As you can probably tell from the question, I know almost nothing about motor vehicles. So apologies for my ignorance but I wasn't sure where else I might get this question answered impartially.

Manufacturers recommend that cars are serviced at various time/mileage intervals and garages offer various levels of service.

However, here in the UK at least we have yearly check-ups to ensure the vehicle is safe to run. This is a legal requirement, and should catch any major issues.

Most modern cars seem to be mechanically extremely sound. The last two cards I've owned - a period of about 15 years - have needed minimal work, except for periodic brake disc replacement, and I have hardly ever had them serviced.

Given that, what's the point of having a car serviced? Is it worthwhile, or is it a bit of a money-spinning scam, like selling extra warranty on products? If it is worthwhile, do I really need to stick to the suggested mileage/timescales and pay for "quality" services or will a more bargain basement approach be enough?

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    How often did you get the oil changed on your cars?
    – HandyHowie
    Feb 15, 2016 at 11:53
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    @MattThrower Do you have you car booklets? Those should tell you when and what you need to do. Most probably the intervals there are a bit on the safe side, but usually you will be changing only oil and some filters and those are really cheap, so there's no reason not to do it when the car manufacturer suggests.
    – Alin P.
    Feb 15, 2016 at 13:28
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    Two points: 1) The MOT test also checks for emissions, an unserviced vehicle is more likely to fail as its emissions deteriorate. 2) I bought a new car a couple of months ago and its recommended service interval is every 2 years and the first three are free. This is increasingly common.
    – Chenmunka
    Feb 15, 2016 at 14:58
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    It's worth noting that technically the MOT test is not a service - you can just pay for the test, and they'll find issues and tell you about them, but they don't fix them. Generally what many people refer to as an MOT is a combined MOT and service where they fix anything that would cause a fail. A full service will also fix other things that wouldn't fail you - some things would just be an advisory, or would reduce ride comfort without impacting safety. Source: I recently had a garage say they couldn't service my car (didn't have the parts), but they still completed the MOT (passed, luckily). Feb 15, 2016 at 16:32
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    I'm somewhat horrified by this question and I have great sympathy for anyone who ends up buying a used car that was treated like this.
    – Ellesedil
    Feb 15, 2016 at 19:27

7 Answers 7


The point of servicing any vehicle is to replace consumables that have a limited lifetime:

  • oils (usually engine oil, but there could be other)
  • filters
  • spark plugs
  • brake pads (very important!)
  • miscellaneous (depending on vehicle it could be: timing belt, gaskets, hoses, cables)

Apart from these there are other parts that are not necessarily part of the servicing process (because they don't have a predictable lifetime), but you may want to change them at the same time because you're already at the mechanic. For example:

  • tires
  • lights (very easy to not notice that you have a light off)

You mention that you had you "brake disc" replaced periodically. From what I know, you should not replace those periodically, but rather because of improper usage. If you do that, it's a sign that you did not replace your brake pads during normal servicing.

I am not familiar with the UK periodical check-ups, but I would assume that they are similar to the rest of EU. In that case, their purpose it to make sure your vehicle is safe to drive on a road. The servicing is complementary, and its purpose is to make sure your vehicle will stay on the road for a long time, not only until the next year. For example, some very old engine oil will most probably not give you any trouble with the yearly check-up, but it should still be changed because it degrades and, in time, will cause your engine to break down.

  • From another answer, the fact it won't leave you stranded is also important. Also, to add you your consumables list: timing belt.
    – Mathieu K.
    Feb 15, 2016 at 21:55
  • @MathieuK. This part with "leaving you stranded" I think is debatable. My experience with mechanics is not so great and I wouldn't trust them to find problems when I take the car to the service for regular servicing. But I guess this depends on whether you have a good mechanic or not. Also, if you have an old car, there are so many parts that could break down, that no mechanic would be able to predict the problems just by looking at the car. You could say that by replacing the consumables you reduce the risk of the remaining stranded, but servicing doesn't help directly with that.
    – Alin P.
    Feb 16, 2016 at 9:50
  • Technicians should have training and experience to be able to determine whether parts should be changed based on manufacturer specifications. Granted some parts fail because we live in an imperfect world. Skipping services to save a little money can and will cost you more a little later. Consider if the cost of the repair is less than what you can get for the car in its CURRENT state as well as buying another car vs. total cost of multiple services.
    – Tobin S
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:53

tl dr: To improve the useful life of your vehicle.

While vehicles seem to be lasting longer, there still isn't a perfect machine out there: they all need maintenance of some sort or another if you expect them to live a long and healthy life.

