A Car Owners Guide to Car Servicing

Cars of every age, make and model need regular servicing. At minimum, your car needs a service every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever is sooner. https://www.carsnip.com/car-advice/used-car-buyers-guide/

Regular servicing helps your car to hold its value better and significantly reduces the risk of costly and inconvenient breakdowns further down the line.

What’s the difference between interim and full services?

The two main types of service, full and interim, differ in terms of regularity and depth. A quicker, cheaper interim service should be carried out every 6 months or 6,000 miles, whereas the more comprehensive full service is only necessary every 12 months or 12,000 miles (depending on car make and model).

Interim services (so-called because they fall in the ‘interim’ between full services) are typically used as an additional check for drivers who use their cars very heavily. This use could be frequent long journeys and high mileage, or it could also come from consistent urban use, which involves regular use of the clutch, gearbox and brakes. Interim services are designed to catch problems in more vulnerable parts that a frequent driver wouldn’t want to leave alone for a full year.

man fixing underneath car

Full services are standard requirements for any owner who wants to keep their car in the best shape possible. Recommended for every 12 months or 12,000 miles, a full service goes into more depth than an interim check. During this service, mechanics will look at key components in all the main areas of the car, not just those that are most vulnerable to heavy use.

What does an interim car service include?

An interim service includes a look at key parts of the car that are at risk from heavy use. They also generally involve engine oil top ups and a look at warning lights to check that there are no more significant issues to worry about. Some of the primary checks include:

  • Engine oil levels (including a top up if necessary)
  • Clutch
  • Gearbox
  • Warning lights
  • Battery
  • Brakes (often just a visual inspection in an interim service)
  • Tyres and wheels

What does a full car service include?

A full service will normally include all of the interim checks, as well as a more extensive look into each key area of the car. The aim is to identify any standard problem that might arise from normal driving. It’s common for a full service to result in a repair or a new part being ordered on the day so, if possible, make allowances for these extra costs in your budget.

car wheel taken apart

Your full service should involve looking at:

  • The drive system (including the clutch and gearbox)
  • Engine
  • Exhaust
  • Fuel system
  • Brakes (this will include testing, unlike many interim services)
  • Tyres and wheels
  • Windscreen and mirrors
  • Steering (including power steering) and other systems
  • Suspension

How much does a car service cost?

Base car service costs vary depending on your car and the prices offered by garages around you. Generally, you should look to spend between £80 and £100 for an interim service and £125 to £150 for a full service. On some longer term service plans, even better deals are available. It’s worth shopping around beforehand.

Another important consideration is additional charges that will be incurred if it’s necessary for mechanics to repair your car on the day, which may also include the cost of ordering in additional parts. For an idea of repair costs, you should see if you can find out the hourly rate of the garages you’re considering.

The costs of new parts can vary considerably. Manufacturers and franchised dealers will always buy approved parts for your model, which tend to be pricier but higher quality. High-street and independent garages can be cheaper, but sometimes at the cost of lower reliability. We’ll explore this in more depth below.

How long does a car service take?

A standard interim service should take around an hour and a half, whereas a full service is often closer to 3 hours. However, these times are just guidelines as any repairs will necessarily make the service take longer. In some cases, there may also be a delay while the garage waits for parts to be delivered. With most garages, you’re free to leave your car there all day to work around your own schedule.

cars being fixed

Depending on the garage, it may also be possible to arrange for courtesy cars or collection/drop-off services that make the timings easier for you to manage. When you’re researching garages, these additional services may be worth taking into consideration if you think that working to specific times will be a problem.

What’s the cost of skipping a car service?

Though services might seem expensive, there are often greater costs associated with skipping one. Missing a service – especially a yearly full service – opens your car up to the possibility of a significant drop in resale value and to significantly higher risks of breakdowns and other problems arising.

It’s hard to estimate the exact monetary cost of skipping a car service, but some estimates put the loss of value as high as 25% compared to an identical car with a full service history (FSH).

