Servicing your car isn’t something you have to do, and that is what makes it different to an MOT and other legal requirements relating to your car. While an MOT checks that the car is roadworthy in terms of its condition and emissions, amongst other factors, a service is something that just ensures that your car is healthy, a bit like going to the doctor for a routine check-up.
A lot of owner’s manuals will suggest that cars should be serviced when they have completed a certain number of miles, although this is by no means compulsory. Sure, you can take it in to a local garage to have a professional mechanic give it the once over, but there are a number of car servicing tasks that you can perform at home relatively easily without having to give up days or hundreds of pounds.
One of the main reasons why people choose not to service their cars is because of fears over the potential costs. A lot of repair bills can be much higher than owners thought, and for some it’s the kind of money that they just don’t have. By following some of this advice, however, you can keep the repair bills down and your car in showroom condition.
Why service a car
As mentioned previously, a service is a bit like going to the doctor for a check-up. You can run your eye over certain systems and components, ensuring that they are still in good condition and that fluid levels are at the optimum point which will in turn protect the larger internal parts.
By leaving your car until it reaches a point where a service or urgent repair is needed you risk the large bills. To avoid having to hand over hundreds, dedicate one of your lazy Sunday’s to topping up your windscreen washer bottle, the engine coolant, oil and other car fluids and lubricants as well as changing the wiper blades and cleaning out your oil, air and pollen filters.
If you can perform a number of routine checks and changes at home, before they can develop into much larger issues, not only will you save yourself money but you will also notice an improvement in performance – or comfort at the very least – in some cases too.
Home car servicing
When you bought your car you will have been given an owner’s manual. This is the booklet provided by the manufacturer that shows you where the various parts are, the particular model numbers for any replacements and how often certain parts need to be checked in terms of either age or mileage.
By paying close attention to this manual you won’t go too far wrong in terms of repairing and maintaining parts before the disastrous damage and repair bills arrive. If you don’ have the original manual then we do have a range of Haynes workshop manuals in our online store.
You can also react quickly to potential problems by resolving any issues indicated by lights on your dashboard. Electrical, mechanical and fluid issues are all easily identifiable by looking up what each symbol means in your owner’s handbook. Dashboard warning lights are just that, warnings, so they are not to be ignored (unless you have thousands to spend on new parts or engine rebuilds).
An essential car servicing checklist
Tyre Condition and Pressure
Your tyres are in constant contact with the road, providing you with all of the essential grip that you need. However, over time the tread will start to wear and this reduces the amount of grip meaning that braking could take longer and it could be more hazardous to drive in harsh weather. You also risk ‘blow outs’ when they are in a poor condition which could cause a serious accident so pay close attention to the tread levels and any signs of damage to the tyre wall.
Similarly, the air in your tyres will eventually escape and having less air in the tyres will affect performance and fuel economy. You will find the recommended air pressure inside the fuel filler flap or in your handbook.
Coolant, Oil, Washer Fluid and Water Levels
It’s easy to get carried away with all of the moving parts and the bodywork of your car, as these are the bits that you notice the most frequently. It’s more noticeable when something is wrong with a particular part because it either makes a different noise or it just stops working. Similarly, you can see when the bodywork is damaged or if a bulb stops working.
However, a lot of the under-the-bonnet parts need to be kept lubricated and topped up with water and coolant in order to keep them working at the optimum level. Imagine it a bit like the blood and water you need to survive and to stay healthy.
Your engine needs coolant, oil and water to allow the moving parts to work smoothly thereby preventing them from grinding each other down (resulting in an expensive engine rebuild). It also needs water and coolant to keep the temperature down while it’s running, preventing your car from over-heating.
Your windscreen can get covered in dirt off the road, especially during the winter, and you often find that you use much more washer fluid at this time of year. It’s therefore vital that you check the reservoir (if you don’t have a warning light on the dashboard), to ensure that you have enough fluid to enhance your visibility.
The bulbs for your car can last for what might seem like an age, but all of a sudden their quality can snowball. Once one bulb goes, you tend to find that others follow soon after. You can easily check that your headlight and tail light bulbs are working by parking against a flat surface (such as a wall or garage) and seeing the light reflecting.
You can also easily check your indicators and hazards by switching them on and getting out of the car, walking round and ensuring each one is lit when it should be.
Finally, you will need help with your reversing and brake lights as you need to be in gear or pushing the pedal. It only takes a few seconds just to ensure that the lights are lit when they need to be. All bulbs are easily replaced and often just click in and out.
Air, Oil and Pollen Filters
Filters might sound insignificant, but you would soon know about them if they stopped working. The air, oil and pollen filters prevent harmful materials from the atmosphere or the road from getting into the engine and other moving parts, and the inside of the vehicle itself.
Pollen from the air can get into the car making it difficult for drivers and passengers with allergies, while the air and oil filters stop dust and dirt from getting into the system and causing significant damage to the essential components.
A lot of car owners know very little about their wiper blades, other than how to turn them on and off, and whether or not they are attached to the car! They certainly don’t know when or how to change the blades.
The relatively simple rule of thumb is to run your finger along the rubber blade to check for any signs of damage (such as scratches or holes), or to assess the windscreen itself for any signs of smearing. If the wiper blades aren’t sufficiently wiping the glass then it may be that they have reached the end of their lifespan and it’s time to change them. This process is relatively simple as the majority of blades simply click in and out of their casing.
Spark plugs are a crucial component in firing your car into life. They use the electrical spark from the ignition to cause the internal combustion that wakes your car up when you turn the key, but each time this happens a small piece of the plug wears.
Most manufacturers have a recommended mileage where it is time to swap your spark plugs and this can vary between 80,000 and 100,000-miles so it is a very infrequent piece of work to carry out. Replacing the spark plugs can take around an hour, so unless you know what to do it’s worth getting help from a professional – or at the very least assistance from a friend or family member who has performed the task before.
The battery is arguably the most important electrical component, as without it you would have no headlights, no stereo and, of course, no ignition. Like most household batteries, they do lose their power over time and it varies from model to model.
You can buy battery testers to check the amount of charge yours has, and you can always try to shock it into life if it won’t start through jump leads connected to another vehicle. When you’ve had to jump-start a car battery it’s probably a sign that it is time to change it and experts will be able to advise you on the best version for your make and model. Alternatively, there will be a code attached to the existing car battery.
Changing the battery is not an overly complicated task, and only requires a few simple hand tools. Start by loosening the positive clamp followed by any screws and attachments, then the negative. Place the new battery in the space and attach it starting with the positive again.