A car’s service history is a little bit like a health record. It shows when work has been carried out, where it was done and — for those particularly well kept — the cost of maintenance.
Understanding the service history of a car can be the difference between finding a great used car or one that’s set to be a dud. Just like anything mechanical, a poorly-maintained car will eventually give way.
How exactly do you check the service history of a car, and what should you look out for? This guide is here to help.
How to find the service history of a car
Look through the service book
The easiest way to check the service history of a car is through the supplied service history book. Practically every modern car comes with one from the factory and is stamped by garages when work is carried out.
This is a straightforward method to seeing at what mileage a car has had work done, the time between services and where work has been carried out.
What this can’t tell you is the extent or cost of any work carried out. It’s also possible the owner no longer has the service book for the car and holds no record of services — in which case, it may be best to look at other examples.
Ask to see receipts or invoices for work
Sometimes you may find the owner of the car you’re looking at has held on to invoices or receipts for work carried out both at services and outside.
This is both a sign of a very well looked after car and a way of understanding the mechanical state of it.
Call garages listed in the service book
If you’ve got access to the service book, it might be an idea to call the garages where work has been done to find out more about the history of the car.
It’s not guaranteed, but they may be able to provide you with a history of work done to the car if they’ve kept a record.
Request a digital record
In a handful of cases, you may be able to request a digital record of a car directly from a manufacturer. Mercedes for example allows this for some models, though you do need to state your reasons for requesting information.
This is a very rare option at the moment though, and will likely only cover services done by the manufacturer-approved service centres.
How to check a car’s service history is legitimate
Though rarely the case, car service history fraud is not unheard of. This is where a seller fabricates the history of a car to make it seem much better maintained than it really is.
If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of service history, there are a few tips you can try to find out:
- Call the garages listed. They may be able to confirm either way if work on the car has been carried out.
- Check invoices. Make sure any dates and mileage listed correspond to the service book.
- Check the car’s infotainment. Some modern cars have records of service intervals within their infotainment system, and this is much harder to fake.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to walk away from a car if you have any doubts about the legitimacy of its service history.
Can I buy a car with no service history?
It’s entirely possible to buy a car with no service history, but it’s not advisable. Without a service history, there’s no way of telling for certain if regular routine work has been carried out on the car.
A car without regular servicing is more likely to go wrong than one with. Imagine it a bit like your teeth — regular brushing will help prevent decay, but going without will be more likely to cause pain down the road.
If you are going to buy a car without one, it’s strongly advised to have a mechanic check over the car before committing to a purchase. They may be able to help spot potential problems which could cause an issue down the line.
It’s also worth getting the car booked in for a service as soon as you can, and holding a record of any work done from that point — which should boost its value when it comes to selling.
FAQs: How to check a car’s service history
Can I check a car’s service history online?
It’s still rare, but you can check some car service histories online. Mercedes is one such manufacturer offering the option on some models, but you will need to provide reasoning for accessing the data.
Is a car service a legal requirement?
No. It’s perfectly legal to drive a car that hasn’t been serviced. However, it must have a valid MOT.
How does a service history affect the value of a car?
A strong service history proves how well looked after a car is, meaning it’s much less likely to go wrong compared to a car without it. In turn, this increases the value of a car comparatively.
What is the difference between a service history and MOT history?
An MOT test is a legal requirement to prove the roadworthiness of a car, and its history shows if a car has failed tests previously and on what points.
A service history shows maintenance work that has been carried out on a car, including but not limited to oil changes, new filters and other fluids. It is not a legal requirement, however.