What are the different types of car servicing?

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In its simplest form, a car service is a series of inspections, parts replacements, and system adjustments or checks to maintain the vehicle in a safe condition by-

  • inspecting critical systems to prevent failures in safety systems
  • detecting and repairing oil and other fluid leaks
  • detecting and repairing leaks in the engine cooling system
  • performing preventative maintenance to make sure that the steering, brakes, and suspension are in a good working condition
  • replacing worn parts to improve drivability and keep the vehicle in a safe condition
  • inspecting and/or replacing engine oil and other lubricants and fluids to protect mechanical components

The details of what is inspected, replaced, or adjusted differ not only between cars but also depend on the car’s mileage at each service interval. However, when a car is covered by a warranty, the service intervals, and the level of service required at any given mileage are prescribed by the car’s service schedule.

Keeping up with services as required by the service schedule is compulsory to maintain the car’s warranty, and skipping just one mandatory log book service could void the car’s warranty.

However, when a car is out of warranty, what is inspected, replaced, or adjusted largely depends on the owner’s discretion and sometimes, their available budget. 

What happens during a car service?

Because cars require different levels of service at different times, there is no single set of “things” that are always included at every service. This is especially true of cars that are under warranty, so let us look at what you could expect to receive during various types of car services.

Note though that an inspection to get a roadworthy cerficiate does not count as a car service. Both major and minor services include more comprehensive inspections. But speaking of proper car services, let us start with-

Logbook Service
When a car is under warranty, all services that are scheduled in the service schedule can be called “logbook” services. This is because the logbook, of which the service schedule forms a part, specifies the level of service that must be performed at fixed time intervals or mileages.

Moreover, the details of each service, as well as the details of the workshop that had performed the service(s), are also recorded in the logbook. Therefore, the car’s service logbook becomes a record of the car’s service history. Having a complete service history can greatly increase the car’s resale value.

Following the car manufacturers logbook is, without doubt, the best approach to car servicing and should be followed until such time that the log book no longer caters for the mileage or age of the car.

You can find out what is included and an estimated cost for a log book service for a specific vehicle and service interval by using our 'Get an Estimate' tool.

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While still falling under a 'Logbook Service' some vehicle manufacturers (Mercedes Benz is a good example) sometimes alternate between a 'Major' and 'Minor' service during the service life of a vehicle. Let's take a look at what these types of services generally involve-

Logbook Minor Service
Although minor services are called “minor”, these kinds of services are critical steps in a car's overall maintenance plan. In practice, these services are intended to detect early signs of failures and malfunctions between major services, and therefore, they should not be skipped. Nonetheless, below are some details of what a typical minor service entails on a vehicle during its warranty period-

  • Inspection of the bodywork for evidence of rust and peeling/cracking paint
  • Inspection of all glass, and the operation of the power windows and seats
  • Inspection of all interior and exterior lights
  • Performance of a diagnostic scan to check for stored trouble codes
  • Inspection of the car battery, or car batteries if the vehicle has more than one battery
  • Inspection, cleaning, and tightening of battery terminals
  • Inspection of the shock absorbers to check for fluid leaks
  • Inspection of the tyres and wheel alignment, including tyre rotation if required
  • Inspection of suspension and steering systems system to check for worn or damaged parts
  • Inspection of drive belts, pulleys, and radiator hoses
  • Inspection of the engine coolant level and condition
  • Inspection of the brake fluid level and condition
  • Inspection of the brake system
  • Inspection of the parking brake
  • Inspection and testing of the HVAC system(s)
  • Inspection of seat belts and seat belt latches
  • Replacement of engine oil and oil filter
  • Inspection of spark plugs, which may or may not be replaced, depending on the type of spark plugs fitted, and the car’s mileage
  • Fuel filters may or may not be replaced, depending on the car’s mileage
  • Road test and diagnostic report

Depending on the vehicle, there may be additional steps that are not listed here. Note also that not all faults found during vehicle inspections listed here are covered under warranty conditions. For instance, engine oil changes, oil and fuel filters, spark plugs, and brake pad replacements are typically not covered under warranty conditions.

