Learn everything you need to know about car servicing.
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 checklist||Why it’s included||Service type|
|Brake pad thickness checked: front and rear||Your 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/damage||Any 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 checked||The 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 changed||Brake 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 replaced||Engine 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 inspected||The 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 checked||Tyre 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 checked||Vehicles 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 fitting||A 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 checked||Cars 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 leaks||The 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 check||Modern 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 checked||Road 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 damage||Any scratches or stone chips expose the bare metal underneath, which start to rust. Rust will eventually weaken the panel.||Inspection service|
|Coolant level checked||Engine 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 visually||A mechanic inspects the engine bay for oil or fluid leaks, signs of damage or failing components.||Inspection service|
|Headlight adjustment verified||Poorly 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 fluid||The condition of windscreen wipers is inspected and the washer fluid reservoir topped up.||Inspection service|
|Horn and warning lamps tested||The horn is tested as are the hazard lights.||Inspection service|
|Steering system inspected||A 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 drive||A 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 out||A 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.
Here are the average first-year servicing costs for common car types.
|Make and Model||First year service cost|
|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. finder.com.au makes it easy to compare car finance deals.