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Thanks to fierce competition and a strong dollar, we’ve been buying cars at a faster rate than at any other time in our history.

Regardless of whether our purchases are driven by our love of a good deal, sheer necessity or a passion for things automotive, few, if any, of us look forward to taking our four-wheeled friends for a service.

Aside from the inconvenience of taking a car to a dealer or mechanic, opaque and uncertain pricing has in the past made it the automotive equivalent of visiting the dentist — necessary, but unpleasant.

For a while now, local automakers and importers have tried to make things a little less gruelling by limiting, or sometimes eliminating, servicing costs.

NOTE: This article, first published in 2014, has been updated for March, 2017. If you spot an error, we encourage you to alert us. This article is a guide only. You should speak with your brand of choice before making a purchasing decision.

Capped price, pre-paid and free servicing

There are three main ways for automotive marques to curb service pricing.

The first option is capped-price servicing (CPS), which is now offered by most volume-selling brands. Within the limits of their terms and conditions, CPS sets a maximum price that a dealer can charge for a particular service. Prior to these schemes coming into place, dealers were able to charge any price they liked, leaving a large portion of customers who didn’t shop around out of pocket.

Luxury car makers have by-and-large opted to offer pre-paid servicing schemes instead. Pre-paid service plans are popular overseas and lock in pricing years in advance, but may tie the owner into servicing their car at a particular dealership. Pre-paid servicing can be bought at the same time as the car, or at any time prior to a car’s first scheduled service.

For both pre-paid and capped-price servicing, the cost of each service varies depending on the make and model in question, as well as which service it’s up for. Most manufacturers list current prices on their website.

There’s one thing better than a low, low price: free. At the time of writing, three manufacturers are offering free servicing for some or all of their cars, although other automakers have waded into the pool as part of a particular sales push.

What each manufacturer offers

Here’s the state of play, current as of March 1, 2017:

Capped priced servicing?Pre-paid servicing?
Alfa RomeoNot available.Not available.
AudiNot available.Optional for all models except R8 and RS variants.(3 years / 45,000km)
Aston MartinNot available.Not available.
BentleyNot available.Not available.
BMWNot available.Optional tiered plans for all models, except 6 and 7 Series, M models(5 years / 80,000km)
ChryslerNot available.Not available.
Citroen'Confidence Servicing' for all DS and Citroen passenger cars bought after March 1, 2015.(6 years / 90,000km)Not available.
DodgeNot available.Not available.
FerrariFree servicing for all current models.(7 years)Not available.
FotonNot available.Not available.
FiatNot available.Not available.
Ford'Service Price Promise' for all vehicles built since 2007.(7 years / 135,000km)Not available.
Great WallNot available.Not available.
HoldenYes, all models.(Lifetime)Not available.
Honda'Tailored Servicing' for all facelifted and new models from 2012.(5 years / 100,000km)Not available.
Hyundai'Lifetime Service Plan', all models.(Lifetime)Optional.(3, 4 or 5 years)
Infiniti'Service Assure' for Q50, Q60, Q70, QX70.(Up to 8 years / 80,000km)Optional.(1, 2 or 3 years)
IsuzuYes, for all new cars from 2015.(3 years / 60,000km)Not available.
JaguarFree servicing for XJ, F-Type(3 years / 100,000km)Optional for F-Pace, XE and XF (MY16 onwards)(Up to 5 years / 100,000km)
Jeep'There & Back', all Jeep models(5 years / 100,000km)Optional(3 or 5 years)
KiaYes, all cars.(7 years / 105,000km)Not available.
LamborghiniNot available.Not available.
Land Rover / Range RoverNot available.Optional for Range Rover Evoque, and Land Rover Discovery Sport.(Up to 5 years / 100,000km)
LexusNot available.Not available.
LotusNot available.Not available.
Mazda'Service Select' for all models(Lifetime)Not available.
Mercedes-BenzYes, all models from 2015(Up to 3 years / 75,000km)Optional, tiered.(Up to 5 years / 125,000km)
MiniNot available.Optional, tiered.(5 years / 80,000km)
MitsubishiYes, all cars.(4 years for cars bought before 2017,3 years for cars bought after 2017)Not available.
Nissan'Service Certainty' for all cars except GT-R.(6 years / 120,000km)Not available.
PeugeotYes, all models from 2015, and 308 from October 20, 2014.(5 years / 75,000km)Not available.
PorscheNot available.Not available.
ProtonYes, on Preve, Exora and Suprima S bought after November 21, 2014, and Preve GX bought before November 20, 2014.(5 years / 75,000km)Free servicing on Preve GXR, Exora and Suprima S bought before November 20, 2014.(5 years / 75,000km)Not available.
RenaultYes, all cars.(3 years / 45,000km)Not available.
Skoda'Service Pricing' for all cars sold from 8 February 2014.(6 years / 90,000km)Optional.(3 or 5 years)
SubaruService Pricing for all models MY2006 on.Capped price servicing for all cars bought from July 1, 2014.(Up to 3 years, 75,000km)Optional.(Up to 3 years / 75,000km)
Suzuki *Yes, vehicles bought from May 1, 2013 on.(5 years / 100,000km)Not available.
Toyota'Service Guarantee' for all cars.(7 years / 150,000km)Not available.
Volkswagen'Capped Priced Service, Every Calendar Year' for all models.(6 years / 90,000km)Not available.
VolvoNot available.Not available.

