How to service your car: car service checklist

10th June 2024
Simon Ostler

If you love your car, or even if you just appreciate its function as a tool to get you from A to B, you’re going to want to make sure its in tip-top working condition, and the best way to ensure your car is healthy is to properly maintain it with regular servicing.


The general guidance is that you should get your car serviced once a year or, if you’re driving a lot, every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. But that advice can also vary depending on your car; models with more intricate or delicate engineering may require more regular servicing.

Now, you may have always thought of a car service as something you pay the garage to do, the kind of thing you combine with your annual MOT to get it all out the way at once. But there are some things that you can do if you fancy yourself as a bit of an engineering whiz, or if you just like the idea of saving a bit of cash.

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To make things easier still, we’ve put together this in-depth guide to keep your car in perfect working order, and save a bit of money in the process.

What you’ll need

Whenever you plan on getting your hands dirty with a spot of car maintenance, you’re going to want to make sure you’re equipped for the job. Servicing your car is not something you can bodge, or cut corners on - it’s as much about safety as it is about keeping the engine running smoothly, and in both cases, it’ll pay to do it properly.

It can be a messy job, too, so you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for any eventuality. Here’s what we would recommend having in stock before getting started:

  • Socket set
  • Car jack
  • Funnel
  • Oil filter remover
  • Oil drain tray
  • Torque wrench

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Oil change

Changing the engine oil is an arduous but necessary process that will reap big rewards on the long-term health and performance of your engine. You’ll need to get your car up on your jacks first and foremost, because you’ll need to get underneath to unscrew the sump plug. The sump is underneath the engine, and it’s where the oil sits when the engine isn’t running.

Before getting started, make sure the engine is completely cool. Remove the oil cap, and position your oil tray underneath the sump plug, otherwise you’ll have quite the mess on your hands.

To begin draining the old oil, you need to remove the oil filter, using a specialised oil filter removal tool. Once the oil is completely drained, you can put the new filter in place, dabbing the new seal with oil to strengthen it. Don’t forget to replace the sump plug before moving on to the next step. It’s good practice to replace the washer around the plug at this point, too.

Now you can get up off the floor and start pouring your new oil. Use a funnel, because any slips could lead to flooding the engine, which is something you definitely want to avoid. Make sure you don’t overfill the tank either, regular checks with the dipstick are recommended.

Once you’re happy with your oil levels, close the cap and run the engine for ten minutes or so, to get your new oil circulating and ensure nothing is leaking. Once the engine has cooled again, carry out a final level check to ensure it’s at the maximum.


Air filter change

After that rather involved process, this next task is nice and easy. The air filter protects your engine from dirt and debris being sucked into the air intake. To change it, simply locate and unclip the airbox to find the air filter underneath. It should be as simple as removing the old filter and replacing it with the new one before clipping the air box back into place.

Fluids check

Engine coolant is just as important as engine oil. Run out of coolant and the engine will overheat, so you want to make sure you keep your coolant at optimum levels. This is a great task to undertake during a service, and you can check the tank, which will display minimum and maximum levels.

If you need to top up the coolant, make sure the engine is cold before you remove the filler cap, and pour in the required amount of coolant using a funnel.


Tyre checks

Checking your tyres is a multifaceted process. The condition of the tyres on your car can have a major impact on performance, grip, and stopping distances, so it’s worth your while to make sure they’re up to scratch.

Inspecting for damage is your first port of call. Cuts or bulges are obvious red flags, but also keep an eye out for stones or nails stuck in the rubber. Then you need to pay attention to the tread depths. The UK’s legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm, which is conveniently the same size as the rim of a 20p coin. If you still happen to be in possession of any real money, then you place it into the deepest tread on the tyre, and if the rim is visible then you know that tyre may need replacing.

It’s highly recommended that you replace tyres in pairs at least, changing either both fronts or both rears at minimum, although in an ideal scenario it’s worth getting four new tyres fitted at the same time. The reason for this is down to grip and wear levels. If one tyre is newer than another, it’ll grip more, and as that differential grows, there is a chance the car’s handling will be affected.

You should also keep a regular eye on your tyre pressures. If they’re too low, or even too high, wear rates can go through the roof, and fuel economy will also be adversely affected. It’s worth checking if you’re not sure what your car’s recommended tyre pressures are.


Some things are better left to the professionals

Brakes are something which will also need attention during a service, but unless you are an expert in car maintenance, we recommend leaving this job to a professional. While the other jobs we’ve carried out here focus on your car’s health, there’s a little more at stake when it comes to your brakes. You don’t want to get onto the motorway after messing with your brakes to find out your car is no longer stopping as it should.

For that reason, we suggest leaving this one to experts, who will be able to safely and effectively service your brake pads and discs, and replace brake fluid if required.

And with that, your car should be feeling as good as new, with an engine that runs as smoothly as it did out of the factory. If you’ve managed to carry out any of these jobs yourself, you can also take pride in your work and enjoy a bit of extra cash in your wallet.

Visit the eBay Garage at FOS to immerse yourself in the world of vehicle parts and accessories and put your skills to the test for a chance to win some exclusive merch!

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