What is a car service? Car service checklist

What is a car service? Car service checklist
When it comes to keeping your car running safely and efficiently, getting it serviced regularly is one of the best things you can do. 

But while getting a service may sound like a hassle, especially for new drivers who aren’t well-versed in car ownership, it doesn’t have to be. We’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know about car servicing. 

What is a car service?

A car service is a health check with routine maintenance for your vehicle which assesses everything from your engine’s fluid levels to the general wear and tear of your car. 

A service is usually undertaken by a mechanic and the most in-depth of them involve around 50 or more system and component checks, adjustments and parts replacement.

Why do I need a car service?

Regular servicing will mean your car is running as efficiently and safely as possible, and regular scheduled servicing may well end up saving you money in the long run. 

By getting a regular service you’re likely to see improved fuel efficiency, better handling and a smoother running engine, as well as peace of mind from knowing your vehicle is running optimally. It also decreases the likelihood of your car breaking down either at home or at the roadside.

It can also help you avoid severe repair bills by nipping in the bud any issues that may lead to a problem over time. A full service history will also help your car maintain its market value should you choose to sell.

Regular vehicle servicing will almost certainly extend the life of your vehicle as well.

Book a car service today

It’s easy to book a service online at one of our local approved garages. Find a trusted local garage with the RAC stamp of approval.

Book a car service today
Book a car service today

Is a car service the same as an MOT?

No it’s not. Many motorists think they don’t need to get their car serviced because it’s just passed its MOT, but in reality the routine service and the MOT are different and it’s important to undertake both.

An MOT is an annual inspection that checks the safety and environmental impact of a vehicle and is a legal requirement for almost every vehicle on the UK’s roads. For more information on MOT’s, read our guide here.

However, while an MOT checks a vehicle’s roadworthiness, it does not delve any deeper than that. A service does, and will ensure all components of your car are running as safely and efficiently as possible. 

MOT due?

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MOT due?
MOT due?

What does a car service include?



What is actually included in your service will be largely dictated by which type you choose, but a full service will likely involve an engine oil and filter change; a check of all fluids and a full brake check, plus usually checks on over 50 other key components including safety-related features.

A more thorough (and expensive) service will check and replace a wider range of components and could include a change of spark plugs and a variety of important filters, as well as checking factors like wheel alignment and suspension.

Which type of service should I choose?

The service level should equate to your annual mileage so it depends on your level of vehicle use. 

Service TypeService Interval
Regular maintenanceWhen oil and filter need replacement
Interim ServiceEvery 6 months or 6,000 miles (whichever comes first)
Full ServiceEvery 12 months or 12,000 miles (whichever comes first)
Manufacturer ServiceAs per manufacturer service schedule, check your car manual for information

How much does a full car service cost?

Expect to pay around £140 for a full service which should include an engine oil and filter change; a check of all fluids and a full brake check, plus usually checks on over 50 other key components including safety-related features.

Find your local RAC Approved Garage to book a service now

How often do I need a car service?

Most manufacturers recommend putting your car in for a service at least once a year, or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, but this will depend on your car and your personal driving style. Some vehicles also now operate with extended mileages between services by using high quality lubricants.

If you plan on selling your car, a complete service history can add value as buyers will be more confident in what they’re buying.

Can I service my own car?

Owning a car can be expensive, and if the thought of paying out for servicing once or twice a year fills your bank balance with dread, you could consider servicing your car yourself.

You’ll need to have a decent level of confidence under the bonnet, and whether you do it yourself or employ a mechanic, it’s essential your car is serviced frequently to keep yourself and other road users safe on the roads and ensure the efficient running of your car.  

Is it easy to service my own car?

If you have decent technical know-how you should be able to complete a basic car service yourself with the right tools and information. 

That being said, we don’t recommend that you attempt to service your own vehicle unless you really know what you’re doing and you have access to the right tools and equipment. A lot can go wrong if an inexperienced person tries their hand at vehicle maintenance, from breaking vehicle components to injuring yourself.

So if you’d prefer a professional to service your car, the RAC Approved Garage Network only includes garages that provide quality work and exceptional customer service, giving you peace of mind you’ll get a service you can trust.

For those of you that think you’ve got the skills, read on...

What tools do I need to service my own car?



When it comes to servicing your own car, it’s essential you have the right tools and equipment to ensure you’re doing it safely otherwise you could be putting your car, yourself, and other road users at risk. 

As well as a basic set of spanners and screwdrivers (and plenty of old rags), these tools include:

  1. Socket set (including a spark plug removal socket)
  2. Car jack & axle stands
  3. Funnel
  4. Nitrile gloves
  5. Oil filter remover
  6. Oil drain tray (or bucket)
  7. Torque wrench

Car service checklist

If you’re looking to do a basic service of your own car, these are the component checks you should be looking to carry out:

Oil change

Jack up your car, unscrew the sump plug in your engine, making sure you’ve removed the oil cap and placed a suitable drain tray underneath to collect the used oil. 

Next, remove the oil filter with the oil filter remover and wait for all the oil to drain out. When you’re ready, place the new oil filter in the same position, lightly wetting the rubber seal with new oil to give it a stronger seal.

Refit the sump plug, remembering to replace or renew the washer around the sump plug first. Finally, use a funnel to slowly pour in the new oil, checking the dipstick regularly to ensure you don’t overfill. 

Run the engine for 10 minutes to allow the oil to circulate, then check to ensure the oil filter and sump plug are not leaking. After turning off the engine and allowing the oil level to settle, use the dipstick to ensure the oil is at the maximum. 

Tyre pressure/condition

Incorrect tyre pressures can cause loss of performance, tyre wear, poor road handing and instability of the vehicle. So having the right pressure is an essential part of a basic service. Check our tyre pressure guide for more information. 

You should also check the condition of your tyres, making sure they aren’t too worn and the tread depth meets the EU legal requirement of 1.6mm. For more information, and to learn how a 20p piece can help, check out our guide to tyre safety

Replace car Fluids

As well as changing the engine oil, a basic service should check all other fluid levels in the car including screen wash, brake fluid, engine coolant and power steering fluid level. If any look too low, fill them up.

It will also check your anti-freeze concentration.

Replace Spark plugs

Some manufacturers recommend replacing spark plugs every 30,000 miles, but keep in mind there are other recommendations depending on the engine type or manufacturer, so refer to the service literature for you own vehicle.

If your car is struggling to start or vibrates a lot, you may need new spark plugs sooner.

Remove the HT leads first before unscrewing the plugs themselves, making sure you clean the area thoroughly. Place the new plugs in the socket and lower into the gap, before tightening up by hand at first followed by a torque wrench to the correct setting. 

Replace air filter

Usually one of the simpler checks you can do. Simply unclip the airbox and remove it to reveal the dirty air filter. Remove the used air filter and replace with the new clean one, before re-fastening the airbox.

How can I recycle my oil?

If you service your own car, one of the trickiest things to sort out is the used oil. Engine oil should be recycled after use and not mixed with any other substances.

To find your nearest oil recycling facility, and for more information on recycling oil, check out the government’s Oil Bank Line website

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