7 signs that your car needs a service

7 signs that your car needs a service
We should all book our cars in for a service once a year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, but sometimes we might not get round to visiting a garage for this routine check.

Thankfully, our cars have plenty of ways to let us know when they’re in need of some ‘TLC’. It’s up to motorists to recognise the signs as soon as possible to prevent small faults developing into much bigger problems.

Why is it important to service a car?

During a service, a mechanic will assess everything from your car engine’s fluid levels to general wear and tear. Think of it as a health check for your vehicle that helps it to run as safely and efficiently as possible.

What are the benefits of servicing a car?

Servicing your car comes with some added benefits:

With the help of a trusted mechanic, you can spot faults with your car before they become more complicated. Nipping problems in the bud could mean you avoid expensive repair bills in the long term.

Over time, regular servicing will make your car last longer. By keeping integral parts running in top condition, your car should be roadworthy long after the warranty ends.

Regular servicing in the short term could help you hold on to the resell value of your car in the long term. Car buyers are usually willing to pay more for a car that has been kept in good condition, and routine maintenance could make all the difference. 

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

What happens if I don’t service my car?

If you don’t service your car, you might find that there are some unexpected drawbacks:

Eventually, your car will become less safe to drive. During a service, a mechanic will flag any safety concerns with your vehicle and may be able to fix them too. The checks could help save you and your passengers from an avoidable accident. 

Routine check-ups ensure that your car runs as efficiently as possible. Without them, you could spend more on petrol and other running costs. For example, if tyres are neglected and run flat, you might have to fill your tank more often.

If small problems are left to develop, they could become damaged beyond economical repair. You might have to sell or scrap your car earlier than you planned.

You can keep on track with your car's maintenance by getting a service plan to spread the cost over two years. With ours, you can choose to split your service and MOT to make sure there are expert eyes on your motor regularly.

Find out more about driving without servicing your car.

The 7 signs to look out for

Keep an eye out for these signs between visits to your local garage or calling out a mobile mechanic:

1. Dashboard warning lights


Nothing says your car needs a service quite like a dashboard warning light. Quite literally too, as the word ‘SERVICE’ or a spanner icon appears on instrument panels in most modern cars before your car is due a ‘once over’.

The light often appears alongside text telling you how many miles or days you have left before you should take your car to a garage. Some models will even tell you if a service is overdue.

Although the service reminder light appears for routine check-ups, it can also appear because of a specific fault. You might notice that the light illuminates at the same time as another symbol on your dashboard to help you pinpoint the problem. 

2. Strange noises

Clicks, hisses, ticks, and squeaking could all indicate a problem under the bonnet. If the sound is becoming more intense or the problem seems urgent, you should pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so and call a mechanic right away.

For less urgent noises, you should pay attention to:

  • when the sounds occur (e.g. when turning, when idle)
  • what they sound like (e.g. rattling or clicking)
  • where they’re coming from (e.g. under the bonnet, under the car)

By giving a description of ‘when’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ you can help your mechanic diagnose the problem.

If you hear hissing from under the bonnet when your car is idle, your engine might be overheating, which can be a serious problem. But that’s just one example of what strange noises might mean for your car. 

Our guide to unusual vehicle sounds could help you work out what’s wrong and alleviate your concerns.

3. Dripping liquid and mystery puddles

First things first, you should check if the puddle has formed because of the Great British weather rather than a fault under your bonnet. 

Your car can leak water through condensation in the aircon unit in the summer, or your exhaust in the winter. Either way, both scenarios are harmless and won’t need the attention of a mechanic.

If your car leaks coloured liquid, you could have a more serious problem on your hands. 

Brown liquid could be a sign that you’re leaking power steering fluid, oil, or the most serious of them all, brake fluid. If you suspect you’re missing vital fluid, you shouldn’t attempt to drive your car at all, not even for a service. Try to arrange for a qualified mechanic to visit your car instead.

For advice on what to do if you see red, amber, black or green fluid, read our helpful guide.

Service, repair or MOT?

You can trust the RAC with our local approved garages and NEW mobile mechanics.

Service, repair or MOT?
Service, repair or MOT?

4. Loss in power and frequent stalling

A regular service could prevent your car from stalling more often or struggling to generate power.

There could be a number of reasons for the problems in your car and sometimes there’s a very simple fix. Spark plugs could be faulty and thankfully replacing them is a straightforward and inexpensive job, but it’s best to leave it to the professionals.

Alternatively, your fuel injection system could be malfunctioning and starving your engine of fuel or oxygen. A clogged catalytic converter could also be disrupting airflow, a simple service will help to diagnose the problem.

Find out more about why your car is juddering, jerking or stuttering.

5. Brakes behaving differently

Brakes are probably the most important safety feature on your car. When you fail to take your vehicle for a check-up, they can become less effective.

You might have to press harder on the brake pedal to apply stopping power and this is usually down to one of two reasons:

  • leaking brake fluid
  • worn brake pads

A mechanic will be able to pinpoint the problem during a service and replacing brake pads is usually a simple process. Remember, it’s best to call a professional out to your car for repairs rather than risk your brakes failing as you drive to a garage, so check your area for mobile mechanics.

Find out ‘everything you need to know about brake pads’.

6. Smoke coming from the bonnet/exhaust


Smoke clouds can escape from car bonnets and exhausts for many reasons.

If the smoke appears to come from a fire under your bonnet, you should:

  • turn off your engine
  • pull the bonnet release lever but do not try to prop it open
  • get everyone out of the car and keep your distance
  • dial 999 and ask for the fire service
  • warn oncoming traffic, if it’s safe to do so

If the problem doesn’t seem too urgent, you should pay attention to:

  • when the smoke appears (e.g. when starting the engine, when accelerating)
  • the colour of the smoke
  • where it’s coming from (e.g. under the bonnet, from the exhaust)
  • if your car is overheating

Passing this information on to a mechanic can help them discover what’s wrong with your car more quickly. They might find problems with your head gasket, cooler systems, electrical wires, pistons or fuel valves.

Find out more about why your engine is smoking and what you should do next.

7. Vibrations

Regular services could also prevent your car from vibrating or juddering.

If you’ve noticed unusual movements in your car, there could be a number of potential explanations. For example, juddering while pulling away could be due to worn-out friction material or a pressure plate defect – perhaps a combination of both. It could also be caused by an oil leak contaminating the clutch plate. 

If your car judders or vibrates at low revs, the engine mount which holds the engine in place could be loose, worn or broken. 

Where should I take my car for a service?

Finding a trustworthy mechanic can seem like a daunting task but thankfully our booking tool can help you find an RAC-approved garage to carry out a service. 

Our full service includes a 77-point inspection with a change of:

  • engine oil 
  • oil filter 
  • air filter 

All repairs are covered by a 12-month guarantee and we’ll even match an equivalent price from other garages in your area. 

You can also get your car serviced from your home or office with a mobile mechanic who will bring the garage to you!

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*Max 40% applies to new Extra and Complete for 1 vehicle or 1 person. Ends 17/07/24, 7am. ^ £6.75 for Basic, not on sale. 

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