Servicing your own car

30 Sep 2004
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United Kingdom
This is a bit of a long story so the summary is - how hard is it to service your own car and find out the list of things that need doing...

I've been doing various jobs on my car (1996 Audi A4 2.6 V6) and my wife's car (Renault Grand Espace 2004 3.5 V6) to save money. This began when the handbrake started acting up on the Espace and Renault wanted over £800 for a new computer.

I got a second hand one from a breaker and with the help of information from Dialogys and a Renault CLIP was able to fit this, cancel the fault code and sort the problem out for less than £200.

After that I did brake pads, discs on both cars and a brake caliper on the Audi. Just before Christmas the alternator and mass air flow sensor went on the Espace and again, rather than pay Renault £1000+ I got an OEM alternator and did the work myself for around £300. Most recently the Audi needed new front suspension arms and an exhaust repair which I was able to do.

However, when either car needs a service I've always taken it to a garage. When they were new we went to a main dealer, and then later to an independent.

This is because I've never really been sure what is needed for a service. I know I could change oil, plugs, filters, etc but I had always assumed there was more to it and best to get a garage to do it properly for safety.

However, when I was picking up the MAF from the Renault parts dept, the guy I was chatting with assumed I did the routine servicing of the car as well and I started to think if I could.

Most people who ask similar questions are recommeded to buy a Haynes manual, but Haynes don't do a manual for either of the cars. The Dialogsys is brilliant as it has step by step diagrams of how to do various jobs and all the torques, etc. But it doesn't tell you what jobs need doing for a routine service.

From previous services there are checklists for both cars that list lots of things, but when you look at them in detail, most of it is stuff you do anyway like check wiper blades, washer fluid, etc.

I was thinking to just change the oil and air/oil filters, check the pads for wear as the service and use the MOT as the "safety" inspection for things that I am not sure how to judge myself e.g. brake line condition, ball joints etc.

Does that sound reasonable, or do you think the MOT doesn't check as much as a garage would check on a service ?
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It sounds like you are very much on the way to doing the services yourself.....after all, it largely lubricants and filters plus brakes thats the important bits - you've done all the rest!
An MOT is no replacement for a service - they just need to check that things are in good order at the time of the test.
The only thing I would be aware of with both of these vehicles is a timing belt change......rather involved with both!
Get your parts from a reputable supplier such as Eurocarparts.....quote the registration number and they'll supply you with what you need including the correct oil.
John :)
I would agree with John, you seem to have the ability and enthusiasm to look after the car yourself. Oil and filter changes are the basics of a service and checking fluid levels of course, brake pads can be checked at any time.

I have maintained my own cars since the '50s but they were a lot simpler then, I will keep doing it as long as I can though.

The actual engine service is pretty simple, it's basically (as applicable) spark plugs, oil & oil filter, fuel filter, air filter, drive belts, cooling system. Some things don't need changed every service, and some are dependant on either mileage or time. If you have a service booklet for your cars they should tell you how frequently each item should be changed.

Then there's safety/component checking. Brakes is a main one and you've sussed that one out. With the rest of the suspension/steering components you're looking for "play" or excessive movement anywhere. Use a pry bar (like a jemmy or something) and insert it everywhere you can find a rubber joint or a ball joint and lever it.

If you're worried about not having a service history for the work that you've done be aware that there's nothing stopping you filling in the history yourself - you just don't have a stamp. Keeping receipts and taking pictures of work you've done would convince any potential future buyer that you've taken care of the car.
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I tend to take a rather simplistic approach to car maintenance.

Engine oil and filters changed ever 12 months, everything else just checked and replaced as needed or replaced when symptoms show. If I hear a knocking sound, check bushes etc for wear and replace any with play, if it seems a bit "flat" check, clean or replace the spark plugs. check brake pads regularly. keep an eye on levels. Bearings if you hear a rumble.

I know many people say it should be done exactly by the book, but my last car made it to 266K miles using my method, we currently have 2 cars both well over 100K and run perfectly and never have issues for MOTs.

Its really just a case of checking regularly and keeping on top of anything you find. Just make sure engine oil is changed regularly with a good quality oil and timing belt (if applicable for your car) is replaced before the recommended mileage.
+1 for all of the above. I have maintained most of my cars since the 60's and am in the midst of restoring an MGB. The main thing I would stress is having good tools and a decent space to work in. Trying to service a car balanced on bricks in the road is far from ideal but if you have the space and tools then do what you can.

Modern cars have become considerably more complex these days so it does get harder to find information and procedures unless you're in the business but good luck with it. :D
As others have said, with what you have explained your easily capable of doing what a garage will charge you for. You appear to have had servicing done at garages, so they should give you a detailed invoice explaining what they have done, so that would be a basic guide.
Thanks to everyone for your advice and encouragement.

I've just ordered all the bits in for the Espace from GSF and Eurocarparts and am planning to get it MOT'd on Monday to see if anything extra is needed and then do the service myself.

Fortunately it doesn't have a timing belt (it's a timing chain and there is no service interval) and I got my Audi done a few years ago so should still be OK.
I'm sure I'm wrong, but I thought the Espace had the same motor as the Laguna and Safrane V6 - the L7X 700 series?
I was under the impression that the chain driven motor stopped production in 1998 but I don't know.
John :)
I think that was the Espace III.

The Espace IV we have is a 3.5 V6. The engine code is V4Y which I think is a Nissan engine.

It's thirsty, but it's satisfying at the lights to be in a "mummy car" and leave the BMW boy racers standing :)
Meccano bits on cars aren't difficult with the right tools, it's when you introduce yourself/wife/mum to the world of ruined driveways that life becomes tricky.
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