There are three major purposes to having your vehicle serviced:

  1. Longevity: If you want to get the most out of your vehicle, you need to keep up on the maintenance. Not doing the maintenance could mean the difference between the vehicle lasting 50k miles versus one which does get proper maintenance lasting 250k miles (I'm just throwing numbers out there, but this is a reasonable assumption). If a vehicle was to last twice as long with proper maintenance, it will still be cheaper to do the maintenance than it would be to replace the vehicle ... and vehicle prices are not coming down.
  2. Peace of Mind: If you get your vehicle serviced regularly, you'll have less of a chance of it leaving you stranded on the road. Even if you do the maintenance yourself, doing the maintenance will give you a chance to check the car over to see if there is anything which requires attention.
  3. Warranty: Every new car comes with a warranty. If you don't keep up with the maintenance, the vehicle manufacturer will not cover a warranty item. You are paying a lot of money for a new car. Not doing routine service is just a good way of throwing a large chunk of that money right out the window.

This is why you stick to the timetable provided by the manufacturer. The manufacturer has a schedule of services which will help your vehicle last a long time if followed correctly. They hope you'll come into their dealerships to have the vehicle serviced, but there is no guarantee you will. The onus is on the customer to make it happen, but it is a reasonable amount of service in most cases.

To me, the bargain basement approach is doing the maintenance yourself. Yes, you need to be environmentally responsible and dispose of waste materials properly, which can be a huge pain, but is usually fairly easy to accomplish if you try. Most of the fast lube joints will do an acceptable job on your maintenance, but they get paid to do more maintenance on your vehicle, meaning they will often tell you the vehicle needs more maintenance than what is required. If you ensure you know your maintenance schedule and just go to get what you need done, you can tell them with confidence exactly what needs to be done and you won't have the sky high bill for no reason.

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    On my car the warranty is only valid if I have it serviced at an approved garage (one of theirs). So I couldn't do it myself or have a cheap place do it.
    – RedSonja
    Feb 16, 2016 at 9:44
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    @RedSonja - In the US it was legislated long ago the manufacturers couldn't enforce that idea. Thanks for pointing it out it's different elsewhere. Feb 16, 2016 at 11:23
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    @ᴘᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 - same in the UK in general (although the dealers might try and bluster otherwise).
    – Kickstart
    Feb 16, 2016 at 13:50
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    tl dr: To improve the useful life of your vehicle and everyone inside. A lot of these maintenance issues are also safety issues. Feb 16, 2016 at 16:40
  • Not to mention that regular servicing can prevent this kind of incident; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_engine_runaway Plus things like brake fluid take on water over the years and stop actually working. Feb 17, 2016 at 11:26

The UK annual vehicle test (the MOT) is purely to verify that the vehicle is safe to run on the roads and is not going to cause an accident or extra damage... so the tyres have tread / the brakes and steering function to an acceptable level / the engine does not produce excessive amounts of emissions / the windows can be seen through / there are no sharp holes or edges and so on. The test doesn't care how many mpg you get (as long as it's not spewing oil or soot out of the exhaust in too great a quantity), doesn't care if your car's gearbox is missing all it's oil, doesn't really care if the car's cooling system is empty, doesn't care if the water pump squeals, doesn't care if the vehicle takes half an hour to start on a cold day.

If you fail to get wear items replaced the consequences tend to be costly. If you don't change the cam belt at the recommended interval, it can fail with very expensive results. If you don't change the air filter, the fuel/air mix can drift from ideal and you waste fuel. If you don't change the oil, the combustion waste products that get into it and the wear products from the engine gradually contaminate it and destroy it's carefully engineered behaviour and the bearing faces wear faster. Some cars deliberately leak gearbox oil to lubricate splines in the power train, so if you don't top up the oil the gear box will run out and then the components will wear out. If you don't change the spark plugs, the spark gaps may get bigger as the plug burns away and the car will get harder to start on cold days. Eventually, bits may fall off the spark plugs and jam in the insides of the engine. Servicing is generally to replace stuff that wears out, leaks out or adjust stuff that wears down. If you don't do it, the car will break down more often, more expensively and will cost more to run before it eventually needs replacing earlier than if you looked after it.

Ultimately, the bottom line is money. An un-serviced car will often cost more to run than a serviced one. An un-serviced car will generally be worth less when you come to sell it than one with a service history (assuming the un-serviced one doesn't break down and get sold for scrap). If you drive 1000 miles a year and keep the car until it dies maybe you can get by without servicing. If you drive 2000 miles a month and don't service the car at all, it will go wrong within a few years. Consider this... companies like National Express or London Transport service their vehicles because it's better for their profit... if they could make more money not bothering with servicing, they would.

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    "companies like National Express or London Transport service their vehicles because it's better for their profit" - great piece of information, thanks. I feel compelled to add that I'm not a heavy driver - a few thousand miles per year - which is probably why I've got away with limited services in the past.
    – Bob Tway
    Feb 16, 2016 at 9:04
  • I 2nd that point - the general car-owning public do not use cars enough to notice the benefit until something really bad happens. Businesses that run fleets of cars, trucks, vans, diggers, indeed ANY machinery are far hotter on regular servicing as downtime costs money and hurts the value of the machine if/when you sell it. Also the MOT is a very minimal check, cars can have very serious/dangerous faults and still pass.
    – John U
    Feb 16, 2016 at 15:35
  • Bonus reading: reddit.com/r/Justrolledintotheshop mechanics post examples of the carnage / damage / dangerous stuff that clueless customers bring them.
    – John U
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:42

Clearly servicing an engine will allow it to do a lot more miles before it wears out. For example old oil does not protect the engine well.

