There are a lot of hidden costs that come with any kind of vehicle ownership. It’s very easy to be seduced by a low sticker price (or finance payment), and forget all the other things that add up to make you reconsider walking or cycling to work after all.
One of the more expensive items on the annual bill is the routine servicing of your machine, the main reason being that garages charge by the hour for skilled mechanics and equipment, and even a simple job could be billed at two to four hours. At £50 per hour, you’re looking at £200 for a medium service – and that doesn’t include parts. On the flip side, there are many, many videos and guides online on how to do almost any work on your bike yourself, leaving only parts on the bill and swapping labour costs for your free time. So the question is this: is it worth it?
Don’t Cut Corners
Naturally, if you don’t have the cash to pay a garage then it isn’t a question anymore. You do the work yourself. If you want your bike to be reliable, you don’t skimp on the servicing – it’s a false economy that will cost you far, far more in the long run. On the other hand, if you’re running your brand new FireBlade as a toy alongside your BMW 7-series, then Honda’s hourly rates will barely register on your platinum card. If your bike is still in warranty, then you may not have a choice – unlike in the car world, there are no laws preventing motorcycle manufacturers from voiding your warranty if you do not get the thing serviced at an approved dealer. Maybe that piece of mind isn’t important to you, but if you’re the one in a million owners who suffers a catastrophic engine failure when you’ve voided your warranty…game over.
Now, assuming the (usually insultingly short) warranty is over, it really just comes down to how much your time is worth, and how much of it you will need to sacrifice to get the job done properly. Sure, a full dealer service history may help shore up the resale value of your ride, and with certain marques this matters more than others. BMWs are a prime example, but the decision here is also helped by the fact that if you can afford a £15k motorcycle, you can probably afford the servicing, and resale value on an outlay like that is more of an issue. In most cases, though, the DIY route is at the very least a viable option, once the warranty period has passed.
There’s Servicing, and Then There’s Servicing
Servicing can basically broken down into three categories, with schedules outlined in either mileage, time, or both – check your owner’s manual. Motorcycles, for all their technological differences, are very similar under the hood (so to speak). A ‘minor’ service will basically involve changing the oil and checking that nothing is loose, rotten or damaged. An ‘intermediate’ service will involve all of the above, usually happening every second minor service, and will add changing spark plugs, oil filter and air filter to the mix, as well as balancing throttle bodies/carburettors. A ‘major’ service, often every fourth minor service, will include valve clearance checks. Fun times.
There is unscheduled maintenance to think about as well – stuff that doesn’t have a mileage recommendation and just needs to be done every x years, regardless of whether the bike is being ridden. This includes the replacing of brake hoses and fluid, greasing the swingarm and steering head bearings, replacing coolant, etc. It’s tempting to skip on these; after all, some people never change the fluids in their car and they don’t have any problems!
Well, just like failing eyesight, brake fluid going bad isn’t something that happens instantly. It won’t cause sudden, catastrophic engine failure if neglected, the way low oil pressure can. It sneaks up on you, slowly degrading the braking performance of your bike, and changing out the fluid and hoses will then highlight how mushy and weak your brakes had become. Same goes for coolant, the anti-corrosion chemicals losing their effectiveness over time and your engine oxidising slowly from the inside. Don’t take the risk, just get it done. It’s not worth it. Nor need it be expensive or time consuming.
When all’s said and done, an oil change will cost you £30 for 4 litres of good oil and a quality filter, and once you’ve got the hang of it, it can be accomplished in 30 minutes. Tools? A basic socket set and something to drain the oil into, as well as a small torch to help you check over the rest of your bike for any cracking or rotted hoses. If you don’t have the space or tools, rent a workshop – there are places that charge by the hour (less than £30 p/h) and will even dispose of the old oil for you. Even with that added cost, you’re talking £60 total for something a dealer would charge at least £150 for.
A major service on an example Japanese inline-four will run you a cool £500 at an official service centre, and with an annual mileage like mine, that could be as often as every year, on top of two intermediate services and two minor services. If I paid a dealer to do all that, I could be looking at £1500 every year for what is essentially oil and some wrenching.
That said, while I can comfortably do everything up to and including valve checks pretty easily (and so could you, with time and tools), I draw the line at the complex valve gear on my Bandit. It’s not helped by the fact that the engine is tucked up under the frame, making access very tricky indeed, and quite frankly when I’m looking at a whole weekend (or more) of solid work, my free time is worth more to me than that.
My local garage has quoted £200 for the valve check, with an extra £100 if they need adjusting, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford that once a year or two. But that’s mostly because I do all the other stuff myself, including fluid changes – not as hard as they sound, and almost certainly discussed in your owner’s manual – and probably in less time than it would take to ride the bike to the dealer and pick it up again afterwards.
It’s all about where you choose to draw the line – how much time a given job would take you, and how much that time is worth.