Keeping a car in good condition can be costly, making service and maintenance plans valuable for owners.
However, what’s the difference between service and maintenance plans, and which provides better value? We explore the two plan types in detail so you can make an informed decision.
What is a service plan?
A service plan assists in keeping your car roadworthy, by facilitating the recommended scheduled services, which are taken care of by approved car dealerships.
How does a vehicle service plan work?
Service plans differ so it’s important to verify what your plan does and doesn’t include.
Generally, a service plan covers all recommended services for your car, including the costs of labour and standard parts, either annually or after a certain number of kilometres. It may include specific cover for both minor and major services.
A minor service, also known as a lube service, includes a small set of routine service tasks, such as changing the oil, oil filters and sump plug washer.
A major service is much more comprehensive. It includes the full range of routine servicing tasks, such as changing of the spark plugs, brake fluid (every two years), pollen filter and fuel filter.
In addition, it includes any other recommend work for your particular make and model of vehicle – for example, changing the DSG gearbox oil and filter on Volkswagen DSG models after every 90 000 kilometres. The workshop will generally also do a thorough check of the entire car and recommend additional repairs, if required.
The period for which a service plan is valid will depend on your vehicle and the specifics of your agreement.
What does a service plan include?
Service plans vary but most include:
- oil and oil filter check and replacement
- brake fluid check and top-up
- antifreeze coolant check and top-up
- windscreen wash check and top-up
- full brake check
- power steering fluid check and top-up
- steering check
- shock absorbers check
- suspension check
- lights check (all bulbs)
- windscreen wipers check
- charging systems check
- exhaust components check
- battery check
- charging system check
- tyre tread and pressure check.
Keep in mind that a service plan requires you to service your car only at approved dealerships. So you won’t, for example, be able to have your car serviced at your local RMI workshop while it’s still under the original service plan.
Your car brand will have a list of all approved Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) dealerships on their website. This should you be your go-to reference and will identify the dealership closest to you that can service your car.
What are the benefits of a service plan?
A service plan has a number of advantages:
- normally the cost is bundled into the price of a new car (although some brands, like Datsun, don’t include service plans as standard with their cars)
- its cost won’t increase due to inflation and you won’t have to fork out any cash for service-related parts and labour costs
- your car will be serviced at any OEM approved dealership with genuine OEM parts and
- the plan can assist in capitalizing on the resale value of your car
- a service plan is extendable; in other words, you can pay to increase the period for which it remains active
- a service plan is normally transferable to the new owner should you decide to sell your car; always check this with your dealership
What are the disadvantages of a service plan?
A service plan covers serviceable car parts only. It doesn’t cover wear and tear parts. Also, it limits you to servicing your car only at approved OEM car dealerships.
What is not covered in a service plan?
If your car sustains significant damage, for example, due to an accident or flood, your service plan won’t cover the costs of servicing the vehicle.
Also, items typically not covered by a service plan include, but are not limited to, the following:
- internal and external trim, bodywork and paint due to normal wear and tear
- all glass
- tyres, wheels and wheel alignment
- electrical wiring components.
Keep in mind that you must have only approved dealer(s) work on your car and any replacement parts must be manufacturer-approved. If you don’t adhere to these requirements, the manufacturer may void your service plan.
If you’re thinking of purchasing a used car or already own one, it’s useful to get an idea of what the real servicing costs will be and if your next service will be a major or minor one before reviewing the options for service plans.
What is a maintenance plan?
A maintenance plan is similar to a service plan except that it also covers wear and tear items. In other words, it provides cover for replacing parts that require periodic replacement.
Examples of wear and tear items are the brake pads, brake discs, clutch kit, wiper blades, batteries, globes, shock absorbers and mounts, and air-con gas. These are excluded from cover on a service plan.
How does a vehicle maintenance plan work?
The primary purpose of a maintenance plan is to provide you, as a car owner, with peace of mind that you won’t have to pay any additional costs when servicing your car. All wear and tear, and general servicing costs, will be covered.
However, it’s still critical for you to read the fine print of a maintenance plan to determine what is and isn’t covered.
Like for a service plan, you’ll be required to have all maintenance worked completed by an official OEM dealer, with original parts. If this is not done, your plan could be cancelled.
Masterparts provides answers to frequently asked questions about car maintenance, so you can assess how often it’s necessary to replace tyres, brakes, oil and filters. Masterparts also has consultants you can speak to and enables you to order parts online.
What cars cost to maintain will differ from one brand to the next, so do your research to determine whether you need a maintenance plan for your car.
What does a car maintenance plan cover?
Most maintenance plans include cover for the following parts:
- steering components
- timing belts
- timing chains
- wiper blades
- clutch kit
- brakes (pads, disks, linings)
- engine drive belts
- engine computers (ecu)
- CV joints
What are the benefits of a maintenance plan?
