How to Service a Car

Regular servicing of your car is important to keep the mechanics of your vehicle in good working order, to prolong it’s life and to keep it safe.

It’s rather common place to miss out a service here and there simply to cut down on expenses. Servicing your car can be a costly affair, especially if you cover high mileage every year, so why not try it yourself?

By servicing your own car, you’re likely to save at least 23 of the price a garage would charge you. A basic car service is a relatively easy procedure. This guide explains how to service a car.

Car maintenance

Consult your cars manufacturers handbook if you have one as this should provide details on when to service your car. If the manufacturers guide is not available, generally a car should be serviced anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 miles or once a year if under that mileage. Regular home car maintenance should include:

  • checking oil levels
  • engine coolant levels
  • hydraulic brake fluid levels
  • windscreen washer refilling
  • tyre pressures and tyre damage such as cuts and bulges. The tyre tread depth should be at least 1.6mm around the entire circumference of the centre 34 breadth of the tyre. Also check for safety markers. More information can be found in the Show Me Tell Me section.
  • indicators, brake, rear and head lights

Car service checklist

In order to service your car, a car service checklist will need to be compiled. A servicing checklist can often be found in your cars service manual or documents. If this information isn’t available use the car service tool checklist below:

  • oil filter wrench/removal tool
  • spark plug removal tool
  • socket set or spanner for removing the sump plug for oil drainage
  • screwdriver for unscrewing air filter case if applicable. Clips may be the case alternatively
  • car jack and axle stands
  • antifreeze tester
  • oil catch pan


Axle stands
Axle stands

Car axle stands

Axle stands are cheap to purchase from hardware stores such as Halfords

Car service parts checklist:
  • engine oil – consult your cars manufactures guide for the correct oil type
  • oil filter – use a quality branded filter
  • sump plug washer – use a new sump plug washer and not the old one
  • spark plugs – again good quality branded plugs
  • air filter
  • antifreeze if applicable


Oil filter wrench / removal tool
Oil filter wrench
Oil filter wrench / removal tool

An oil filter wrench / removal tool can be purchased inexpensively in many vehicle hardware stores or easily from the internet. Wrenches are designed to fit all car filters.

Engine oil change

Let’s start with the engine oil change. The engine oil needs to be warm before draining as warm oil will flow more freely than cold. Run the engine for 15 minutes or so before drainage. Ensure you perform the oil change on a level surface.

Jack the car up and axle stands for safety. Remove the oil cap on the top side of the engine. Failure to do this may cause a vacuum when draining the oil, resulting in not all the oil being removed. Place the oil catch pan under the sump plug and drain. The engine oil may be hot so be careful.

Oil filter

Turn the oil filter wrench anti-clock wise to remove the filter. The filter may still have plenty of oil inside so be careful not to spill oil. Ensure the filter seat on the engine is clean and place a light coating of oil on the gasket of the new filter. Initially screw the oil filter back on and gently tighten with the oil filter wrench. Ensure not to over-tighten for risk of damaging screw thread.

Engine oil change continued

The oil can take several minutes to fully drain. When the engine is fully drained, replace the sump plug using a new washer and refill the engine with oil. It is important to refill the engine with oil slowly making regular checks of the engine oil level indicator on the cars dipstick. The last thing you want to do is have to drain the oil again by over filling the engine.

Once the oil level is a little below the maximum marker on the dipstick, replace the oil cap start and run your engine for around 10 minutes. Turn off the engine and check once again the oil level using the dipstick. Finally make a check for any leakages on the sump plug.

How to dispose of engine oil

Disposing of engine oil onto the ground is highly toxic and can enter the water table. It is also illegal to dispose of oil in the garbage and down storm drains. Used engine oil needs to be disposed of responsibly by locating your nearest waste oil recycling bank.

