/ Motoring

Why aren’t over 50s doing basic car maintenance?

Fewer over 50s are doing basic maintenance on their own cars than ever before, according to Saga’s survey. Instead the majority are paying mechanics to do simple jobs. So who or what’s to blame?

As someone not a million miles away from the big five-o, I’m hugely disappointed to hear that older people are giving up on doing their own basic car maintenance.

That’s the verdict of Saga’s analysis – its survey of 9,000 customers found that the number of over 50s doing car maintenance has dropped from 17% to 10% in the past five years. That’s 77% of older drivers getting garages to do minor work, such as replacing a battery or changing an oil filter.

So, I may be in a minority, but I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty repairing the constant niggles that plague my four-year-old Renault Modus. As a single parent with a young family, I found it virtually impossible to do work on my car without a garage or driveway to do it on. Instead, I had to do it on the roadside, which just isn’t safe.

However, when the car got a puncture last year, I enlisted the help of my 12-year-old son to help remove the wheel nuts and fit the spare tyre. It gave him a huge sense of achievement that he’d be able to do what – to him – had seemed like a daunting task.

And now that my children are older I’m doing lots more car DIY. In fact, a Haynes manual for the Renault is on my next birthday list.

Paying for simple car maintenance jobs

It seems very wrong – especially now that the driving test includes a section on car maintenance – to waste money paying a garage to do simple things like replace a bulb or battery. DIY also gives the car owner a sense of pride. Perhaps this would mean you’d be more likely to actually notice when a bulb blows or a tyre’s tread gets lower, resulting in safer, more roadworthy cars.

My colleague Rob Hull has argued that modern car design has put car maintenance out of reach for most people. And while I agree that many of the electrical units fitted to modern cars are too complex for a DIY-er to attempt, there are still lots of jobs we can and should be doing.

If we do take on basic car maintenance ourselves, then we’d have the right to demand car makers to make engine bays more accessible, instead of covering them in plastic jackets. And we would be able to rely less on car mechanics to fix many tiny problems, with car servicing being one of the most complained about things by Which? members. Surely doing it ourselves would give us less cause to complain!


I’m over 60 and learned about car servicing as a teenager, when my father had an Austin A40. Apart from when I have had new cars serviced to preserve the warranty I have always done my own routine servicing and tackled many other jobs too. If I do it myself I know my own limitations and what has been done, whereas if a garage does the job I cannot be sure. Having been let down by dealers and read reports in Which? magazine, I feel justified in my concerns.

It does annoy me that some jobs have become so difficult. Several years ago I decided to take my car in to have the timing belt, though I had tackled this successfully on my previous car, despite the complication of it having a diesel engine. The garage apologised for charging me well above their estimate for labour and said they had made no profit. That was due to the design of the car, and apparently the engine has to be lifted with some cars, just to do a routine replacement of a timing belt. Making bulbs difficult to replace is stupid, especially since it is a requirement to carry spares in some countries.

Changing oil is much easier if you pump it out of the dipstick hole. With some models this might not remove it all, but it worked for me.

The real problem seems to be diagnosis of faults that cause warning lights to come on. So far, I have not had that problem.

In all the time I have owned a car there has only been one occasion on which it failed to start because I replace the battery when it is showing signs of age and I choose replacements that are at least as good as the original. The one time was just after I had put in a new battery and it was faulty. I still pay for breakdown cover, though it must be over 25 years since I last had to call, and that was because an exhaust fitter had not done their job properly.

Having bought a new car, its back to dealer servicing and probably complaining about jobs that have not been done properly.

It would be great if cars were easy for DIY mechanics to service, but many manufacturers don’t think it is necessary to provide a full-size spare wheel and some don’t even manage that.


On the point about the difficulty of replacing bulbs, I understand that France has now dropped the requirement for drivers to carry a spare set (or rather to have a replacement bulb if the police stop you because one is blown).

tony says:
17 August 2012

What are you talking about you maniac :- ” Changing oil is much easier if you pump it out of the dipstick hole. With some models this might not remove it all, but it worked for me “.

I would love to hear how you do this .


I use a Watson Marlow peristaltic pump that was in a pile of faulty scientific equipment heading for recycling as electrical waste. It’s not quick but it certainly got all the oil out of my Golf diesel. I would not expect it to remove all the oil from all models of car. Brian of East Sussex has used a conventional pump (see below) to do the job. A good motor factor or chandlery should be able to help.

The ideal solution would be to install a brass sump pump, as commonly used on boats, if there is room beside the engine. That makes oil changes incredibly easy.

I’d prefer to be regarded as a genius but maniac will do. 🙂


Isn’t it easier to take the drain plug out of the sump? That way gravity does a fine job.


Absolutely not, since there is a large cover below the whole of the engine compartment. I presume that it is there to make the car more aerodynamic.

Jim Kenney says:
10 January 2013

no offence meant, but I’d go for maniac instead of genius. sorry, but surely its got to be better to drain the gloop and iron filings out of the sludge trap by gravity? a lovely innovative idea though

Tony Brooks says:
11 January 2013

The ONLY way to change oil is to get a garage to do it with an engine flush at the same time. Takes them 30 minutes, costs about £30, and you don’t have any waste to deal with.

Ease of run of the mill maintenance eg bulbs should be a factor in choosing a car and should certainly be a design consideration.


This >50 is not doing car maintenance [other than the running attention to tyres and fluids] because the engine is virtually inaccessible, I don’t know what I’m doing, I haven’t got the tools required for modern motors, and everything is so tight I can’t undo it. Why isn’t car lighting run through fibre optics from a central – and accessible – light source [with an installed back-up of course]?