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Mystery Shop: Don’t pay over the odds for a car service

 A car engine being maintained

Booking a car service can be a nightmare task for many motorists. How much should it cost? What should it include? We lift the lid on several big-name garages and look at what’s on offer.

Vehicle repair can be a minefield for many motorists and the annual service is no exception.

Should you use an independent garage or a franchised dealer? How much should you expect to shell out? And what if you need additional repairs?

The good news is, by law you should never be charged more than £54.85 for an MOT. But when it comes to servicing, it’s a whole different scenario.

The UK has more than 19,000 licensed garages, making choosing the garage a bit of a gamble. And with prices ranging from £45 to almost £200 for different services, it can be a very confusing process.

Chris Mason, managing director at Motorcodes, the vehicle-repair watchdog, says: “Naturally, different vehicles will have different service requirements and costs will vary between models.  A standard service is not the same at every garage so motorists should ask exactly what they're getting for their money and what extras may be included.”

We checked out prices for a range of services at the following garages.*

Halfords Autocentre (previously Nationwide Autocentres)

I called my local centre direct (Bristol) and spoke to a mechanic. He recommended a full service, once I’d explained how old my car was and when it was last serviced.

Price - £175 inc VAT for a full service, which includes a 76-point check of the car.

Cost of additional work – I was assured that no further work would be carried out without my consent and prices for that would be quoted at the time the problems are uncovered.

How quickly could I get my car serviced? He couldn’t give an estimate of waiting times but assured me that if I wanted to call back they would be flexible and could definitely fit me in.

Rating 3/5 – The mechanic was happy to answer questions and was friendly but he did push for a booking there and then and I felt that the price was quite high.


I called the local branch direct and was advised that I’d need a full service but was also given the option of a part service.

Price - Full service: £145 inc VAT includes 120-point inspection. Part service: £99 inc VAT includes 80 point inspection

Cost of additional work? “We never do any additional work unless the customer’s happy with it,” was the answer. And then prices are quoted depending on the nature of the repairs.

How quickly could I get my car serviced? I was told to give a week’s notice for a weekend appointment or 4 to 5 days for weekday bookings.

Rating 3/5 – Friendly helpful staff but I found the detail of what the inspections include confusing.

In and Out

In and Out is a relative newcomer to the vehicle repair market, offering MOT and servicing while you wait at 9 UK locations. They offer varying levels of service and I was recommended their ‘service plus’ after calling their general helpline number.

Price - £129 for Express service plus, includes 15-point check or £99 for interim service. More basic services are available from £49.

Cost of additional work? I was told that In and Out can carry out basic repairs but if any major problems are uncovered during a service they’d recommend I go elsewhere ‘We always offer customers a way out’ I was told.

How quickly could I get my car serviced? Drivers can turn up and wait for a same-day service but to reduce waiting times In and Out recommended that I called ahead to book, but it was possible I could be fitted in the same day.

Rating 4/5 – For same-day servicing, clear explanation of what’s involved and especially friendly staff.

AA servicing

Launched at the beginning of this year, the AA now offers vehicle servicing for member and non-members. However, I was told that for the time being the AA is not taking any more bookings because huge demand has caused a backlog. The adviser recommended I call back in one month.

Rating 1/5 – only because the AA customer service adviser was so friendly and apologetic!

Brunel Ford

My car is a Ford so it seemed fair to try a Ford dealer. Again, I was recommended a full service by the adviser on the national enquiry line.

Price – £195 inc VAT for full service with 60-point check. A value service, which I was told was “basic”, included a 30-point check for £99 or £129 with an MOT.

Cost of additional work? Extra repairs are not included in the price but I was assured that someone would call before any extra repairs were made.

How quickly could I get my car serviced? For a Saturday service I was told to give 2 to 3 weeks’ notice but for weekdays it dropped to 3 or 4 days.

Rating 2/5 – Although the sales adviser was friendly I didn’t feel like I was getting expert, first-hand advice and the price seemed steep.

A&M Motor Services

Next I decided to compare a local garage. They recommended a full service.

Price - £140 plus VAT for a full service, although no detail of how many points checked. Basic service £69 and engine service £99.

Cost of additional work? Would consist of a labour rate plus VAT but depends on the nature of the work. Assured that they would call first to check before carrying out additional repairs.

How quickly could I get my car serviced? Could book in immediately, plenty of availability and serviced within a day.

Rating 3/5 – The advice was a bit vague and rushed but being able to book in immediately was a plus.


To make sure you’re getting a good deal from a reputable garage, look for the Motorcodes Code of Practice.

Across the UK, 6,500 garages subscribe to the government-backed scheme, providing honest and fair services with open and transparent pricing. 

Garages subscribing to the Code, many with customer ratings, can be found via the Garage Finder tool at

*Quotes and information based on servicing a 2003 Ford Streetka, which was last serviced a year ago 

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Lois Avery

Lois Avery

Lois joined in 2010 after working for Dyson and as a local newspaper reporter in Wiltshire. After a year writing financial journalism at, Lois won the 2011 'most promising newcomer' at the BIBA journalist of the year awards.

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