Servicing a car that barely gets used

Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve now had my car for almost three years.

This means the dealer warranty that came with it is just about to run out, which in turn means I don’t have to keep driving it across town to Alan Mance to keep it current. Good.

I’ve only made use of that warranty once or twice, and of course it didn’t wipe out the cost of a service/repair, merely reduced it. (At one stage there was a problem with the engine stuttering, and another time one of the electric windows failed.)

I’m actually wondering how little servicing I can get away with. Consider this: I barely drive during the week. It’s not uncommon for the car to sit in the driveway from Sunday morning to Saturday afternoon.

Apart from long drives such as this past weekend (up to Marita’s parents and back; a total of about 320 km) and suburban jaunts, I reckon I’d normally do less than 50 km per week. So (and I haven’t checked this) I might drive about 3000 kilometres in a year — a long way from the Australian average of 14,600.

So I’m thinking for the basic twice-a-year checkup (including oil change) I’ll probably just start taking it to the local Ultratune, which is closeby (in Mckinnon) and in fact is closer to a railway station than the nearest Holden dealers at Elsternwick, Oakleigh or Glenhuntly.

Occasionally they might need to order a part and wait a day or two, but given how little I drive during the week, it’s unlikely to matter.

(By the way, Ultratune is one of several companies that sell roadside assistance, for $65/year — cheaper than RACV’s basic rate of $86 plus $46 establishment, and you don’t see Ultratune out lobbying for more freeways, do you…)

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “Servicing a car that barely gets used”

“So Iā€™m thinking for the basic twice-a-year checkup”
Yeah, that’s what we do. However, we get the dealer to do the “scheduled service” which can (sometimes) cost much more than a grease and oil change. I think it’s better to do this than (i) buy/lease a new car every 3 years; or (ii) skipping services and risk breaking down in the middle of whoop-whoop. Especially cos you’ve got kids in tow.

Keep in mind that if most of your trips are very short (where engine and exhaust system are not at normal operating temperature for more than half of the trip) you should stick to regular servicing because unevaporated condensation degrades the engine and transmission oil and corrodes the exhaust pipe

@cam, last time I looked at it, PAYD was more expensive than using Bingle. But it’s coming up for renewal soon, so I’ll compare again. Presumably Youi would be worth a look too.

@Roger, yeah the scheduled service is due every 10-15K; I intend on doing that too, but it’s not a question that will come up for a couple of years yet.

@Andrew, is there a risk on not changing the oil more regularly than annually, given those long drives are typically only a few times a year? It’s mostly short drives, though there’s typically a 15km cross-town drive at least once a week.

I would just change the oil every six months or 10,000 km, whichever comes first. Six months in your case. That will keep it going. Nothing else needs any maintenance any more frequently than that if you don’t drive it. Rubber belts need replacing every several years regardless of use, especially the timing belt, so still get that done every four years or whatever the manual says.

But oil and filter are the main things that keep the car working properly. Everything else lasts for years.

Those car yard-warranty service requirements can be real shockers – around 10 years ago my father bought a car at Bayford Preston (keep in mind I live in Dandenong North) and there was this crazy requirement to go to Preston to have the thing serviced for the first few months!

Since I was at uni at the time my father (who was too busy) arranged a day when I was off to drive it to Preston to get it serviced – which would involve it being held overnight for some reason of inefficiency … So I would have to walk to nearby Regent station and catch the train home and go back out by train the next day to … ummm … collect the car and drive it back home!!

Fortunately this nonsense only lasted a few months!

And you can be sure, Andrew, that if anything had gone wrong with that car, the car yard would have failed to honour its warranty. Extended warranties are a waste of money, especially when they are backed by a finance company (usually the case with a used car dealer’s warranty) and not a manufacturer.

Philip – had that happen as you describe – those warranties tend to be glorified toilet paper!!

I’ve got a similar usage pattern to you (and a much older vehicle) but some things don’t wear out with usage, they just degrade over time. So you’ll need a normal (timed) replacement regime for battery and exhaust system. Also you might get weird things, for example I had to get a tyre replaced due to degradation of the sidewall as the morning sunlight affects it much more than does from wear on the treads from driving.

It’s all a bit of a rip-off, servicing your car at a dealer is not required under the manufacturers warranty no matter what your told by the dealer, Ultratune can stamp you log book just as easily and the warranty is still valid.

I’ve always changed my own oil and air/oil filters, remember only the most inept apprentice gets to do oil changes all day (my best friend is a mechanic at a large dealership). The cost of quality oil and a filter is about $50 which is a lot cheaper than getting it done by someone else and changing a cars oil is very simple and straight forward.

Sounds pretty reasonable Daniel.

I’m similarly placed with my driving habits (never more than c.7000-8000km/pa) and work within the following regime:
1) Dealer service every 12 mths, equating to the next scheduled 15000km in the service book;
2) Oil change every 6 months in between;

This was the advice given by my mate the ex-RACV vehicle inspector as being the best way to go about it.

Of course while under warranty, the car should be serviced as directed, but I believe oil is so good nowadays that for normal usage, once a year is enough but have the oil filter changed each oil change. When I got my first car, the standard was an oil change every 2000 miles, or about 3,200 kilometres. Now what is it? About 10,000 kms? And whoever hears of engines wearing out like the used to? They are just so well made to such fine tolerances. So yes, six months is ideal but I put my money where my mouth is and have mine done once a year as mine too does very few kilometres a year.

You’ve reminded me I should get mine serviced. Something like 2 years overdue by time, but still has about 5k by distance.

Comments are closed.