection service
Gearbox and transmission checked for leaksThe gearbox houses a series of moving gears on shafts. An automatic gearbox also includes a group of planetary gears. Both types rely on oil for cooling and lubricating purposes, so technicians examine the casings for signs of leaks.Inspection service
Vehicle system checkModern cars have an onboard computer, known as the ECU or ECM, controlling many components. Mechanics can plug in a device to scan individual sensors and systems for proper operation and error codes.Inspection service
Front and rear lights checkedRoad regulations require working lights, so the headlights, brake lamps and indicators plus number plate bulbs get tested to make sure they illuminate.Inspection service
Body checked for damageAny scratches or stone chips expose the bare metal underneath, which start to rust. Rust will eventually weaken the panel.Inspection service
Coolant level checkedEngine coolant flows through internal passageways in the block of the power plant and lowers operating temperatures. If the level drops too low, the engine can overheat, causing massive damage.Inspection service
Engine components checked visuallyA mechanic inspects the engine bay for oil or fluid leaks, signs of damage or failing components.Inspection service
Headlight adjustment verifiedPoorly adjusted headlights reduce low-light vision and can dazzle oncoming motorists. Thanks to bumps and potholes in the road, the headlights may work loose and need re-aligning.Inspection service
Windscreen wiper and washer fluidThe condition of windscreen wipers is inspected and the washer fluid reservoir topped up.Inspection service
Horn and warning lamps testedThe horn is tested as are the hazard lights.Inspection service
Steering system inspectedA series of rods connect the steering rack/box to the wheel end. On the end of these rods are movable joints known as track-rod ends. If these fail, they can seize in place, causing erratic and dangerous steering.Inspection service
Car is given a test driveA technician will take your car for a spin to make sure everything is ok and there are no unusual noises.Inspection service
Service light reset, service sticker filled outA mechanic resets the service warning lamp on the dashboard and fills out the service history booklet.Oil change and interval service

In addition to these typical tasks, manufacturers specify essential tasks to be carried out at set odometer readings.

For example, every 30,000km, the fuel filter is replaced and the tension of engine belts is checked. Every 40,000km, the gearbox oil is entirely replaced, the cabin filter that removes pollen from the air is swapped and spark plugs are changed.

At predetermined points, pulleys and tensioners may be replaced and at any point, a superseded component may be swapped. Other manufacturers also inspect the seats and seatbelts, plus a whole host of other criteria. Generally, these services will cost more.

Typical costs

Here are the average first-year servicing costs for common car types.

Make and ModelFirst year service cost
Small car
Toyota Yaris$140 incl. GST
Mitsubishi Mirage$245 incl. GST
Holden Barina$249 incl. GST
Ford Fiesta$255 incl. GST
Mazda 2$289 incl. GST
Toyota Camry$140 incl. GST
Mitsubishi Lancer$230 incl. GST
Holden Commodore ZB$259 incl. GST
Mazda 6$308 incl. GST
Ford Mondeo$420 incl. GST
Toyota Hilux$240 incl. GST
Mitsubishi Triton$325 incl. GST
Holden Colorado$369 incl. GST
Ford Ranger$385 incl. GST
Mazda BT-50$431 incl. GST

Other ways to save money on car running costs

Regular car servicing will help prolong the life of your car and keep you away from the garage in between services.

You should also consider an insurance policy that includes roadside assistance and breakdown cover. If you find you’re spending a lot on car repairs, it might be time to buy a new car. Purchasing a new ride will also mean you can benefit from fixed servicing costs introduced by many dealers. makes it easy to compare car finance deals.
Pictures: Shutterstock

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