How to service your car: car servicing checklist

How to service your car: car servicing checklist
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 carrying out car manitenance yourself.

Of course, 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. 

Don't fancy a trip to the garage? You could call out a mobile mechanic to service your car for you. They can also handle most repairs from your home or work.

This guide looks into what is needed to do a service yourself – and a helpful checklist of things to remember

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. Also, if some parts aren’t fitted correctly, then it could be dangerous for yourself, your passengers, and other road users.

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:

  • Socket set (including a spark plug removal socket)
  • Car jack & axle stands
  • Funnel
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Oil filter remover
  • Oil drain tray (or bucket)
  • 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 coolants

Replacing engine coolant is a simple but important task that is necessary to keep your vehicle running efficiently – and one of the easier tasks for a car service.

Engine coolant is used to keep the engine running at a safe temperature and prevent it from overheating. Here are the steps to follow to replace engine coolant:

  1. Start by making sure that your engine is cool. Never attempt to replace engine coolant on a hot engine.
  2. Locate the coolant reservoir. It is usually a plastic tank near the radiator with a cap labelled ‘coolant’ or ‘antifreeze’.
  3. Remove the cap and add the appropriate type of engine coolant. Most vehicles require a 50/50 mixture of water and coolant – however, this isn’t always the case. Read the instructions on the coolant bottle.
  4. Once the coolant has been added, replace the cap, and start the engine. Allow the engine to run for a few minutes and then turn it off.
  5. Check the coolant level. If necessary, add more coolant to bring the level up to the ‘full’ mark.
  6. Replace the cap and you’re done.

It’s important to check your engine coolant level regularly and replace it when needed. Doing so will keep your engine running smoothly and help prevent costly repairs down the line.

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.

What jobs should I ask a specialist to do?

Even though you may be confident in servicing your own vehicle, it does come with certain risks.

Safety is the main reason why servicing and MOTs are carried out on vehicles – and compromising this isn’t something any owner should take lightly.

Brake fluid, discs, pads and anything else related to this area of the car are crucial in stopping the vehicle. So, this should always be left to a professional if you even have the slightest bit of doubt.

Also, fuel systems and filters are incredibly complicated – and not something you can learn by following a YouTube video.

Often a service will require extensive work and a large area to work in. If you do not have the time, skill or space to carry out these tasks safely and to the highest standard possible, then it is best to visit a local garage.

Service your own car vs approved garage

Although there are many benefits that come with regular maintenance and general upkeep of your vehicle, it might not always be the best choice to carry out engineering work without the correct knowledge of tools.

Is it cheaper to do it yourself? Sure, it can be – but if you make a mistake it could cost you a lot more to repair the damage. Also, if your mistake leads to a dangerous accident, then you could be liable.

Can I fix it this issue? If there are small maintenance things you can do throughout the year, then do them, as this will make sure the vehicle is in the best condition possible.

Should I leave it to a professional?  If you are asking yourself this, then take it to an expert.

Car maintenance is a vital part of car ownership. Stay on top of it and your car will retain its value and keep all road users safe.

Have you serviced your own car before? What advice would you give to someone looking at doing this for their vehicle? Leave your comments below.

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