Engine coolant / antifreeze

An integral part of an engine is the cooling system. Around one third of the energy produced by car engines is wasted due to it being converted to heat. The correct mixture of engine coolant is essential to not only keeping an engine from freezing in the winter, but from overheating in the summer, and to prevent the corrosion of internal components. See what is engine coolant for a guide on exactly what coolant does, the various types, what type of coolant you should use when servicing your car and how to check engine coolant levels.

Change spark plugs

Before removing the old spark plugs, ensure there is no debris around the chamber that may fall into the ignition chamber. Using a good quality brand with a copper core electrodes, insert the plugs until hand-tight. Continue to tighten the plugs with the spark plug removal tool for a further 1to 1turn of the tool ensuring that you don’t over-tighten as this may result in thread damage.

Air filter

Fitting a new air filter is a simple process. The air filter housing may be secured by screws or simply clipped on. The new air filter simply needs to be dropped in.


Ensure the engine has cooled sufficiently before opening the cap on the coolant reservoir. Coolant tanks can be under pressure with boiling hot water contained. The colour of the liquid should be blue, green or pink depending on the antifreeze colour. Any other discolouration or oil in the coolant tank should be investigated by a specialist. An antifreeze tester is cheap and easy to use. It will contain instructions on how to use and to maintain the correct level of antifreeze.

Additional maintenance checks

When changing the spark plugs, check the leads for any sign of deterioration. A good set of leads should last for well over 10 years. Timing and cam belts should be checked for signs of wear and tear. These belts don’t usually need changing with each service although renewing them regularly will decrease the risk of engine damage.

Should I service my own car?

If your car still has the manufacturer’s warranty, the warranty is likely to state that you must have it serviced at their dealerships. Having it serviced by yourself or by another service provider may invalidate your warranty. It’s also worth remembering that if you like to keep a car with a service history, self servicing your car, a service history stamp will not be issued in your servicing book.

What oil for my car

There are 3 main types of engine oil that can be used in your car.

  • Fully synthetic engine oil
  • Semi synthetic engine oil
  • Traditional mineral based engine oil

Fully synthetic engine oil is essentially artificially made. It’s purpose is to last longer than conventional oil before the components break down. This means that the oil life span will last longer between engine oil changes. Another advantage is that fully synthetic oils withstand higher and lower temperatures better than convention engine oils by retaining it’s original structure in extremes, therefore reducing engine wear. The disadvantage with fully synthetic engine oil is it is significantly more expensive than semi synthetic and traditional engine oils.

Semi synthetic engine oil is a combination of fully synthetic and traditional engine oil. Semi synthetic offer many of the advantages of fully synthetic but at a lower cost. Traditional engine oil in the original mineral based engine oil that has been refined.

Which engine oil should I use

As a general guide, a typical modern family car will run just fine on semi synthetic engine oil. High performance engines are better suited to fully synthetic engine oils.

Car service cost

The cost of servicing your car can vary significantly. A basic car service will be significantly cheaper than a full service

Basic car service

A basic car service may include but not limited to:

  • Engine oil change
  • Air filter
  • Oil filter
  • Spark plug change

The above is a very basic service. Many garages are likely to include more in their basic service.

Full car service

A full car service may include but not limited to:

  • Engine oil change
  • Transmission fluid
  • Spark plug change
  • Windscreen washer fluid
  • Power steering fluid
  • Fan belts
  • Antifreeze
  • Air filter
  • Pollen filter
  • PCV valve
  • Windscreen wipers
  • General lubrication
  • Oil filter
  • Battery check
  • Brakes check
  • Brake fluid check
  • Tyre pressures / safety check
  • Fuel filter
  • Lights check
  • Steering and suspension check
  • Exhaust check

A full service is only required every other service. The cost of a car service ranges from around £60 upwards for a basic service to around £130 upwards for a full service. This of course depends what is included in the service. It’s worth asking exactly what is included in the service and finding a garage that has a good reputation or reviews. If you are servicing your own car for the first time, the cost of purchasing tools and parts may end up costing more than a basic service. In the long-term however, a small fortune will be saved by servicing your own car.

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