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Car servicing guide

Save money and prevent breakdowns by maintaining your vehicle.

Expensive breakdowns and safety hazards can be prevented by taking care of your car — even if it costs you a little more up front.

Why service a car?

Cars are probably one of the most sophisticated and intricate pieces of machinery you own, with literally thousands of moving parts. After your house, it’s likely the second largest asset to your name, so it deserves to be taken care of. Here are four benefits of servicing your vehicle:

  • Saves money. Servicing maintains your fuel efficiency, replaces components before they fail and reduces your chance of having a costly breakdown.
  • Improves safety. Servicing also includes dozens of safety checks, helping to identify and replace any worn parts and keeping critical components like the suspension, steering, seat belts and braking systems working.
  • Increases longevity. A consistently serviced engine will last longer than a neglected one.
  • Raises resale value. A car with a consistent service history is more attractive to used vehicle buyers.

How often should I service my car?

As a rule of thumb, vehicles need servicing every 10,000-15,000 miles or once a year, whichever comes first.

However, if you use your car in severe operating conditions, you’ll need to get it serviced more often. This includes:

  • Making primarily short trips. Frequent short trips mean a car never gets to operating temperature, which can place extra stress on internal components.
  • Sitting for long periods with the engine idling. An idling engine won’t get up to temperature and the excess running time isn’t factored into the odometer reading.
  • Driving in areas with high dust levels. Dust plays havoc with metal car components, acting as an abrasive. Regular servicing reduces the effects of dust on the engine.
  • Towing a trailer on a regular basis. When pulling a trailer, the brakes, engine and suspension all have to handle extra strain. This accelerates wear and tear.
  • Driving in stop-and-start traffic. Constant braking and acceleration stress the mechanical parts of a car.

What’s involved in a car service?

Below is an example of typical servicing tasks. An interval service is your car’s yearly check-up when you get regular maintenance done. Oil changes are a little more frequent, and inspection services are just things that the mechanic will check when your car is in — the components don’t necessarily need to be replaced at every inspection.

Typical servicing checklistWhy it’s includedService type
Brake pad thickness checked: front and rearYour brakes require a sufficient amount of material to operate correctly. The material slowly wears down over time through use.Oil change and interval service
Brake system inspected for leaks/damageAny leaks in the brake system can result in poor braking performance and is a major safety concern. Likewise, any broken or defective components need replacing right away.Interval service
Brake fluid level checkedThe braking system is a hydraulic circuit that needs a specific level of fluid to operate. The brake fluid level drops as brake pads wear down.Interval service
Brake fluid changedBrake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water. Water is compressible and prone to boiling, but brake fluid is not. The moisture in the brake fluid reduces braking performance. The fluid is replaced to maintain the braking action.Inspection service
Engine oil changed/oil filter replacedEngine oil lubricates internal engine parts, which keeps them moving freely. Oil maintains engine performance and stops fast-spinning parts from overheating and failing. Oil also removes contaminants like soot and the oil filter cleans the oil — both have a limited lifespan.Oil change and interval service
Battery visually inspectedThe battery is examined for frayed cables, loose connections, powdery deposits on the terminals and to make sure the casing isn’t cracked.Interval service
Tire tread depth, condition, wear pattern and pressure checkedTire treads help to shed standing water from the road, improving traction and keeping the tire cool. Once they wear beyond the minimum levels, a car will not have as much grip and braking distances will increase.Interval service
Power steering fluid checkedVehicles with hydraulically assisted power steering need a certain amount of fluid to operate. Mechanics check the power steering reservoir level and top-up if necessary.Interval service
Exhaust pipe checked for leaks and secure fittingA leaking exhaust can cause fumes to enter the cabin of your car and can also negatively affect engine performance. Likewise, a restricted exhaust, as a result of damage, might result in backfiring or power losses. A loose or wobbly exhaust could fall off.Inspection service
Ball joints checkedCars have joints that connect the steering knuckle and the control arm — AKA metal pieces that allow you to steer. Protecting the joint are rubber dust boots. These boots can split and allow dirt and road trash to wear the internal joint prematurely.Inspection service
Gearbox and transmission checked for leaksThe gearbox houses a series of moving gears on shafts. An automatic gearbox also includes a group of planetary gears. Both types rely on oil for cooling and lubricating purposes, so technicians examine the casings for signs of leaks.Inspection service
Vehicle system checkModern cars have an onboard computer, known as the ECU or ECM, controlling many components. Mechanics can plug in a device to scan individual sensors and systems for proper operation and error codes.Inspection service
Front and rear lights checkedHeadlights, tail lights, brake lights, blinkers and fog lights need to be checked on a regular basis and replaced when burned out.Inspection service
Body checked for damageAny scratches or stone chips expose the bare metal underneath, which start to rust. Rust will eventually weaken the car.Inspection service
Coolant level checkedEngine coolant flows through internal passageways in the block of the power plant and lowers operating temperatures. If the level drops too low, the engine can overheat, causing massive damage.Inspection service
Engine components checked visuallyA mechanic inspects the engine bay for oil or fluid leaks, signs of damage or failing components.Inspection service
Headlight adjustment verifiedPoorly adjusted headlights reduce low-light vision and can dazzle oncoming motorists. Thanks to bumps and potholes in the road, the headlights may work loose and need realigning.Inspection service
Windshield wiper and washer fluidThe condition of windshield wipers is inspected and the washer fluid reservoir is topped up.Inspection service
Horn and warning lamps testedThe horn is tested as are the hazard lights.Inspection service
Steering system inspectedA series of rods connect the steering system to the wheel end. On the end of these rods are movable joints known as tie rod ends. If these fail, they can seize in place, causing erratic and dangerous steering.Inspection service
Car is given a test driveA technician will take your car for a spin to make sure everything is OK and there are no unusual noises.Inspection service
Service light reset, service sticker filled outA mechanic resets the service warning lamp on the dashboard and fills out the service history booklet.Oil change and interval service

What else does my car need?

In addition to these typical tasks, manufacturers specify essential tasks to be carried out at set odometer readings.

For example, every 30,000 miles, the fuel filter is replaced and the tension of engine belts is checked. Depending on your car, your transmission fluid could need replacing anywhere from 15,000 to 60,000 miles.

At predetermined points, pulleys and engine components may need replacing. Some manufacturers also inspect the seats and seat belts, plus a whole host of other criteria. Generally, these services will cost more.

Bottom line

Regular car servicing will help prolong the life of your car and keep you away from the mechanic between scheduled services. However, it’s still a good idea to get an insurance policy that offers roadside assistance in case your car ever breaks down, runs out of gas or blows a tire.

Frequently asked questions about car repairs

Pictures: Shutterstock

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