While less certain than a drop in resale value, a breakdown or accident caused by something that a service would have caught could result in a big expense and could put you and others at risk of physical harm. There really is no point taking this risk.

car crash

What does a full service history mean?

A full service history, abbreviated to FSH, is a record that shows that a car has had a full service every year. A FSH is a big factor in the value of a used car when it comes to resale, allowing the dealer to sell it for more and acting as an important trust factor when potential buyers are evaluating the merits of a potential purchase.

However, not all full service histories are created equal. While any FSH is better than no FSH, many used car dealers will value a car higher if it has only been serviced at a garage attached to a franchised dealer or the manufacturer. This would mean that all checks would have been carried out with approved, specialised tools and any part replacements would use parts from the manufacturer.

However you’re getting your car serviced, it’s important to keep a record of it to prove your FSH. If your car has a service log already, ensure that it’s always stamped after each service. If not, you can keep the paperwork from each service yourself, which a future buyer will be able to check when they’re looking to see that there are no gaps.

Dealer service or local garage?

This guide has already alluded to the choice you’ll have to make between a franchised dealer and a local garage when looking for a place to get your car serviced. We’ve also mentioned the third option: big name high-street garages, also known as fast-fits, like Halfords.

Franchised dealers

Franchised dealers are normally seen as the safest option. Their mechanics will be experienced with your model, which is a big advantage when diagnosing specific faults or finding the most efficient fixes. In addition, they’ll be using tools, software and parts that have been approved by the manufacturer for use on those specific cars.

The main drawback that consumers often perceive to be the case with dealers is that they’re more expensive than the alternatives. While it’s true that individual service prices and the prices of some parts are more expensive, you should bear in mind that longer term servicing plans can often be cheaper than going to a different garage and that the quality of part that you’re getting is superior to a less pricey alternative.

Independent garages

Local, independent garages can also be a good option. They’re often the cheapest in terms of price and the mechanics can get to know your car if you plan on going there for multiple services. Some local garages also specialise in certain makes, especially if their owner or employees have previous experience working for particular franchised dealers or manufacturers.

cars hanging

One drawback is that if you’re finding a new garage, it can be tricky to know which one is going to do a good job. Thankfully, reviews are easy to find and a quick look at Trading Standards should also flag up any obvious problems. The last thing you want to do is take a risk that your car’s service will be substandard.

‘Fast-fit’ chains

Your final main option is so-called ‘fast-fit’ chains. These well-known brands will carry out services for a reasonable price, but it’s harder to judge the quality of the work being done. Often mechanics will have very little experience with your model of car, which can lead to the job being a lower quality than you’d get with a trusted independent garage or a specialised dealer.

One big advantage of the larger chains is that they have a lot of parts on hand and replacements are often (but not always) cheaper than elsewhere. If you have an older car or a car that you’re not planning on selling on for a reasonable sum in the future, going through one of the ‘fast-fit’ chains will often be the cheapest option.

How to check the service history of a car

When it comes to checking the service history of a car you’re looking to buy, you have a few options. If the dealer previous owner can produce a fully-stamped service log book, you shouldn’t need anything more. Alternatively, they may be able to show you paperwork that documents the service history instead.

If the log book or documents aren’t readily available (which can be a result of accidental loss – you don’t have to assume that something dodgy is going on!), there are other ways to check a car’s service history. The majority of garages and franchised dealers keep electronic records of the services they’ve carried out, which they’ll be able to share with you if you phone them.

In order to make sure the garage can find the right records, it’s helpful to find the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the car in question. This is normally located on the inside of the door frame or in the engine compartment.

In the absence of consistent electronic records from a garage, your final port of call can be one of the various online services that will pull up the data for you. These do charge a small fee, but if it’s the only way of finding the service history of the car you’re considering, it’s almost definitely worth doing.


Getting your car serviced regularly at a reputable garage is one of the most important things you can do as its owner. Make sure you do your research into local garages to find the one that fits your budget and requirements and don’t be alarmed if they find things which need repairing or replacing. Whatever you spend on servicing will likely be made back by the boost it gives to your car’s resale value and you can never put too high a price on safety and reliability.

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