Car servicing – separating fact from fiction

Mechanic looking under a car

Bruce Newton and Toby Hagon

Posted August 03, 2021

When it comes to getting your car serviced, facts over long-held myths prove to be more helpful.

There are so many factors to consider when buying a new vehicle. It needs to be fit for purpose, the price needs to be right, and we want it to be as safe as possible.

Another key consideration is reliability. You don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on a shiny new car and find out it’s a lemon. Luckily, new cars are covered by a manufacturer warranty and come with a service plan that specifies how often our prized new possession needs an inspection and consumable items such as oil changed. It takes time, and it takes money, but it's necessary.

But the reality is, when it comes to car servicing, we often take what we're given without giving much thought to the things we must do when it comes to looking after our car versus the things we shouldn't or don't need to do.

So here are some basic truths and tips to help you through the process.

Car service checklist

There are key elements to look at when getting a car service. Image: Getty.


Where can you get your car serviced?

The dealership where you bought your car, or a dealership that sells the same brand, is not the only valid option for servicing. Third-party service networks and individual mechanics are also allowed to service your car, as long as the repairs and parts are consistent with the manufacturer standards. In fact, legislation guaranteeing a wider choice of automotive servicing options has recently been passed into law by the federal government. That came in response to the increasing complexity of new vehicles and guarantees that independent repairers have access to the latest servicing information prepared by manufacturers.

Service your car as per the logbook

Don’t skimp! Skipping scheduled services could void your warranty or parts of it. More dramatically, it could leave you stuck on the side of the road. There’s a reason oil gets changed at every service. When operating as it should, that slippery stuff ensures the mechanical bits don’t bash into each other in your engine. But leave it in there too long, and it turns into a gunky sludge that causes damage. A scheduled service is also a time when a vehicle can be plugged in and its digital systems – such as sat-nav – updated.

Not all warranties and service plans are the same

A new vehicle warranty guarantees materials and workmanship for a set period of time (and sometimes kilometres). Problems judged to fall under the warranty are fixed free of charge. Consumables such as tyres and brakes are not covered for normal wear and tear, and warranties exclude misuse and things such as paint damage from bird poo. Brands also often have a longer warranty for rust. Many brands now offer a capped price servicing schedule, which specifies how much it will cost for a basket of inspections, checks, and replacements to be completed at set kilometre or time intervals. By paying upfront, you can sometimes bank a discount.

And remember, the length of warranty coverage depends on the brand. It can be three years and 100,000km, or up to seven years and unlimited km. The longer warranties usually exclude commercial use, though. So if you're planning on Uber or courier driving, there will usually be a kilometre limit applied even if the car is advertised as having an unlimited-kilometre warranty. Some brands offer extended warranties but impose conditions. For instance, Mitsubishi offers a 10-year warranty, but requires the vehicle only to be serviced at its dealers.

And in all instances, Australian Consumer Law overrules, with the ACCC stipulating that 'consumer guarantees apply for a reasonable time depending on the nature of the goods or services'. While the ACCC won’t disclose its expectations, it’s fair to assume a properly maintained engine is expected to last beyond a three-year warranty. Service plans can also vary from a few years to the life of the vehicle, so bear in mind this price is guaranteed by the manufacturer only. In some cases, it may be cheaper to use an independent repairer, which can use aftermarket components that may be cheaper.

Car going through oil change

 Not all warranties and service plans are the same. Image: Getty.


The devil is in the detail

While manufacturers specify their vehicle must be serviced periodically, it also pays to check how many kilometres between services are recommended. For instance, many popular Toyota and Mazda models have service intervals specified every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.

That's fine if you only drive a few thousand kilometres a year. But if you do big kms, then it’s going to add up compared to a brand such as Renault, who offer 20,000km between services.

Beware costs beyond capped-price service plans

One thing to watch out for is how pricing climbs later in the service life or after the scheme has expired.

For instance, the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series has capped pricing of $300 every six months/10,000km for the first six services, which means $1800 over the first three years. But in year four alone, the capped price servicing fee escalates to $1633.64.

Capped price servicing is usually broken down on a brand’s website, and some don't, so always make sure you get a quote upfront.

Expensive tastes

As a general rule, the more expensive the car, the more expensive the service. Many luxury brands now try to defray that cost by offering cheaper service packs that you pay for upfront.

Note also that many electric cars are expensive to buy, but actually cheaper to service than orthodox vehicles because they are simpler mechanically.

Plan ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the wait time for servicing. Dealerships have traditionally relied on imported skilled labour to bolster their workforces, but that avenue has been closed off because of Australia’s border closures.

So, remember to avoid booking your service in a week before you’re about to embark on the Big Trip.