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How to Service Your Own Car: The Basics

The average price for servicing a car at a main dealer or independent garage is around £150 for an interim service (basically, an oil and filter change), to nearly £300 for a full service. If you are one of the many people in Britain that is feeling the squeeze and wants to cut back on such expenses, and you feel competent enough to undertake some basic to medium-level car maintenance, then continue reading to find out what you need to know about servicing your own car.

service car

What is involved?

Whether your car is new or used to perform a basic service, you will need to change the oil and oil filter. The manufacturer’s oil change schedule for your car varies from car to car, but generally if you only do town driving you should change the oil every 6 months or 5,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you do mostly motorway driving, then you can change the oil every 12 months or 10,000 miles, whichever occurs first.

Newer cars tend to have longer service schedules due to advances in oil technology and also engine technology, but if you change your oil regularly you will have an engine that will perform as good as the day it was built, and the chances of you having to rectify issues such as head gasket failure and leaking engine oil seals will be dramatically reduced.

When performing a basic service, you should also check and top up the following:

  • Coolant;
  • Windscreen washer fluid;
  • Brake fluid;
  • Power steering fluid (if applicable);
  • Transmission fluid (if applicable).

You should also check the condition of your tyres and ensure that the air pressure inside them is at the correct levels, check the windscreen wipers and clean or replace them if they need attention, and grease up any movable items like door hinges and the bonnet spring, as well as putting grease on your battery terminals to prevent them corroding.

A full serviced performed by main dealers and independent garages is the same as above but with the addition of replacing spark plugs (or glow plugs if you have a diesel), the air filter, fuel filter, and if your car has one, the pollen filter.

Tools you will need

These are the minimum of tools you should have at your disposal:

  • Screwdriver set;
  • Socket set (which includes a socket wrench);
  • Spanner set;
  • Torque wrench;
  • Spark plug removal tool, or attachment for use with a socket wrench;
  • Engine oil filter removal tool;
  • Trolley jack;
  • Axle stands.

Parts and sundries you will need

For a basic service, you will need:

  • Engine oil (check your owner’s manual for the amount you need);
  • Engine oil filter;
  • Engine oil catch pan;
  • Plastic funnel;
  • Sump plug washer;
  • Top-up bottle of coolant;
  • Top-up bottle of brake fluid;
  • Top-up bottle of power steering/automatic transmission fluid;
  • 5-litre bottle of ready-mixed windscreen washer fluid;
  • Copper grease;
  • Disposable latex or rubber gloves;
  • Swarfega (for removing oil stains from your hands and arms).

For a full service, you will need the above items plus the following:

  • Air filter;
  • Pollen filter (if applicable);
  • Fuel filter (if applicable);

Preparing your car for an engine oil change

To perform an engine, you will first need to run your car engine for about 10 to 15 minutes. This is so that the engine oil will flow more freely out of the sump when you come to drain it.

Jack the front end of the car up on level ground, and support both sides with axle stands. On some cars, you may need to remove the exhaust down pipe to get to the sump plug – buy a Haynes manual for your car if one is available, as this will give you the necessary steps to perform for removing such items.

Remove the oil filler cap at the top of the engine so that a vacuum is not created when you drain the oil.

Changing the engine oil

Position your engine oil catch pan underneath the location of the sump plug. Use the correct sized spanner to loosen the sump plug. When it is loose enough to unscrew by hand, do so but apply inward force to the sump plug as if you were pushing it in, and when you think it is completely loose, quickly pull it away to avoid getting oil down your arm and into your sleeve!

Make sure you do not drop the sump plug into the oil catch pan, otherwise you will have the horrible task of trying to fish it out! Now you need to leave your engine oil to drain for a while, but while that is happening, you can change your oil filter.

Changing the engine oil filter

Get your oil filter removal tool and wrap it around the oil filter, and start to unscrew it. Be careful when you are removing the oil filter, as it could still have some oil inside it. Consider putting some rags underneath and around the oil filter to soak up any excess oil and prevent it dripping onto the ground below.

Make sure you remove the rubber gasket with the oil filter, otherwise the new filter will leak.

Finishing up the oil and filter change

Clean up the area around the oil filter and sump plug on the engine with a clean rag.

  1. Fit the new oil filter – smear some new oil around the rubber gasket on the new oil filter and screw it back on to the engine by hand, making sure it is tight.
  2. Fit the sump plug – with a new washer on the sump plug, fit it back on to the sump by hand, making sure that you do not cross thread it. Finish off by tightening it up with your spanner.
  3. Fill the engine with new oil – fill the engine with new, fresh oil, making sure to stop every couple of litres and checking the oil level from the dipstick about a minute or so after you have put the oil in. Keep doing so until you have reached the maximum required amount of oil for the engine. If you overfill your engine, you will need to drain some oil back out, so it is very important you confirm how much oil you need to put in your engine.
  4. Finishing up – once you are done, put the oil cap back on.

Checking for leaks

Once you have finished, make sure your car is not in gear (or is in park or neutral if it is an automatic), start the engine and make sure the oil pressure light goes after a couple of seconds or so.

Assuming the light goes out, let the engine idle for a couple of minutes and make sure there are no leaks from the sump plug or oil filter.

Once you are satisfied that you have successfully completed the oil change, you can turn the engine off and remove the oil catch pan. You will need to dispose of the old engine oil at your local waste oil recycling centre.

Topping up other fluids

Your next job will be to check and top up the other fluids in your engine. Refer to your owner’s manual, or a Haynes manual for details on how to do so.

Other service items

Again, refer to your owner’s manual or Haynes manual for details on how to replace filters and spark/glow plugs.

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