However in the UK the maths get interesting….. As most “basic” cars much over 5 years old has a low replacement cost and very few people drive more than 20K miles a year (most people with older cars drive closer to 10K miles a year.) Also if an old car gets written off in an accident the insurance company will not pay you more because the car has been well serviced.

I have in the past chosen to service a car only every other year as it was of the age that we would not get anything for selling it regardless of what happened. These days we get our cars serviced every year, partly because the garage is so helpful if we get any problems in-between services.

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    Something you are ignoring in your answer is that even though a vehicle is not worth much to sell it, how much is it worth to you if you have to replace it? If a vehicle with good maintenance will continue to run/drive good for an extra 30-40k miles due to performing maintenance, that's an extra 3-4 years of use, by your calculations. The savings here, in and of itself, is almost the worth of a brand new car. Feb 15, 2016 at 14:19
  • @ᴘᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2, that way I said "the maths get interesting", a lot of cars in the UK are now scrapped when the engine management computer fails for example Feb 15, 2016 at 14:26
  • @ᴘᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2, it is normal for a car in the UK to loose over half of its value in the first 3 years (due to company cars being sold off). I am assuming that a replacement car will be 2nd hand. Outside of the UK I believe that car values drop at a much more even rate. Feb 15, 2016 at 14:27
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    Rule of thumb is that a car will lose 60%~2/3 of its value in the first 3 years in the UK - 50% loss would be a vehicle that holds it value well. Although that is more what you will get for selling it rather than what a dealer will sell you an equivalent for.
    – Kickstart
    Feb 16, 2016 at 9:13
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    @TobinS "A properly maintained vehicle will last 200+ miles" Even a terribly-maintained vehicle will last 200+ miles! ;-) Feb 17, 2016 at 0:16

Let's pick one example of a component that doesn't feature in the inspection* , but is worth servicing at the recommended intervals. The timing belt .

This is the belt which drives the camshaft, which in turn opens the valves on the engine's cylinders at the right time. If this component fails, the pistons will collide with the valves and the entire engine will be wrecked, so it is vitally important that it is changed at the manufacturer's recomended intervals. When buying a used car, one should always check when this component was changed.

The ONLY test for the engine on the British MOT inspection is emissions. A worn timing belt will not affect these in any way, right up until it fails.

Not changing / topping up the oil probably wouldn't affect the emissions, but it might. Particles in the oil could increase the wear on the piston rings, and eventually the engine will then start burning oil that got past the piston rings (blue smoke in the exhaust.) Failing to change spark plugs probably would affect emissions quicker though (as well as reducing the lifetime of the engine.)

The remaining tests on the MOT inspection are all to do with safety. The government only cares that your car is safe and has reasonably low emissions. AFAIK there are no tests on the gearbox at all, and I've always thought it would be interesting to present a car without a gearbox for the test.

For items not in the inspection, deciding to get them serviced or not is entirely up to you. If the car is new, you will want to stick to the recommended service intervals to avoid invalidating the warranty. If it's just out of warranty, you'll probably still want to change the oil at the recommended intervals to conserve engine life. The garage will probably continue to suggest that you keep up the manufacturer's servicing intervals. Although this may be more in their interest than yours in some cases, I don't think it qualifies as a "scam."

On the other hand, if the car is 15 years old, its value may be so low that it's only worth servicing the things required by law. It's still worth checking yourself that all the oils and fluids are topped up though.

*the inspection is still known colloquially as the "MOT" in the UK, though it is no longer administered by the MOT but rather by the VOSA.

  • "no longer administered by the MOT" Not least because there has been no UK government body called the "Ministry of Transport" since 1970. Feb 17, 2016 at 0:18

Servicing usually applies to the replacement of items which are consumable or have a limited life and need to be routinely replaced at regular intervals, including things like lubricants and filters there may also be a few parts which might need to be replaced at much longer intervals such as timing belts, oil seals and wheel bearings.

Generally a routine service will not be a through inspection of the vehicle but rather a predetermined replacement of item which have a service life which is shorter than that of the vehicle as a whole.

Similarly an MOT test is intended to check that the vehicle is in a safe and roadworthy condition and while this may flag up some issues related to reliability many issues won't show up on an MOT until they are very severe.

There are also some things that you should check yourself on a regular basis such as condition of tyres and levels of oil, coolant and other fluids.


The short answer to your question is that having a car serviced and well maintained regularly will make the car last longer. Also less major things will go wrong if you get the little things done on your car that they recommend. To your question about it being a scam it depends on the person some people will rip you off because they know you don't know about cars the best way to avoid this is get multiple people to inspect the car. Have each person that inspected the car tell you what they think and how much it will be and you can find a average price this way so you wont get scammed.

  • After a while you know which garages are trustworthy. You will swap stories with your friends and colleagues. Then stick with the good one.
    – RedSonja
    Feb 16, 2016 at 9:47

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