If your car is making strange noises or the service light is lit up, it might be time to take it to the garage. 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.
When is my car due a service?
Knowing how often you should service your car can be confusing. As a rule of thumb, you should think about servicing your car every 12,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes first.
But for a more accurate answer, when your service becomes due depends on the make, model and age of your car, as well as what sort of service you want:
- An interim service
- A full service
- A major service
Some people opt to service their car at the same time as their MOT.
Your car manual might also give you an idea of when you need to service your car. And some models have a service light on the dashboard to remind you when it's time.
What are the different types of car service?
All car services include basic checks, such as making sure the brakes and gearbox are working.
There should also be a visual check, looking for any obvious problems.
But what sort of service does your car need? That depends on how you use your car and how long it's been since it was last serviced.
If you drive a lot, you might be advised that you should have an interim service.
If you have a high annual mileage or if a potential problem is spotted during a full service, an interim service might prove useful every six months.
An interim service looks at things such as:
- Warning lights
- Fuel cap
- Brake pad
The annual service (or every 12,000-mile service) is called a full service. This includes all the things that happen in an interim service, but a full service also adds checks on things such as the:
- Coolant system
- Gearbox mounts
- Wheels and wheel bearings
- Replacement air/fuel filters
Then there’s a major service, which includes things such as the brake fluid being changed along with further detailed checks and work.
It’s suggested that you have a major service every couple of years instead of a full service.
Regardless of how often 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 could end up costing a lot more in the long run.
What’s the difference between a service and an MOT?
A service and an MOT are sometimes casually referred to interchangeably, but they’re 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 garages often offer for an MOT and service to be carried out at the same time, saving time and money.
After all, if you never have your car serviced, it means it there's less chance of your car passing its MOT.
How much does a car service cost?
There’s 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. Shop around and get prices from a few garages to see how much you could save.
As a rough rule of thumb, an interim service might cost somewhere around £100.
A full service could 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’re charged for the parts plus the cost of any labour.
When does the car service light come on?
A lot of cars also have a service light – usually in the shape of a spanner – that comes on when your next service is due.
This is normally set by the manufacturer and is based on your car’s mileage. A light that comes on every 10,000 miles is typical for many makes and models.
Should I service my car when a dashboard warning light comes on?
Dashboard warning lights are the most obvious sign that something isn’t working, so don’t ignore them.
Your car's manual should show you what each of your dashboard lights mean.
In particular, if a yellow ‘check engine’ light appears on your dashboard, then yes – you should get your car to the garage for a service ASAP. There are a range of engine problems that this light could indicate.
Signs that tell you when your car is due a service
If you hear any unusual noises coming from your car, you should get them checked out.
- Squealing noises like a high-pitch 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 could 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 to 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 could cause an accident, resulting in damage to your car, seeing you claim on your car insurance.
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My car service is due: how do I book?
If you don’t already have a trusted garage you can use. Check out our useful garage comparison to find one near you for a service.
You need to take your service book when you leave it at the garage so that the details can be updated. Having a complete service history is handy – particularly if you hope to sell the car at some point.
You should also take any alloy wheel keys or locking nuts with you for the service. And make sure the boot is empty (or at least not completely full of stuff) so that the mechanics can check the spare wheel, if you have one.
What if my car doesn’t start?
If your car won’t start, you need to call a breakdown service. But it can help to be extra prepared with a breakdown kit.