What Is A Car Service And What Does It Include?

Chloe Murphy 8 minutes Published: 18/10/2021

The other day, Sam's car dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. Over the course of time, more and more symbols had popped up, but Sam shrugged it off, hoping it was just the hot weather triggering them on. He could barely understand what half of the warning lights meant anyway - they might as well have been hieroglyphics. 

But with so many flashing lights, panic started to set in. Time to pull over and whip out the car manual.

Washer fluid low. Oil pressure low. Water in fuel filter. Tyre pressure warning. If this was a game of warning light bingo, Sam would win.

At his local garage, the mechanic glowered at Sam as he surveyed the car. "I'm surprised you've even been able to start this thing," he grumbled.

"How much will it cost to fix?" Sam asked hesitantly. The mechanic's face said it all. More than you can afford, mate. Say goodbye to this metal death trap.

Sam was always very laid back in his approach to car maintenance and now, it was really showing. He deprived his car of any TLC and it decided to bite back. If only he’d kept his car regularly serviced.

With a regular vehicle service, you can keep your car running on top form. But what does a car service include exactly?

What is a car service?

We all know that it’s a legal requirement for our car to undergo MOT testing. Many drivers think that because they've passed their MOT test, their car is good as gold for the next year. 

It's important to bear in mind that an MOT is just a technical inspection for safety. It looks at particular areas of the car and doesn't delve into the nitty gritty of wear and tear of all components. It’s great to have it assessed, but your car needs to be maintained.

With a car service, the condition of your car is surveyed extensively and some routine issues are addressed there and then. In your car manual, your car manufacturer will have outlined all the check ups to do at certain points in the car's life cycle, and it's during the servicing process that these are all done in one sprint.

What does a car service include?

During a car service, the mechanic team will give your vehicle a thorough examination, looking at things like the state of the body, the health of the engine, brakes, and steering, amongst a whole host of other things.

A car service is not really something you can do at home. It requires in-depth mechanical training and lots of computerised technology to measure and monitor the state of your car. Most car owners don't have the know-how or the equipment to do it themselves.

During a car service, the mechanic will do a variety of things, such as:

  • Giving your car’s fluid levels  a top up (brake fluid and engine oil, power steering fluid, screen wash, antifreeze, and coolant)
  • Replacing your oil filter and air filter
  • Checking your spark plugs, radiator, and windscreen wipers 
  • Carrying out a brake check on your brake pads and handbrake

What is included in a car service will depend on the type of car service you go for, which we’ll outline in the following section.

If you have an electric car, see our post on servicing an electric car instead.

What types of car service are there?

There are a few types of car service to choose from. Your pick will rest on the car model and make you have, how old it is, and how many miles it has driven.

The three types are Interim, Full and Major. 

The interim service is one of the most popular amongst car owners. It's designed to be carried out every 6 months or every 6,000 miles, whichever one comes first. If your manufacturer recommends that you get frequent services in between annual services, then the interim service is your go-to.

A full car service includes everything that the interim service does plus much more. It's meant to be an annual service (or carried out every 12,000 miles) and it actually exceeds most of the service schedules suggested by manufacturers, so you know it's going to make your motoring experience smoooooth.

Not all dealerships or garages will offer a major service but it is the big daddy of car servicing. Every 24 months (or 24,000 miles), cars should undergo a major car service in place of the standard full service.

Within the major service package, you've got everything that you'd expect from an interim and full service, plus a few extra checks and fixes.

We’ve written posts on exactly what is included in each of the three car service types if you want more info on a specific one:

  1. What does an Interim service include
  2. What does a Full service include
  3. What does a Major service service

It's important that you check what is included in your service before finalising your booking so that you get the right level of checks advised by your manufacturer. If you’re unsure on the difference between an interim and full service, we’ve done a post on this to help you out.

Why should I get a car service?

It's easy to convince yourself that your car is immune to falling into disrepair and doesn’t need to be serviced as regularly as your manufacturer advises, if at all. 

