What do They Check on a Car Service?

Q: My car needs a service, but I’m not sure what will actually be done to it when I drop it in. What do they check during a car service?

A: As with so many questions we get, the first answer to this is “it depends…” Most cars now have built-in service monitors. That can vary from a simple count-down clock that resets each time the car is serviced, and which pings up a reminder when you’re getting near time to book-in, to more sophisticated setups that use multiple sensors checking individual components to keep an eye on wear and tear levels. All of this means that different things can be done at a car service, depending on what mileage your car is at.

Generally, when a car needs a service, it will fall into one of three categories — minor service (sometimes called an interval service), a ‘full’ service, and a ‘major’ service.

Obviously, of these three, the minor service is the most, well, minor. It will involve at the very least changing the car’s oil and oil filters, checking and topping up the major fluids — coolant, anti-freeze, power steering, brake — and checking the condition of items such as the brake pads and brake discs, replacing them as necessary. Generally speaking, wiper blades — which wear out more quickly than you might think — will also be replaced.
Most garages when they’re carrying out a minor service will also give the car a general once-over to check things like tyre tread depth, and make sure all of your lights and indicators are working properly. If anything is wrong with any of these things, you’ll be told and advised to repair or replace. 

Q: How do I know if I need a minor or major service?

A: You can check your car’s handbook, which will lay out the general servicing requirements for your car, but the easiest thing to do is to pick up the phone to your dealer, give them your registration number and mileage, and they’ll tell you what the car is due for. As a rule of thumb, most cars will need a service at least annually, or every 10-16,000km — whichever is sooner.

Q: So what happens at a ‘full’ service?

A: You're spending a lot of money on this, so now you're really wondering what will be checked on this service. Well, all of the above, plus some further checks and work, such as making sure that the engine is in its proper state of ‘tune’, and running smoothly. A full service will usually also include suspension checks and wheel alignments, steering checks, and a test of the battery’s condition. If you’ve got an NCT coming up, it’s a good idea to book in for a full service ahead of time, to make sure that you pass first time out. 

Q: And a ‘major’ service?

A: Again, all of the above but you’re into potentially replacing major mechanical components such as brake discs, clutches (if your car has a manual gearbox), and timing belts. None of these parts are, in themselves, especially expensive, but they can take time to remove and replace properly, hence the labour charges will push up the cost of a ‘major’ service. Then again, you’ve potentially spent a lot of money buying the car, so why skimp on servicing? Not only does it mean that your car is safer to drive, it also pays you back come resale time — a full set of main-dealer service stamps in the car’s history file can be worth as much as €2,000 on the resale value, depending on the model. 

Q: Speaking of cost, how much will I have to pay?

A: Again, it depends — different brands and different dealers charge different prices, and those prices vary geographically. Generally (but certainly not always) Dublin dealers charge higher prices than dealers down the country a ways. On average, labour costs run from €80 per hour to as much as €125 per hour at a main dealer. The good news is that most major brands now run an inclusive servicing option, generally at a cost of between €9.99 and €15.99 per month. You simply add that on to the cost of your repayments on the car itself, and all of your major servicing costs — minus components that need to be replaced out of warranty — are covered. If you’re buying a new, or even nearly-new, car on a finance package, it’s well-worth considering. 

Q: Should I go to a main dealer?

A: It’s often worth doing so. Yes, a non-franchised garage will be able to provide servicing at a slightly cheaper rate, but given the increasing complexity of cars, it’s no bad thing to have someone who’s been specifically trained to work on your car, working on your car. Again, you’re paying a little more now, but it’s worth it in the longer run from a point of view of safety and resale value. 

If you're considering purchasing a new car, make sure get the car checked before committing!