Other items that might be excluded from warranty conditions include wiper blades, light bulbs, engine coolant, and consumables like cleaning materials.

Logbook Major Service
A major service includes all of the items listed above. However, what makes a major car service different is the fact that the car service log book might require the compulsory replacement of some parts and components. Some parts have limited service lives, so car service logbooks call for their replacement at fixed time intervals to prevent major failures and breakdowns.

Not all compulsory parts replacements happen during every major service, though. What is, and what is not replaced depends on the car’s mileage, as well as the level of service the service schedule calls for at that mileage. There is a lot of variation in this aspect of car servicing, so let us look at some examples of compulsory parts replacements during major servicing-

  • Performing a comprehensive diagnostic scan to detect stored trouble codes
  • Timing belt(s) and tensioner(s) at around 120,000 km. Note that some European cars require timing belt replacements from about 90 000 km. (Timing chains are typically maintenance-free, and very rarely require replacement).
  • Drive belt(s) and tensioner(s) at about 150,000 km
  • Platinum spark plugs at about 100,000 km
  • Brake pads at about 40,000 km
  • Brake rotors at about 40,000 to 60,000 km
  • Brake fluid about every 2 years
  • Engine coolant every 12 to 60 months
  • Resetting of the oil life monitor- if fitted
  • Engine oil and oil filter every 10,000 to 15,000 km depending on the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval
  • Transmission fluid at about 150,000 to 160,000 km, depending on the manufacturer’s recommended replacement interval
  • Power steering fluid at about 60,000 to 80,000 km, depending on the manufacturer’s recommended replacement interval
  • Fuel filter(s), depending on the manufacturer’s recommended replacement interval
  • Air filter element
  • Charcoal canister in the evaporative emissions control system, depending on its condition, and the manufacturer’s recommended replacement interval
  • Road test and diagnostic report

As with minor services, some major service items on some vehicles may be not listed here. However, the items that are listed here are subject to compulsory replacement at their due times to maintain a car’s warranty and to ensure the safety of the car's occupants.

Note that some parts replacements could affect the operation of one or more advanced driver assist (ADAS) systems. This could happen when cameras, radar transmitters, sensors, or even microphones are disturbed during a part replacement. In some cases, disturbing a sensor or camera is unavoidable, but if it happens, the affected ADAS system must be recalibrated to ensure it works correctly when you need it to work.

Recalibrating an ADAS system might add to the final bill for a major service. However, not recalibrating an ADAS system might cause an accident that could have been avoided had the system worked correctly.

You can find out what is included and an estimated cost for a log book service for a specific vehicle and service interval by using our 'Get an Estimate' tool.

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Basic Service
A Basic service is often carried out when a vehicle is outside of the vehicle manufacturer warranty period and/or there are no more specified services left in the vehicle logbook.

During a Basic Service, a mechanic usually carries out an engine oil and filter change coupled with an inspection of the vehicle. How comprehensive this inspection is can vary from mechanic to mechanic so it is worth checking with your mechanic as to what is inspected. Many offer a set list of checks that are carried out and the are often referred to in terms such as '65 point inspection' or '150 point safety check'. Again, there is no universal standard here, so do enquire with your mechanic as to what is and isn't covered. All inspections as part of a basic service should include a check of all critical safety items such as tyres, brakes, suspension and more. Once the basic service and inspection is completed, your mechanic can advise you of any issues found such as worn out parts or perhaps fluid or filters that require replacement, and provide you with a quote to perform whatever needs to be done. This is a good approach to servicing a vehicle where there isn't a logbook schedule in effect. Note that performing a 'Basic Service' such as the one mentioned here instead of the Manufacturer Specified Log book service when a vehicle is under new car warranty will almost definitely lead to your warranty being voided.
You can enquire about carrying out a Basic Service on your vehicle by contacting a Mechanic.com.au Preferred Provider using our 'Find a Mechanic' tool.

