Sunday 25 May 2014

MSN advises public on car servicing. Really?

Whist researching a recent blog idea, I fell upon this heinous excuse for a self-help article in MSN Cars:

Let me start by saying that not having your second-most-expensive-purchase-you-will-ever-make after-your-house serviced by a qualified vehicle technician is stupid. I am not a vet. When my cat gets sick I do not open it up and start looking for the problem. When my cat gets sick I take it to a person that is qualified to fix sick cats.

One does not simply “service” a car. Each car from each manufacturer has a different service schedule with different things that need doing at different times. If you know what these things are and feel you are competent enough to do them then, and in no way do I condone this, have a go.

Most services will include changing the engine oil and the oil filter. Most people think this is all a service ever is. Those people are wrong. Most people think that the MoT test covers everything else. Those people are also wrong. Most people think that the MoT means that their car is safe to drive until its next MoT. These people are so wrong that I cannot think of a suitable humorous metaphor. And to be fair, this is not a situation to be made light of anyway.

After reading the article I simply couldn’t let it go by without adding a few pointers of my own. After introducing itself as “a way to save money without cutting corners”, something rarely possible in the servicing of a motor vehicle, we go to page two for our first tip.

Page 2 of our MSN guide to saving money tells us to just do it ourselves. They inform us that all we need is a good manual and some simple tools. Let’s assume that our car is not one that needs £6000 worth of diagnostic equipment to reset the on-board computer’s service intervals and move straight on to “the basic tools” of a service.

First we will need a trolley jack because the wheel jack that comes with our car, if it indeed has one, will not lift your car high enough to get axle stands underneath it. We will ideally need four axle stands so that we can have the car off the ground and level because manufactures stopped putting oil drain plugs in the centre of sumps back in the 60’s. Our drain plug will probably be off to one side somewhere so best get the car level to make sure all the oil comes out.

Most modern cars come with an under-tray. This will usually need to be removed to access the sump plug. Under-trays can be big and quite inconvenient. Some are held on by clips, some bolts and some are a combination of the two. Most have hit the occasional speed bump in the life of a car and have therefore lost some of their shape. We will find this out when we go to re-attach our under-tray and have difficulty getting the bolt holes to line up.

Now when we get to the drain plug we will probably find that none of the spanners in our “basic” tool kit fit it. If it is Citroen, we might get away with an allen key or a big socket. If it is Peugeot, we will need a special square socket. If it is Fiat we may need a big 19mm allen key. And don’t think we can make a judgement on what tool to buy based on the badge; Thanks to platform sharing, it is quite possible that our car’s engine comes from another manufacturer altogether.

Once the oil is draining, it is time to remove the oil filter. For this, your local car accessory store will sell you an oil filter strap. They are good for canister type oil filters, but not much help on the modern element types with the plastic housing. Plastic filter housings are commonplace now. You will find them fitted to most Peugeots, Bmws, Ford Diesels, Mercedes, Citroens, in fact you are likely to find one in any car built in the last 15 years. Many require their own unique tool to open.

At this point, we could go on to the proverbial minefield that is the fuel filter but, for fear of boring you, I think we will leave it there.

Page three of the article is actually true. Most independents will do a main dealer service with main dealer parts if you require it for the warranty. You will save money on labour this way, but check with the dealer first. Even Porsche offer discounted rates for older cars.

On page 4 we meet the mobile mechanic. Most of these are very good but you must check what you are buying. Many offer just a single basic service. (oil filter, air filter, spark plugs, check tyre pressures.) Whilst this is better than nothing, it is probably different from your service book requirements. It is important that YOU know what your vehicle needs so that, A) You can make sure the mobile mechanic does it and B) He doesn’t charge you for changing an item that didn’t need changing.

Page 5 goes without saying. The schedule is there for a reason. Stick to it. Especially the bit that says “timing belt”.

Page 6 is interesting. I have worked in about 6 independent garages and not one has made “A good chunk of its income” from parts sales. In fact, every single one retailed high quality parts cheaper than any local car accessory store, tyres cheaper than the local tyre fitters and oil cheaper than is available to the public anywhere. Most garages can provide cheaper high quality oils because garages tend to buy oil in bulk. Most garages will be happy to fit parts you supply but don’t expect them to give you a warranty on parts or labour when you do.

Page 7. “The service should not require any unexpected work” No it shouldn’t. But it often does. Most garages will offer a guide price for servicing but don’t be surprised if they pull the rear drums off your Citroen Saxo and find that the brake shoe linings have fallen off and they can’t put the car back together without new ones. Much of the service is checking parts for impending failure; Of course there might be unexpected work.

Page 8. Asking your local mechanic to “Chuck it in for an Mot” after you have already followed MSN’s advice to screw him into the ground on price, is more than cheeky. It is downright rude. I cannot believe any mechanic can afford to give up an hour of a technician’s time for you to have a free MoT. But I suppose if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Page 9 is true, if you need evidence, then most garages will oblige you. Also, if you are up front when you book the car in and tell your mechanic that times are a bit hard, they will use some mechanical discretion and not replace items that will last until the next service. But remember that, by doing so, you are breaking MSN rule 1 page 5 that says “Stick to the service schedule” and your mechanic will probably put a note in your service book saying as much.

Page 10. Audis are rubbish and Skodas are wonderful. I have already written a blog about that here. why-i-hate-audi.

Page 11. This is the best idea in the article. When you buy a new car you want free servicing, fuel, road tax, mats, everything you can get your hands on. Buying new is the best way to get cheap servicing.

 It is a popular misconception that the motor trade pays well. It doesn’t. And the best person to advise you about what your car needs is your mechanic. Not MSN.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

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