How to service your own car: Pros and cons

ALI HIDDLESTONE
Finance Writer · 27 August 2021
Taking care of your car with regular maintenance can help ensure it remains in tip-top condition and maximise its life on the road. While routine trips to the mechanic may seem an unavoidable expense, with the right tools and know-how, it is possible to conduct some services on your car yourself. However, before you decide to venture under the hood, it is important to consider the pros and cons.

In this article, we look at:

  • What car maintenance can I do myself?
  • Is it cheaper to do your own car maintenance?
  • What are the pros of servicing your own car
  • Is it worth servicing your car yourself?

What car maintenance can I do myself?

There are some basic routine maintenance checks you may be able to do on your car. These could save you money, and help reduce your risk of a car breakdown, according to RACQ Principal Technical Researcher, Andrew Kirk. These maintenance checks include:

  • Checking oil and water levels weekly. If you have the knowledge, you can change the oil. However, this will require a suitable jack, stands or ramps, knowing where to jack the vehicle and disposing of the old oil.
  • Checking tyre pressure, condition, tread wear and depth.
  • Checking all exterior lights are working and replacing any blown light globes.
  • Looking for oil or coolant leak spots underneath your car, as this could indicate an emerging problem.
  • Checking windscreen wipers and washers are working correctly and refilling windscreen washer fluid.
  • Safely testing the handbrake to ensure it ‘holds’ the car correctly on steep hills.
  • Fitting a new air cleaner element if one is required.

Mr Kirk said more complex maintenance is often best left to a licensed mechanic. If you’re not confident with what you’re doing, there is a risk you could end up with a much larger bill than you would have had if you had taken your car to a mechanic and sought professional advice.

Checking brakes, or tampering with your car steering, suspension and safety systems should be off limits for DIYers, according to Mr Kirk, as you could end up seriously harming yourself or others as you’re meddling with the core mechanics of the car. Fitting brake pads backwards or draining gearbox oil instead of engine oil are some examples of mistakes that can be made, says Mr Kirk. If you aren’t sure about anything at all relating to your car safety or maintenance, seek professional advice from a licensed car mechanic.

Pros and cons – weighing up DIY vehicle maintenance

  • While there may be the potential to save money and gain familiarity with your vehicle, on the downside it could be disastrous financially if you cause damage or get out of your depth with the repairs, or you could cause yourself or others harm if there are any safety-related issues.
  • There could also be insurance, legal and warranty implications. Modern cars are far more complex now and require considerable specialist knowledge to work on. The right tools and equipment are needed to diagnose problems correctly. Misdiagnosis could result in unnecessary and expensive parts being fitted.

Is it cheaper to do your own car maintenance?

Considering that the average car service in Australia can cost $386 for a logbook service, doing your own car maintenance may be cheaper than booking it into a mechanic. This average cost can also vary depending on the make and model of your car, the mechanic, the type of service and even your location.

However,  it’s important to consider that servicing your own car takes time, energy and resources. While your labour is free, if you’re time poor, it might be easier to seek professional help from a licensed mechanic. There could be hidden costs with the repairs, and certain products might need to be purchased that a mechanic can help you with.

Another consideration is that some car manufacturers offer capped price servicing. This means the cost of servicing at an approved mechanic is set at a fixed price for a specific length of time. This cost structure can reduce bill shock (as long as there’s no serious issues with your car) and may help you to budget ahead. If you have capped price servicing, you may prefer booking your car in with a mechanic.

What are the pros of servicing your own car?

Servicing your car yourself can be cheaper than booking it into a mechanic. Keep in mind, however, what type of maintenance your car needs and whether you have the time and abilities to service your own car. It’s also important to consider if you can do this safely. According to Mr  Kirk, basic routine checks are a great way to save money and keep your car in good working order, but consider seeking professional help from a mechanic for more complex car servicing repairs.

Flexibility

Servicing your car yourself allows you the flexibility to do the work when it suits you. This might be convenient, particularly with cars being so essential for many of us with our daily activities, whether we are driving to work, shopping or taking children to school and weekend sports.

Better understanding of your car

Another advantage to servicing your own car is not only learning new skills, but getting to know the ins and outs of your car so that you know exactly how it should be running. Plus, if you’ve been performing basic service checks on your car regularly, then you may be able to eliminate some simpler issues if something goes wrong with your car.

Is it worth servicing your car yourself?

If you are considering servicing your car yourself, there are a number of potential setbacks to think about. There’s the risk of causing more damage, and self-servicing your car might lead to insurance and warranty issues.

Risk of causing more damage

While servicing your own car has the potential to save you money, Mr Kirk said the downside is the risk of your DIY maintenance going wrong. You could face financial costs if you cause damage or repair something incorrectly.  There may also be  safety implications if your DIY car maintenance creates issues that make your car unroadworthy without you realising it, and it could impact your car insurance.

According to Mr Kirk, modern cars are far more complex now and require considerable specialist knowledge to work on. The right tools and equipment are needed to diagnose problems correctly, as misdiagnosis could result in unnecessary and expensive parts being fitted.

Insurance and warranty issues

If you have a car warranty, this might be voided if you decide to do car repairs yourself, rather than getting your car serviced by a licensed mechanic using approved parts and according to the manufacturer’s specifications. You usually have the freedom to choose who services your car under your warranty (i.e., a dealership, private mechanic etc), but it is important to carefully read the terms and conditions in the product disclosure statement (PDS) if you have a warranty and are unsure what’s allowed. Authorised service centres and licensed mechanics often have access to testing equipment and specialist tools that can help them to complete car repairs to the standards required.

Doing basic car servicing yourself may not have an impact on your car insurance, unless it is deemed to have contributed to damage of your engine or the cause of an accident. It’s a good idea to call your insurer before you start work to be sure what’s permitted under your policy, and also to read the terms and conditions in your PDS. If you make repairs to your car that are inappropriate, or even use non-genuine parts, it could impact the resale value of your car. You may like to keep this in mind if you are considering doing some car servicing yourself.

DIY modifications to your car, such as adjustments to the exhaust system, bodywork or wheels, may also invalidate your car insurance. Car modifications can also impact the resale value of your car if you’d like to sell it in the future.


Compare car insurance

If you’re considering car insurance policies, the comparison table below displays some of the policies currently available on Canstar’s database for a 30-39 year old male seeking cover in NSW without cover for an extra driver under 25. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest) followed by provider name (alphabetical) and features links direct to the providers’ websites. Use Canstar’s car insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of policies.

Main image source: Air Images/Shutterstock.com

 


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