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Oil Change
An oil change is exactly what it sounds like. This is often the cheapest and most simple maintenance procedure on a vehicle that involves draining and refilling your vehicle's engine oil and replacing the engine oil filter. While this is certainly beneficial for your vehicle's engine, it is NOT considered a proper service. Because of their low price point, oil changes might not include any safety inspection, meaning that failing safety items may not be identified and may lead to serious consequences on the road. You should always check with your mechanic about what might be included with an Oil Change but to be safe, it should be assumed that an oil change is limited to just changing the engine oil and is NOT considered a proper car service.

How often should a car be serviced?

At a minimum, all cars that are under warranty must be serviced according to the service schedule contained in the logbook. This is not only to maintain the warranty but also to keep the car working reliably. You can find the service interval schedule for your car using our 'Get an Estimate' tool.

However, service schedules typically call for shortened service intervals for vehicles that are operated in extreme conditions. Such conditions could include very hot climates, very dusty environments, or conditions in which extreme temperature changes are common. Other examples could include very cold or humid climates.

In such cases, oil change intervals might be shortened, or the recommended oil might be different from that specified for moderate climates or conditions. In any event, adapted service schedules should be followed where required to maintain the vehicle in peak condition.

However, it is possible to over service a car, regardless of the conditions it lives in. For instance, replacing engine oil twice as frequently as required does not give you twice the protection against mechanical wear. Similarly, replacing platinum spark plugs every 20,000 km when they have service lives of more than 100,000 km does not give you bigger or better ignition sparks.

There is an exception to this rule, though. For example, if a vehicle operates in very dusty environments, replacing the air filter more often than the service schedule calls for is usually a good idea. However, a slightly used air filter is more efficient than a brand new element, so changing air filters too often could mean losing some filter efficiency.

In practice, it may not be a bad thing to shorten service intervals by 50% or more. Nevertheless, bear in mind that increasing the frequency of regular servicing does not necessarily increase the advantages of servicing a car according to the service schedule.

What about when the warranty expires?
Even though a vehicle is no longer covered by a warranty, it must still be serviced regularly, for two main reasons. The first reason is the fact that the car does not stop wearing out when the warranty expires. The second reason is that stopping regular servicing can drastically reduce the car’s resale value and overall condition.

However, these problems are easy to overcome with Basic Servicing. A general rule of thumb is to book in a basic service with your mechanic very 6 months or 10,000kms. Your mechanic should be able to advise you if a different servicing interval is more appropriate for your vehicle. This will ensure the engine is protected, and that small problems are found and repaired before they can develop into major issues.

In practice, there are generally no fixed rules for servicing cars that are out of warranty period. However, some parts or components that are not service items, such as water pumps, clutches, engine and transmission mountings, wheel bearings and CV joints may require replacement after the warranty expires. Moreover, most items in this category usually do not give advance warning of impending failure.

Thus, we recommend that you have non-service items checked specifically at each basic service. Doing this will detect problems early, so you can make prompt repairs before everything fails at the same time. Following a common-sense approach to servicing a car that is out of warranty will save you money in the long run, and keep the vehicle in the best possible condition. Maintaining a regular servicing schedule will also help preserve your car’s resale value. 

How long does a car service take?

Given that most people cannot be without their vehicles for long periods, this is perhaps the most important question to ask when you make an appointment to have your car serviced.

In practice, though, the time it takes to perform a full car service depends on several things. The two most important factors are the make and model of the car, and the level of service required. One other important thing to keep in mind is that it might take some time to obtain the required parts if you live in a remote area.

Nonetheless, if we assume that all required parts are immediately available, a minor logbook service should not usually take longer than about two hours or so.

Major services can take a whole lot longer, even if all the required parts are immediately available. For instance, if the service calls for a timing belt replacement, the service can take as long as five to six hours or more, depending on the make and model of the car.

Do keep in mind that the time it takes to perform the actual service on your vehicle and the time that your mechanic needs your vehicle for may be different due to scheduling of other jobs, availability of certain staff at the mechanic and more.

The best thing to do is to discuss the expected waiting time with the workshop when you make a service appointment. This is particularly important if you live in a remote area because some parts might take a week or more to arrive.

In all cases, though, we highly recommend that you discuss your needs with the workshop at least a week before you want the service done. This will allow the workshop enough time to order all the parts and other components that may be required to perform a professional service.

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