DIY service is the best option

I JUST want to know what's going to happen if I don't take my car for a service. The problem is that I am broke at the moment. The car is a 2006 model Volkswagen Polo which has done 140000km. The last service was at 95000km. The car still gives me good fuel economy, and the only defect I am aware of (except for the message to tell me an oil change is overdue) is a funny sound, like a knock, when I turn my wheels to the left or right. - Tshego

Many car owners are asking themselves this question in these straitened times. The good news is your car is probably better off, and you will save yourself a lot of money, if you do routine services on the car yourself instead of taking it to a workshop.

After four years and 140000km, whatever warranty you had will have expired, so you no longer have to worry about forfeiting it. In fact, after two years or 40000km you will find it difficult to convince a manufacturer that any new problems are due to factory defects (the only defects a warranty will cover).

That's why I am sceptical about extra-long, impressive-sounding warranties on cars. They compel the owner to stick to expensive dealer services of questionable quality, without conferring any significant benefit after the first two years.

The routine services to do yourself are the following:

l regular oil changes (I suggest every 10000km). If the oil has not been changed in the last 45000km, it should be done as a matter of urgency to avoid engine damage due to sludge build-up;

l new oil filter with every second oil change;

l regular inspection and timeous replacement of the air filter;

l new spark plugs at the recommended intervals;

l brake fluid and radiator coolant renewal every two years;

l replacing the cambelt strictly on schedule, as laid down in the owner's handbook.

(This is the one servicing item where I would prefer to have an experienced mechanic do the job.)

In addition to these, any owner who has to keep a car going on a shoestring budget must keep an eye and ear open for early signs of developing problems, so they can be rectified cheaply before escalating into major repairs - regular checks on tyres for uneven wear, watching for splitting weather seals on electrical equipment, looking for oil leaks where the car has been parked.

The "clonk" you hear when you turn the wheels is such an unscheduled problem. It is inevitable that problems of this nature will arise from time to time as a car gets older, even if it has been carefully maintained. When you become aware of such a problem, I suggest you take the car to a reputable workshop specialising in that kind of work.

In your case, the knock can come from worn CV joints on the driveshafts, worn ball joints on the front suspension, or worn ball joints on the steering links.

Whichever is the case, it should be promptly attended to. If you take the car to steering or suspension experts, ask them to diagnose the problem. They will put the car on a lift and should be able to point out to you exactly where the excessive play is when the steering wheel is turned.

Good luck with the DIY servicing. The Polo is a good car and should give you many more years of reliable service.