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Fixed price car servicing: Everything you need to know

We all know that car servicing is important, but the whole exercise can be time-consuming, inconvenient and expensive.

Motor vehicles, irrespective of whether they are bought new or second-hand, need to be serviced to maintain their reliability, safety and efficiency. Service intervals and the work required on your car depend  on how you use your vehicle, the distance covered since the previous service and, if new, the manufacturer’s recommended intervals to satisfy the warranty conditions.

While logically we all know that car servicing is important, but the whole exercise can be time-consuming, inconvenient and expensive, especially when we know, in our hearts rather than our logical heads,  we'd prefer to use the money on a fancy dinner or new shoes.

Still, it is a necessity, and it's a lot different today than back when you would hand your dad the tools as he changed the oil filter and filed down the spark plugs in the shed at home. Now, car owners can choose from capped-price servicing programs, fixed-price independent service centre offerings, prepaid-servicing programs or even one-off visits to the local mechanic.  

Fixing a name

Most of us are now quite familiar with capped-price servicing but what is fixed-price servicing? Is it not the same thing, I hear you ask, because it sounds pretty similar?

While some manufacturers may use capped and fixed-price servicing interchangeably, they are, in fact, delivered through different providers. While capped-price-servicing programs are usually for new cars and are accessed through dealers for the fixed time determined by the car manufacturer, fixed-price servicing is offered by independent chains like Ultratune and K-mart Tyre and Auto, or through your local mechanic for new and older cars.

Your car is serviced for the fixed price advertised by, or agreed to with, your mechanic and can include checks above those prescribed in a capped-price-servicing program.

Capped-price vs fixed-price servicing

In the last decade, most car manufacturers have instituted capped-price servicing programs with new-car purchases. These programs, which range from three to seven years depending on manufacturer, offer owners some certainly about the basic cost of scheduled servicing across a specific time period for their cars.  

So Mazda, for example, offers the popular CX-5 2.0L petrol with a five-year capped-price program (12 months/15,000km), which will set you back $1,571 at an average $314.20 per service while the Kia Sportage 2.0L petrol on a seven-year, capped-price schedule costs $2485 at an average $355 per service.

Capped-price-servicing schedules and inclusions differ according to manufacturer and model of car, so it is important that you spend time reading the fine print. Generally, these programs do not include maintenance items like fluids, air filters or wipers, but this can differ between manufacturers.

Fixed-price car services at a licensed, reputable mechanic will cover all those checks recommended by the manufacturer to keep your car running efficiently and safely. Depending on your vehicle’s servicing schedule, these are things like a diagnostic check, changing the oil and oil filter, checking the fuel filter, safety check, brake inspection and adjustment, checking the suspension, steering, radiator hose and changing the spark plugs.

Depending on your car and whether you live in a city like Sydney or Melbourne or a regional town, a fixed-price service ranges from $220-$260 for passenger vehicles and SUVs and $300-$360 for 4WDs. Your local mechanic may be even more price competitive, though.

If faults are found during servicing, your mechanic should call you to discuss the problem and cost before changing the necessary parts. Remember that as your car gets older it will cost more to maintain, so remember to plan for those costs.

Will I void my warranty by not servicing my car at a dealer?

Absolutely not.

Dealers depend on after-market products like servicing and parts to prop up their profit margins and will be persuasive in trying to convince you to retain their services. If that works for you, great.

But you do have options.

Servicing or repairing your car at the local mechanic will not impact your warranty, provided the mechanic is suitably qualified and that he uses quality parts. Your mechanic can perform logbook services and stamp your logbook to reflect they have been completed.

Are there disadvantages to fixed-price services?

While a suitably qualified local mechanic will be as proficient at providing a quality service as a dealership, it is important to note that, according to the Australian Automobile Aftermarket Association, some manufacturers do not share with independent mechanics all of the computerised information they need for repairs and software updates.

Also, manufacturers can often have a “service campaign” for a part that is not safety related, like replacing a piece of trim or a navigation update, which is fixed at a dealer during a service. So, choosing an independent mechanic may mean you miss out on these things.

Some dealerships offer extended warranties that start when the manufacturer’s warranty ends. Because these are tied to the individual dealership, you can void your extended warranty by not using that dealer for servicing.

How do I find the best fixed-price mechanic near me?

Word of mouth is usually invaluable, so ask friends, neighbours and colleagues for recommendations. An online search will also give you options.

If you have a new car, check the manufacturer’s capped-price-servicing program to ascertain the approximate cost of the scheduled service and then call around to your local mechanics or larger automotive service centres to shop the price. Don’t forget to ask for the inclusions list and, if you opt for local, ask your mechanic for a 12-month warranty on the parts and service.

You can check that the service centre you choose is reputable through the Motor Traders Association, the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (Victoria), Service NSW or the WA Department of Commerce.

Keep it regular

The experts, whether they promote dealer products or local services, agree that regular servicing of your motor vehicle will help keep you and those on the road around you safer. Regular maintenance will also help keep those large repair bills to a minimum.

I, for one, am a supporter of keeping services local if you can. You can get a quality product at a fixed price while keeping your warranty intact. Building a relationship with your local mechanic can also prove invaluable in the long run.

It will not only support small business and give you choice but will also force some dealerships to improve their customer service for your patronage.

Do you service your car with your dealer, or keep it local? And why? Tell us in the comments section below.