If you’re new to the world of car ownership, then a lot of the terminology can be fairly confusing. It’s a common dealer tactic to offer all sorts of maintenance packages with never-ending checks and options to keep your car on the road. Not all of these are essential, and the trick is to try to see through the marketing and work out which of the checks really are essential for keeping your car on the road. The two main essential checks are the MOT and servicing, and there are important differences between the two.
A service is a check on your car, along with replacement of items such as brake pads or oil filters as needed. There are no hard and fast rules about when a car needs serviced. Each manufacturer sets its own servicing schedule and how often you need to take your car in will depend on the type of engine and how many miles you drive annually. Most service schedules will say something like “every 20,000 miles or annually, whichever is sooner”. Modern cars often have an automatic notification function which tells you when the next service is approaching.
Having a service done isn’t a legal requirement. It’s just the advised way of keeping your car in best condition. You don’t have to have your car serviced at a main dealer or a chain garage; you can also either do the servicing yourself or use your local independent garage. When you come to sell your car in the future however, most buyers will want to make sure that you have been looking after your car properly, and will want to see evidence such as a stamped service book. Ignoring servicing is rarely a good idea and will often cost more in the long run.
What’s Checked in a Service?
Each car will differ in what exactly needs checked during a service, and what needs replaced. Many cars also require a basic service every year, with a major service only every two or three years. Most services, whether basic or major, will include:
- Checking the brakes and replacing pads or shoes if necessary
- Draining the oil from the engine and replacing
- Replacing air filter
- General checks on condition of bodywork and engine function
- Topping up windscreen wash
- Replacing wiper blades if needed
Cost varies depending on what type of service you need. A basic service on a small car could cost as little as £75. However, if you need a big service on a brand known for being expensive on parts, it could easily run into the hundreds. The key advice is to shop around and don’t assume that your only option is the expensive main dealer’s servicing department.
Servicing might be recommended but not compulsory, but MOT checks are a wholly different matter. It’s a legal requirement that nearly every vehicle over the age of 3 has an annual check to make sure that it’s fit to be on the road. There are a few exemptions, but this doesn’t apply to most cars, vans or motorbikes on British roads. Driving an unserviced car might make you more likely to break down, but driving a car without a MOT certificate is illegal and will cost you at least £100 in a fixed penalty fine.
The MOT doesn’t involve replacing things on your car or bringing it up to scratch. It’s assumed that you’ve done all of this work before taking it into the garage for the checks. During the MOT, the inspector runs through the checklist set out by the government and checks everything from seatbelts and tyres to suspension and lighting. If your car doesn’t reach the standards set in each category, it fails. The garage may then give you the option of getting it fixed and retested. If you take your car in for its MOT knowing that, for example, it needs two new tyres, the garage will usually do this work first before the MOT test.
As the MOT is a quicker job than a service, the cost is usually less too. The price of a car MOT is capped by the government at £54.85, but many garages choose to charge less than this as a marketing tool. A MOT test usually takes about 45 minutes. You also have less flexibility over when you have your MOT done. Each MOT certificate expires on a given date, and has to be renewed before that date. When it comes to servicing, you have more flexibility over when it gets done and a few weeks before or after isn’t going to make much of a difference. Many garages will offer a reminder service to notify you when your annual service is due.
Combining MOT and Servicing
As many drivers want to have their car serviced annually, and the MOT is also done once a year, it often makes sense to try to get the work to coincide. It’s less hassle, and less time off work to take the car into the garage. Many garages know that drivers want the “one stop shop” solution for both and therefore will run special offers. As the price of a MOT is not fixed, it’s fairly common to see offers for a free or reduced price MOT when you have the car serviced at the same time. You’re in a strong negotiating position so don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything a garage can do on the price. If you have your car serviced before it is presented for its MOT, this also ensures that your car isn’t going to fail on simple issues such as not having enough windscreen wash or a broken lightbulb. Any bigger faults will usually be picked up during the servicing so it’s usually best to ask the garage to give you ring if there’s anything they spot. You can then make the decision when and how to get things fixed, perhaps delaying the MOT test until a later date.