Whatever the make or model, every used car has a story – a unique past that includes previous owners, mileage, and a catalogue of repairs. And whether you're buying or selling a used car, understanding this history is important.
Without a thorough understanding of how a car has been taken care of, there’s a chance it could come back to bite you. That’s why a used car's service history is such a crucial document, informing potential buyers of the vehicle's past maintenance and repairs, and providing evidence that the seller isn't hiding anything ahead of a sale.
Here, we'll take a look at car service histories in more detail, touching on why they're so important and how you can check them before buying or selling a used car.
A service history is a booklet that details when and where a car received its routine service. Each entry is accompanied by a stamp from the garage that confirms a professional mechanic completed the service. Likewise, any repair work that's been done will be listed, along with the car's mileage.
However, there are a number of manufacturers who now offer a digital service booklet for their newer models. If your car’s service record has moved online, you’ll need to make sure you complete an online registration form to gain access to the digital service booklet. Mechanics can then update the digital service booklet, so all your car’s service events are included.
If you've been in the market for a used car, chances are you'll have seen the letters FSH while perusing used car listings. This means a full service history will be provided with the car when purchasing – a big advantage for both sellers and buyers.
A service history, particularly an FSH, has a significant impact on a car’s value – making it a massive advantage when selling it on.
For starters, the evidence a service history provides shows that all routine servicing has been carried out according to the manufacturer's schedule. If this hasn't been carried out, then there's little hope any further preventative maintenance has been performed either.
For buyers, this provides an instant clue that they should look elsewhere. For sellers, it shows you recognise the importance of keeping records of your vehicle. Buyers should be confident when purchasing from you.
So, along with routine things such as annual oil and filter changes, a service history is proof that items such as the battery, tyres, and light bulbs have been replaced. Put simply, it shows that the car has been routinely maintained and looked after, while the dates of repair and replacement reassure the buyer that this car is unlikely to need service in the near future.
Depending on your average annual mileage, cost car manufacturers recommend a servicing schedule which alternates between interim and full services. But how do these servicing types differ? And what areas do they cover?
An interim service tends to include a vehicle inspection and diagnostic checks, engine oil and filter replacement, vehicle greasing, and tyre rotation by a factory-trained technician. It can be part of the logbook service and is sometimes referred to as a basic or general service.
Interim services are designed to be carried out between full, annual services. So, for example, if you took your car for a full service in January, you should ideally take it for its interim service six months later.
Not everyone gets an interim service; it all depends on how diligent you are about taking care of your car, and how many miles you cover each year. Anything over 12,000 miles a year, and it’s highly recommended that you get an interim service between full services.
A full service, meanwhile, is more comprehensive (and expensive), covering parts that should be checked and replaced every year. Most manufacturers recommend a full annual service as the minimum, and it’s this that buyers will want to see in the service history.
A full service includes a comprehensive inspection, fluid replacement, and other advanced diagnostic checks which can tell you if the car is running at its best. A lot of people book a full service at the same time that their MOT is due, both to save time and to catch any problems which could result in a failed test.
As a buyer, it's important to ascertain that maintenance has been carried out to the manufacturer's schedule. Likewise, confirming that the car has had a full service, and not just an interim, is important too.
While this pre-purchase legwork sounds excessive, it's certainly better than taking a risk later down the line. If you've no idea of a car's underlying problems when you buy it, then the repairs can be costly.
You'll also encounter vehicle listings where "part service history" has been listed. This is when a vehicle has missed one (or more) key service intervals. As long as the seller has evidence of one service record, then the vehicle can be listed for sale with part service history.
As stated above, the service book that comes with the car will be stamped by the garage to confirm the relevant work has been completed, with receipts detailing specific work done and any parts that have been fitted.
The service book should be stamped with the name and address of the garage, and then dated with details such as the car's mileage, and the level of service that's been undertaken. It's essential that these services are carried out at the right intervals to ensure the car is in top condition.
physical service book, so there's not always an actual book with cars you're browsing. If this is the case, you should head online to confirm exactly how many services the car has received and when.
If some of the car's service history is missing, then fret not. You may be able to recover it. If the vehicle was maintained by a franchised dealer, your local showroom should be able to produce all of the documentation relating to the car's maintenance. However, older vehicles are less likely to have records stored online, so keep this in mind.
You'll also need to prove you're the vehicle owner. A payment receipt signed by the previous owner should suffice. Using the V5C as evidence isn't enough, since this only identifies the registered keeper.
If your car has been serviced by an independent garage, then they can provide copies of any documentation they hold regarding your vehicle, though they may not have these on file. Additionally, with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy rules in effect, you might find garages are less willing to share service records.
Should you be unsure which garages have serviced your vehicle, then you can perform an MOT check on the government's website, for which you only need your car's registration number. You can then view the test location for each of the car's MOTs by entering your 11-digit V5C number. From here, you should be able to identify where a vehicle was serviced.