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Service history – the ultimate guide

When you’re buying or selling a used car, getting the right price is normally priority number one. But how do you know a vehicle has been maintained properly, or demonstrate that it’s been well looked after to potential buyers? That’s where a service history comes into play.

Our ultimate guide to service history can help you potentially gain 20% or more of the value of a second-hand car. Or save a similar amount when you’re looking to buy.

A service history refers to records of any services, maintenance and repairs carried out to a car. The documents themselves can be on paper or stored online, and include dealer stamps to indicate work, invoices, and other associated details.

Our guide to service history will explain how valuable they can be

There was no official introduction of service histories, but they’ve gained in importance following the introduction of V5 logbooks for ownership, and after the MOT test was introduced in 1960.

Although those measures allowed you to check the registered owner of a car and if it was deemed roadworthy, neither actually told you if a vehicle was regularly serviced at the correct intervals.

You’ll see both Full Service History (FSH) and Partial Service History (PSH) referred to in trade and private adverts. And if you’re comparing prices to sell your car, you’ll get a better price with a complete record of maintenance and repairs.

Service history explained:

  1. What is a service history and why is it important?
  2. Service history check: how to check your service history online
  3. MOT service history
  4. What does ‘full service history’ mean?
  5. How does service history affect the value of a car?
  6. Service history check tools for different car brands

What is a service history and why is it important?

The two times that a service history becomes vital are when you come to buy or sell a used car.

Not only does it have a big effect on vehicle valuations, as a well-maintained car will depreciate less, but it will also factor into the cost of ownership if you want to maintain a full-service history with a main dealer.

When you’re buying a car, you can pay less for a car with a partial or missing service history. And sometimes documentation can go missing for legitimate reasons over time.

A missing or partial service history makes for a useful way to negotiate a lower price from trade or private sellers if you think a deal makes it worth the risk. We’ll explain below how it’s possible to find some, or all, of the missing information.

A full service history also makes it easier if you buy a fairly new car which has some of a transferable manufacturer warranty left to run. Particularly if it requires a main dealer to have performed the servicing, although this isn’t essential under EU law.

And knowing when parts were checked or replaced will help you avoid expensive repair bills. Servicing requirements are different for each car, but typically include everything from oil changes and topping up other fluids to checking wheel bearings and shock absorbers.

It can also include replacing fuel filters, spark plugs and other consumables. You’ll find a servicing schedule for each car model which outlines when interim, full and major servicing is due.

As an example, you could be set on buying a Mazda RX-8, which is a fun rotary-engined sports car produced from 2002-2012. But it’s also well known for suffering engine failures, and rebuilds can cost upwards of £4,000 if something goes seriously wrong.

So, would you want to gamble on one which might not have been maintained properly?

A full service history is even more valuable for expensive, high performance cars

If you’re buying an expensive, high performance enthusiast car, then main dealer or specialist car is going to be more valuable than for cheap transport.

Even though mechanical failures and repairs aren’t required to be included in a service history, you’ll often find owners who have cared for their car will include piles of detailed paperwork and invoices to help you understand the history of a particular vehicle.

When you’re planning to sell your car, then it’s worth spending some time to get all the details in order. Being able to offer a car with a full service history will attract more potential buyers, as well as increase the final price you’re likely to get.

If you’ve invested in main dealer servicing by choice, to maintain a warranty, or as part of a car finance agreement, then you’ll want to get the benefit of a higher resale price as a result.

Service history check: how to check your service history online

Originally cars were sold with service book which would be stamped by a dealer at each service, along with recording the mileage and work carried out. Traditionally these were usually left in the glove box by owners, hidden under whatever else was stuffed in there.

Modern cars can often display current service information via the in-car displays, and may also include historical details. For example, the BMW Idrive system. You should be able to view it at any time, but only dealers and garages with the correct equipment can update the information themselves.

A car owner can revisit dealers and garages to request information is reprinted. But as a buyer, or if you don’t fancy driving around every place your car has been serviced for the last 10 years, the introduction of online service histories and records makes life a lot easier.

All you should need is need is the car’s registration number, however, some checks will require the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) which is a 17 character code usually found on the driver’s side of the dashboard or the door post. It’s also often recorded in the engine bay.

