1. Home
  2. Car insurance
  3. Car insurance guides

Signs your car needs a service

If your car is making strange noises, it might be time to take it to the garage. We’ve listed what you need to look out for.

A car getting a service

The last thing you need is your car breaking down or having to fork out for a costly repair.

Catching these signs early can stop minor issues developing into bigger ones and possibly save you a small fortune.


How often should you service your car?

According to Halfords, you should service your car every 12,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes first.

Some people opt to service their car at the same time as their MOT.

But sometimes it’s useful to have an additional check and to know what the different types of service are.

It can be useful to store your important vehicle dates in one place, such as the Confused.com app, so you don't forget when your next service, MOT or car insurance renewal is due, 


What are the different types of car service?

All services include basic checks, such as making sure the brakes and gearbox are working.

There will also be a visual check, looking for any obvious problems.

The annual service (or every 12,000-mile service) is called a full service, and this usually includes things such as air and fuel filters being replaced.

It might also be recommended that you have an interim service.

This can be useful if you drive a lot of miles – 2,000 miles a month or more – or if a potential problem is spotted during a full service that didn’t need immediate attention.

Then there is a major service, which includes things such as brake fluid being changed.

It is suggested that you have a major service every couple of years instead of a full service.

But regardless of when you have your car serviced, don’t ignore any dashboard warning lights that come on in the meantime.

They could be highlighting a serious problem – and delaying having the problem looked at can end up costing a lot more in the long run.


What is the difference between a service and an MOT?

A service and an MOT are sometimes referred to interchangeably, but they are not the same.

A service is important and keeps your car in good nick and running smoothly, but it isn’t a legal requirement.

An MOT is a legal requirement, however – it’s a test that makes sure your car is still roadworthy and safe to drive.

The reason that some people lump them together is because an MOT and service are often carried out at the same time, saving time and money.

After all, if you never have your car serviced, it increases the chances of failing the MOT.


How much does a service cost?

There is no uniform price. It depends both on what type of car you’ve got and who does the service.

There’s no harm in asking a couple of garages how much they’ll charge.

As a very rough rule of thumb, an interim service might cost somewhere around £100.

A full service can cost a lot more – particularly if you have a performance car – but a guide price of between £150 and £200 is a good starting point.

These prices relate just to the service itself. If something needs fixing or replacing, you’ll be charged for the parts plus the cost of any labour.


Dashboard warning lights

Dashboard warning lights are the most obvious sign that something isn’t working. Don’t ignore them!

If a yellow ‘check engine’ light appears on your dashboard, you should get your car to the garage for a service ASAP.

There are a range of engine problems that this light could indicate.

A lot of cars also have a service light – usually in the shape of a spanner – that will come on when your next service is due.

Your car's manual will show you what each of your dashboard lights mean.


Strange noises

If you hear any unusual noises coming from your car, you should get them checked out.

Squealing noises like a high-pitched squeal when turning the ignition on could indicate a problem with the cambelt. It might be worn, or loose.

Squealing brakes could be down to worn brake pads.

Whining from under the bonnet is usually caused by a loose cambelt, which can cause all sorts of issues from overheating to battery problems.

Scraping noises need to be checked out. It could be a broken part of your car scraping on something else. This will cause further damage to both components.  An example of this is a tyre scraping on the wheel arches.

An uneven engine noise could be an easy fix but might indicate a more serious problem with your engine.

Louder-than-usual exhaust noise tends to be easy to fix. But you should get it looked at sooner rather than later as there’s a risk your exhaust pipe could fall off.

Crunching gears can make a huge noise. If you hear this crunching noise as you change gear, get it checked out straight away.


Loss of power or stalling

Difficulty getting up to speed or not being able reach the usual distance with a full tank of petrol could mean something is wrong.

Stalling even though you’re in the right gear is also often a tell-tale sign.


Unusual brake activity

Vibrating or pulling while braking could be due to worn brake discs or pads, a suspension problem, or an issue with your steering.

If you notice oversensitivity or resistance, you should get your car checked as soon as you can.

It's not safe to drive like this and may cause an accident, resulting in damage to your car, seeing you claim on your car insurance.

Compare car insurance quotes


What can you do you avoid these problems?

The best thing you can do is have your car serviced regularly. But also try to pay attention to how your car works so that you can quickly spot or hear anything unusual.


What if your car doesn’t start?

If your car won’t start, you’ll need to call a breakdown service. But it can help to be extra prepared with a breakdown kit.