But going without any service can have a huge impact on your car’s longevity, and even impact your car’s warranty.

The truth is, if you get into the habit of booking in for car services, you're going to reap a lot of benefits.

Save Money 

Firstly, the mechanic will pick up on issues before they spiral out of control, saving you a considerable amount of cash in the long-term. 

Say they noticed you need an oil change or filter change. They can sort that there and then for a small charge. If you decide to chance it, you run the risk of destroying your engine. So, if you weigh it up, you're looking at £125 for a full service plus £50 for an oil or filter change compared with £5,000 for a new engine? I think I know what I'd prefer...

You can also save money on fuel with regular servicing. If all your fuel lines and engine components are clear and effective, they'll not gulp down gallon upon gallon of fuel in their struggle to run your motor. Keeping an eye on them with regular maintenance checks will boost your fuel efficiency, saving you extensive trips to the petrol pump and wads of moola in the process.

Resale Value

The full service history of your car is recorded in your V5C log book, so if you plan to sell your car, you'll have an advantage if you've had it regularly serviced. The resale value of well-serviced cars is far higher than those that have been left to practically decay in the driveway. 

Put yourself in buyers' shoes. Would you be happy to pay a premium for a car that had been basically run into the ground, with no servicing? Didn't think so!

Longer Life

If you don't want to cash in for a new car any time soon, it's a good idea to invest in car servicing to prolong the life of your ride. A tune up here and there will add months and years on to the lifetime of your car. If you forget about it every time you turn the engine off, it's going to ride the road to ruin far more quickly.

Better Insurance Payout

And if you find yourself in an accident and need to make an insurance claim? With full service records, your insurance company will be able to calculate a much more accurate valuation of your car, increasing your payout.

How often should you service your car?

How often you should service your car depends on a number of things, but you should find the manufacturer's recommendations for servicing frequency in your car manual. 

Often, they'll advise you to get it serviced at least once between MOTs.

You'll also know it's time to service your car if you see a warning light pop up on your dashboard. Newer cars have these features to keep you on the straight and narrow, making sure you're sticking to a healthy servicing schedule.

What should I bring with me?

You don't need to do much preparation for a car service. Just do what you would do for an MOT and make sure it's nice and clean. The mechanic won't be happy about wading through empty crisp packets and melted chocolate bars when they're trying to get into the driver's seat. 

In particular, make sure that your boot is emptied out so that they have easy access to your spare tyre.

Bring along your alloy wheel keys or locking nuts so the mechanic can remove your car wheels easily and also pick up your service book so they have documentation to reference when things were last replaced.

How long does a car service take?

How long a car service takes is difficult to tell, as it is an in-depth project and takes a while to tick everything off of the service checklist.

For an interim service, you should be waiting around 1.5 hours before you're reunited with your car. 

For a full or major service, it's double the length, taking you up to 3 hours. Be wary of mechanics who advertise considerably shorter service times as they're likely to cut corners. Take comfort in the length of time it takes!

How much does a car service cost?

The cost of a car service varies depending on your car, the type of service you want, and where you get it. These prices will give you a rough estimate:

  • Interim: from £75.
  • Full: from £125.
  • Major: from £180.

If you like, you can combine your MOT with your service to bag yourself a cheaper rate, and kill two birds with one stone!

When are you due your next service?

Have we convinced you how important taking your car in for a service is? Yeah? Okay, so when is your next service due? Whip that car manual out.

With a car service, you can look forward to many more months and years with a healthy, fuel efficient car, lower long-term repair bills, bigger insurance payouts, and a more profitable resale value. All that for just a couple of hours and a couple hundred pounds? What a steal.

With car leasing, you can add on a comprehensive maintenance package which will cover the cost of servicing for you, so you've really got no excuse to head along to your local garage. Time to tune up that precious set of wheels!

To keep your car is good working order year-round, take a look at our car maintenance checklist, as well as these car maintenance apps and car maintenance tips from some industry experts!