Once it’s in place, a maintenance plan has these advantages:
- you won’t face any expenses to maintain your car as recommended by the OEM dealership
- the cost of the plan won’t increase due to inflation while it remains active
- your vehicle can be serviced by any approved dealership with genuine OEM parts
- the plan is normally transferable to a new owner should you decide to sell your car; always check this with your dealership.
What are the disadvantages of a maintenance plan?
The drawback is that maintenance plans don’t come standard with most car brands in South Africa. Often, they’re included only with certain, higher-end models. For example, a new Volkswagen Touareg comes with a maintenance plan but normal Polo models don’t.
You will need to upgrade your service plan to a maintenance plan if the vehicle you buy does not come with one. This can be a significant expense.
Extending maintenance plans is also expensive and, in most cases, involves having to pay in cash.
Summary of the differences: service plans vs. maintenance plans
#1 Service plans only pay for services
No need to take your wallet out for a minor or major service. A service plan pays for all manufacturer-recommended services. It’s imperative to remember that repairing faulty car parts and/or wear and tear on parts such as brake pads, clutch kit, exhaust and shock absorbers is not included in a service plan.
#2 Most cars come standard with only a service plan
A service plan is usually effective for a period of time or a specified number of kilometres, whichever is reached first. An example may be 3 Years / 60 000 km.
The validity of the plan will vary depending on the manufacturer. Most allow you to upgrade to standard service plan a maintenance plan.
If your service plan doesn’t fit your needs, you could opt for a maintenance plan or simply lengthen your service plan. However, this can be a costly decision so research is vital.
#3 Maintenance plans give you peace of mind
Most expenses in terms of mechanical breakage and service costs are paid for by the maintenance plan.
For example, the hardest-working component with a manual transmission is the clutch. If the clutch fails, a clutch kit will include a new clutch disc, pressure plate and release bearing. A service plan will not pay for a clutch failure. The new car warranty might if the car is still under warranty. A maintenance plan will always pay for a clutch kit replacement.
Another vital component is the timing belt/timing chain, which connects the crankshaft to the camshaft. The crankshaft controls the engine’s pistons while the camshaft opens and closes the valves.
If any timing component fails, this can cause disastrous engine damage. It’s therefore vital to keep the timing belt in good operating condition. Rest assured, the timing belt/chain is covered by a maintenance plan.
Car brands in SA that offer maintenance plans as standard:
- Mercedes Benz
- Volkswagen (only Touareg)
- Alfa Romeo
- Land Rover
- Fiat (only Abarth models)
It’s very expensive to extend the standard maintenance plans for these car brands. For example, an extended plan for a BMW 118i 1-Series automatic model starts at roughly R20 000 per year.
It’s in your best interests when buying new to determine how long you’ll keep the car so that you can accurately estimate the length of cover you need from the maintenance plan. You can of course always extend the plan, but you need to do this while the existing maintenance plan is still active.
Note that not all maintenance plans are created equal, and exclusions differ slightly between manufactures. Always read the fine print at the time of sale.
Car maintenance and servicing tips to remember
#1 – You always have options to service your car
If your service plan or maintenance plan expired, you can still maintain a full service history of your car by having it serviced at an aftermarket independent workshop, ideally one that belongs to the RMI. This will ensure you’re dealing with a legitimate company and have recourse for mediation should you have any issues down the line with the service received.
If you’re a DIY person and service your own car from home, Masterparts makes it easy to order car parts online from the comfort of your home, you can even track your order online and monitor when your new parts will be delivered.
#2 – Aftermarket vs. OEM car parts
Aftermarket and OEM parts both have pros and cons. If you want to reduce your car maintenance costs, aftermarket car parts may be the way to go.
OEM parts are made specifically for your car make and model. In theory, they should offer the best fit and performance.
In practice, however, this isn’t always the case – sometimes aftermarket parts offer “better-than-OEM” performance, especially where known weaknesses have been identified with OEM car parts.
Examples of OEM parts with better aftermarket parts solutions are:
- Rod bearing failures on the BMW E46 M3 S54 engine (20001 – 2006)
- Diverter Valve failures on VAG (Volkswagen and Audi) 2.0tsi engines
Masterparts offers a very wide selection of both OEM and aftermarket car parts.
#3 Never delay or skip recommended services
Proper car maintenance is vital for keeping your car safe on the road, and for ensuring that road trips go smoothly. Prevention is always better than cure. Also, delaying a car service tends to result in bigger expenses down the line.
#4 Everyone loves a “full service history”
Having a car with a full service history contributes positively to the retail value of your car, and can make it easier to sell your car. A service plan facilitates this by covering costs associated with servicing by an approved dealer. However, you can still maintain a “full service history” by having your car regularly serviced by an approved independent workshop.
Now you know the key differences between service and maintenance plans. Both these types of plans can reduce the financial burden of maintaining a car. Buying car parts online today is also easier than ever before, giving vehicle owners and service providers greater choice and flexibility.