Can you tell if a car is well maintained without seeing a service history?

Most of the online car check services, such as AutoTrader, HPI, the RAC or the AA will focus on identifying ownership, outstanding finance or if your car has been reported as stolen or an insurance write-off.

The mechanical history for a specific vehicle will usually be based on the MOT records, and we’ll demonstrate how to find them direct from the DVLA.

Fortunately, you can contact manufacturers directly online, along with the main franchised dealers, and use their records to check the service history if you’re the car owner.

If you’re a potential buyer, you’ll often need the permission of the current owner due to data protection laws. Find the links for various manufacturer service history details in the dedicated section towards the end of this guide.

You can also do some detective work by getting the details of previous owners of a car from the DLVA using a V888 form. This can let you identify which dealers have worked on the vehicle in the past, and then contact the dealership for more information.

It can be worth checking with manufacturers and dealerships even if a service history has been supplied, as fakes do exist. So, a quick check could save you spending thousands based on a fraudulent service history.

MOT service history

The MOT records of a car are separate to the service history. But not only are they quick and easy to check online, they’ll help you spot any worrying discrepancies.

There’s a good chance that the dealer performing the MOT test might also be where the car has been serviced if you’re trying to track down missing service history.

Various sites will allow you to check the MOT status for free. And it makes sense to start with the official DVSA Gov MOT  history check. All you need to do is enter the registration number of the car you want to check.

This will show the results for all tests performed in England, Scotland or Wales since 2005, including if any parts failed, or had minor problems. You can also see the test location, if you can enter the 11-digit number for the V5C vehicle log book.

If you want to also get information on the insurance status, outstanding finance, or if a car has been previously reported stolen, then you’ll need to use a paid vehicle history check service from one of various providers including:

What does a full service history mean?

To claim a full service history (FSH) requires a record of all work and servicing carried out to the requirements of the manufacturer. This usually means the work has been carried out by a main dealer for that particular car brand. Or a specialist garage for more unusual examples.

The actual schedule will depend on the individual make and model of your car. For example, a Ford Focus EcoBlue may require a service every 10,000 miles, but the Ecoboost model can have an 18,000 mile service interval.

Higher mileage cars will require more frequent servicing, but for low mileages the intervals can be annual or every two years. Some modern cars have also started to switch to basing servicing on the condition of the car, and informing the owner when maintenance is due.

You’ll see full service history referenced by both car buyers and sellers. For a potential purchase, having a complete record of a car well-maintained by an official dealership offers peace of mind. And that’s worth money, whether you’re selling privately, using a car buying service, or negotiating with a car dealer.

And if you buy a well-maintained car and continue the servicing, it will mean a better value when you come to sell it. It should also reduce the chances of breakdowns and mechanical failures while you’re the owner.

How does service history affect the value of a car?

Used car valuations are largely based on depreciation. Every new car will lose some value as soon as someone drives it for the first time. But guide prices will offer higher and lower figures based on factors including the mileage, condition and service history of your vehicle.

A Kwik Fit survey of 2,000 car owners revealed almost half wouldn’t even consider buying a used car without a full service history.

Those who would still buy a car with less information expected a discount of around 19% to compensate for the extra risk. With the average used car price in 2018 of £12,967, that means a full service history is worth around £2,463 when you buy or sell a car.

red car wrapped in measuring tape
A full service history can affect car values by thousands of pounds

The amount you lose going without a full service history on most nearly-new cars will be much more than you save by avoiding main dealer servicing.

And the value of a full service history varies across the UK. If you’re selling a car in London, the Kwik Fit survey suggested that you’d need to reduce your selling price by 23%, which would be a difference of £2,982.41.

Service history check tools for different car brands

If you’ve lost your service records, or your car didn’t come with a paper copy, there’s no need to despair. Manufacturers and dealerships record everything online, and for most models of car, it’s easy for owners to access the information.

Car manufacturers who allow you to access your service history online include:

Details can be hard to find for some manufacturers, and online service records might only be currently available in other regions. You’ll usually find details of any way to view your service history online in the “Owners” section of each manufacturer website.

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