* Suzuki vehicles sold in Queensland and northern NSW come through a private importer, and are not covered by Suzuki Australia’s capped price servicing arrangement.

The table above was correct at the time of our latest update (March 1, 2017), but car makers are constantly tweaking their schemes. This includes which models are covered, the duration of coverage, capped prices, inclusions and exclusions, and other terms and conditions.

Price fluctuations

In March 2015, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) pinged Kia for changing the price it charged existing owners for servicing under its capped-price program. In response, Kia amended its offer to fit in with the ACCC's definition.

As you can see in the table above, most major brands in Australia now have some form of capped-priced service program, but some prefer to brand their offering with a different name, such 'Service Price Promise' or 'Tailored Servicing'.

Regardless of the name, visiting the website for any brands you're interested in is a must.

Without doing so, you might not know, for example, that the prices quoted for Ford's 'Service Price Promise' and Holden's lifetime capped-priced servicing are valid for 30 days, while Citroen's 'Confidence Servicing' prices are fixed from the time of purchase, and Volkswagen reassesses their capped-priced service charges at the beginning of every year.

Other fine print

Beyond whether the capped price can be amended over time, it always pays to read the terms and conditions, even if doing so makes Tolstoy’s War and Peace seem like easy and quick reading.

As car manufacturers and dealers aren’t charities, they can’t cover everything that might need fixing or replacing on a car. Costs for repairing crash damage, replacing tyres, aligning wheels, fixing aftermarket parts, and replacing wear and tear items (such as, wiper blades, brake pads and batteries) are excluded from all CPS plans, free servicing schemes and basic pre-paid service programmes.

Almost all brands’ servicing schemes include labour, parts laid out within the regular service schedule, oils and fluids, and environmental charges.

Some of the pre-paid servicing plans offered by luxury car makers feature both basic and more expensive tiers. The entry-level plans broadly align with the CPS programs offered by less salubrious brands, with the exception that payment is made upfront. High-priced plans often include wear and tear components, such as brake pads and discs, clutches and wiper blades.

Comparing costs

If you’ve got your heart set on just one car, knowing that car’s servicing costs upfront is deeply reassuring. But, if like most of us, you’re tossing up between a few models or casting a wide net, comparing the servicing costs between competing models can get quite complex. With many differing service schedules, it can be like comparing apples, oranges, mushrooms and lamb chops.

So, it’s best to leave this part until you’ve whittled the shortlist down to just a few candidates.

To illustrate, we’ll look at the capped price servicing available for some popular small cars. For the top-selling Corolla, Toyota prices each service at a flat $140 for the first three years or 60,000km, but requires a service every six months or 10,000km.

Compare that to the Mitsubishi Lancer which has a flat $230 service fee for the three years or 45,000km, with services scheduled every year or 15,000km.

If you plan on owning the car for two years and averaging 10,000km a year, the Lancer ($460) would be well ahead of the Corolla ($560).

But if you, instead, averaged 30,000km a year for two years, the Corolla would cost a fixed $840 to service, but the Lancer would require $690 plus whatever the uncapped price for a 60,000km service is in two years' time.

Which cars are covered?

In our handy table, we've tried to provide as much information as possible, but to maintain legibility we've had to cut out a lot of information.

Even if your car is on the old side, it's best to go to the manufacturer's website and see whether your vehicle is covered, as some makers have introduced plans that cover cars that pre-date their plans.

Typically a car’s eligibility or otherwise for CPS is tied to its VIN, rather than its owner. This means that a car keeps its CPS status when it’s on-sold. Second-hand car buyers should note that many brands’ programmes exclude cars purchased with corporate or fleet discounts, or by fleets, government agencies, taxi companies and rental car concerns.

Some manufacturers’ websites allow users to check a car’s CPS status via its VIN.

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How has capped priced servicing worked out for you? Let us know in the comments section below.