The Car Service: Fact & Fiction

It’s something we all do but like taxes it’s not a rewarding way to part with your hard-earned cash. After all, there is nothing tangible to show for it except a plastic bag covering the front seat and a square of recycled paper protecting the carpet. The truth is we really haven’t a clue what goes on once our car is manoeuvred onto the ramp by the men in blue overalls. You pay your money and you take your chance…

mechanic looking under carThis article debunks some of the myths surrounding the car service and we will be answering these questions, amongst others:

So, what exactly is a car service?

If you are a car nerd like us, you may be interested to note just how little car drivers know about the technical aspects of a car service. What does it involve and what is the difference between a major and an interim service? From our research (conducted in the Six Bells), we discovered that beyond the oil change the business of car servicing is something of a dark art.

And yet, the perception of the importance of servicing a car regularly is undisputable, as cars with a full-service history are valued more highly than those with an uncertain history. It’s true too that main dealer histories are prized above others. Is this justified or are we being duped?

In terms of the ‘well-being’ of the car, the oil change is the mainstay of the car service. Oil, which lubricates the moving parts within an engine, degrades over time. If you want your motor to clock-up ½ a million miles, then change the oil regularly and your chances will improve.

In days gone by, lubrication of non-engine parts was also an important aspect of a car service as many components where open to the elements. Today most components are encased as sealed units so a modern-day service is largely an exercise in checking; for leaks, for corrosion, for damage and for wear. Of brakes, suspension, steering, bearings, struts, springs, hoses, batteries, lights, seals, seat belts, air conditioning units, alternators, switches, sensors and pretty much anything else you can think of. And then, every now and again you may be faced, with additional requirements, such as replacing the timing chain or cambelt which in some cars, can be an expensive job.

Major and interim services

Most manufacturers specify two levels of servicing, alternating between a full service and an interim service. (The interim service is sometimes referred to as an oil service). A full service should include a comprehensive and rigorous list of actions and checks. ( click here for to see what Kwik Fit include in their services). It’s a good idea to combine an MOT with a full service as the service will pick up issues which could potentially lead to an MOT failure.

The purpose of a service is fourfold:

And perhaps you could add a fifth which is to increase the resale value of the vehicle when you sell it.

Labour rates and cost of servicing

Unsurprisingly franchise dealers have the highest labour rates and small independents are generally the cheapest. But the picture varies depending on your location. In the southeast you will often be charged north of £200 an hour plus VAT for the privilege of a franchised dealer’s mechanic working on your car. Whereas, in some parts of the country, particularly Scotland and the northern most counties you can still find some independents charging less than £40 an hour.

However, in a quest for balance, we should point out that the gap between labour rates of franchised dealers and independents has narrowed in recent years. This is in part due to the new breed of service centres such as Kwik Fit and F1Autocentres which offer fixed price servicing and have branches throughout the country. These sit between the main dealer and the independent. On the face of it, these operations are good for competition as they provide a transparent listing of all the works they undertake, so that the consumer knows exactly what they are getting for their money. And they are offering services at up to 40% less than a main dealer.

These service centres are well kitted out with the latest diagnostics too but of course do not necessarily have the specialist knowledge which the main dealer can claim. Small independent garages are a mixed bag; some, no doubt, are fantastic and give superb value for money but others, not so, with little in the way diagnostics or know-how of modern car electronics. If you use an independent it’s important you ascertain their labour rates and details of their service schedule so you know exactly what you are getting for your cash.

Main Dealer/ Service Centre /Independent

If you use a main dealer you expect a first-class service and know that replacement parts will come direct from the manufacturer of the car in question. They will genuinely look after your vehicle and you can expect a comprehensive report on its well-being of the car. The main dealer will also usually offer you a courtesy car for the day, as well as a free cup of coffee! But you will pay a high price for the privilege.

If you are looking to save your pennies you may be better shopping around. A car service is not rocket science after all and in truth, most autocentres and independents are perfectly capable of servicing a car to a decent standard. Occasionally you could come unstuck with sub-standard parts but with parts manufacturers’ having to comply with stricter manufacturing standards this is becoming much less of an issue than it once was. For a quotation plug in your registration number on the Kwik Fit or F1Autocentre websites.

It is worth noting too, that not all main dealers are as expensive as others! Whereas, Jaguar have a reputation for very high labour rates, Suzuki (for example) have more reasonable rates. So, the moral of the story is to ask for a price from your local franchised dealer and if you unhappy with it, then shop around. On balance, we at, find it hard to justify the higher prices charged by main dealer for car servicing.

From our collective experience, the scenario where the main dealer comes into its own is where there is a ‘hard to diagnose’ fault, particularly to the electrics, as their greater experience of their 0wn brand often means they can diagnose the fault more quickly and efficiently. A service or MOT, however, does not fall into this category and we advise motorists on a budget, to shop around to get the best deal.

It is worth noting that some main dealers offer discounts on the servicing of older vehicles on the basis, presumably, that they lose most of this trade to less expensive autocentres and independents anyway. Another suggestion, if you want the best of both worlds is to use autocentres or independents for the interim service but take your vehicle to the main dealer for major services.

Leased and Financed cars

If you have a leased car or have taken out a PCP you will be expected to service the vehicle at a main dealer. With both leases and PCP’s, the lease provider /finance company have a vested interest in maintaining the value of the vehicle and will therefore stipulate the service requirements in the contract. If you do not follow the service schedule to the letter you can expect to be charged at the termination of the agreement.

If it’s a straightforward finance agreement (HP) or if it’s a PCP but you intend to pay the balloon and keep the car, then where you service the car is up to you.