Car service history check: What does it mean?

A vehicle’s service history contains crucial information about the maintenance work that has been carried out throughout its lifetime.

In this updated guide, we will cover how we define service history, why it is important – and what constitutes a full, partial and missing service history. We’ll explain the often-misunderstood distinction between a service and a MOT, the signs that your vehicle needs servicing – and the consequences of missing service intervals.

Additionally, we will cover Digital Service Records, how to determine whether a purported service history is genuine – and some of the online tools available to help you piece together a missing service history.

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What is service history?

A car’s service history contains dated records of the repair and maintenance work carried out on the vehicle. This information is extremely useful for car valuations, as it provides valuable insight into how well the car has been looked after – and the vehicle’s condition.

Therefore, before committing to buying a second-hand car, you should always ask to see its service history. Conversely, if you are planning to sell your car, you should take care to ensure that your car’s service history is in order, as presenting only a partial service history (or none at all) can reduce the vehicle’s value.

Physical records of a vehicle’s service history are kept in the service book. After completing a service, the mechanic should update the records in the service book and stamp the page to confirm that the necessary work was carried out.

A service book record is valid as long as the date and vehicle mileage are included, along with the stamp from the garage. If it’s missing any of these, then the service record is incomplete and therefore, invalid.

If you intend to use invoices as proof of servicing, they must be from a VAT registered garage and prepared correctly. They should include the name, address and VAT number of the garage where the work was performed - and details of the work carried out during the service. If you have had a service at a garage that isn’t VAT registered, it won’t be considered valid.

If you have misplaced your service documents, resulting in a part-service history, you may be able to obtain copies of the missing service records from the relevant garage(s) by contacting them directly. Manufacturer franchise dealers increasingly use electronic records, so you may be able to obtain these through an online portal, if your car has been serviced at one.

What is a ‘full service history’?

If a vehicle has a full service history, this means that servicing has been carried out in accordance with the manufacturer-recommended service schedule – and records of all past services are available.

Most manufacturers set time and mileage-based intervals for when each service is due. When your first service is due depends on whether you hit the time or mileage-based interval first.

A full service record is of particular importance when a vehicle is in warranty. If a vehicle has missed a service, it’s likely that any claims under warranty regarding the vehicle will be invalid as a consequence.

Another factor that can affect a vehicle’s warranty is where it has been serviced. If the vehicle has not been serviced with approved or equivalent parts by a recognised garage, a warranty claim could be rejected.

Why is it important to maintain a full service history?

By maintaining a full service history for your car, you can reassure prospective buyers that the vehicle has been well looked after - and routinely serviced and maintained by qualified mechanics throughout its lifespan.

What’s more, a complete service history will contain records of your car’s mileage at each service interval. This will help to allay any concerns around ‘clocking’ (or mileage tampering) - or that the vehicle has been stolen.

How do I check whether a car has a full service history?

If a car is advertised as having a full service history (sometimes abbreviated ‘FSH’), you should ask the seller to show you the service book before committing to a purchase. The book should contain details of every service in the car’s history, including the names of the dealerships and garages where they were carried out.

You should note the names of any facilities referenced in the service book. Research them online to verify that they are genuine. If you have any suspicions about the authenticity of any records in the service book, you can contact the relevant centre directly to confirm whether the claimed service took place.

Is it worth the extra cost for a vehicle with a full service history?

When it comes to second-hand cars, a full service history is desirable, as this provides clear insight into how well a car has been cared for throughout its lifespan. Seeing evidence that the owner has had their vehicle serviced at the recommended intervals, can reassure many buyers.

After all, if a car has been regularly serviced and maintained in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines, it is less likely to develop faults. Therefore, many second-hand buyers believe it is worth paying a little extra for a full service history, due to the added peace of mind that this brings.

What is part-service history?

If your vehicle has missed one key service interval – or many – as long as you have evidence of one service record, that’s Part Service History.

What is no service history?

If the vehicle is past the interval for its first service and no service has been carried out (or no records exist), then the vehicle has No Service History.

Any future buyers of a vehicle with No Service History will intend to pay significantly less for the vehicle, as it’s possible that the lack of servicing has affected vehicle parts and components which may need replaced.

What if the first service is not due?

If your vehicle’s dashboard has yet to display the service indicator for the first time, then its first service is not yet due. At this stage, the vehicle’s service history is not relevant, as although the vehicle has not yet been serviced, it has not missed any of the manufacturer recommended service intervals.

Most dealerships and car-buying services (including webuyanycar) will treat this as a ‘full service history’, as none of the expected servicing information is missing – and the vehicle’s warranty will be unaffected by missed service intervals.

What is a service? How is this different from an MOT?

There is often confusion around the terms ‘service’ and ‘MOT’. Many people are unsure how they differ from one another and may even use them interchangeably. After all, both a service and MOT involve safety checks for a vehicle’s tyres, brakes and seatbelts.

However, the crucial distinction between a service and an MOT is as follows: a service is an optional vehicle inspection, carried out in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations, whereas an MOT is a compulsory annual test for all cars over three years old to ensure they meet the DVLA’s road safety standards.

For a more in-depth view of the criteria for MOT tests, please refer to our ‘MOT checklist’ guide. You can also check the MOT status of any UK-registered vehicle using our free MOT check tool.

Although an MOT-certified vehicle meets the minimum standards for road safety, this does not necessarily mean that it is running at an optimal standard. Conversely, the servicing guidelines outlined by vehicle manufacturers are much more thorough. During a service, mechanics may replenish engine oil and replace parts such as spark plugs, fuel and air filters to help keep the vehicle running smoothly.

Whilst not a legal requirement, having your car serviced at regular intervals can help to prevent breakdowns and the development of major faults, whilst also prolonging its lifespan.

Know your vehicle’s service history

Whether you are buying or selling a car, it is important to check the service history. A full-service history will influence a car’s value; the more detail, the better.

If you’re considering buying a used car that doesn’t have a full service history, it is worth knowing that this can reduce value – and should be reflected in the resale price.

With an incomplete service history, you won’t have the full picture of how the car has been treated and what condition it is in. Therefore, you could be purchasing a car with hidden or developing faults that could end up costing you more money in the long run.

However, an incomplete service history isn’t necessarily a bad thing and doesn’t always mean anything sinister - sometimes it may just be that the car’s service history book is missing.

Other things to consider before buying a car include:

  • Is any servicing work due imminently?
  • Does the vehicle require any potentially costly repairs (e.g. a belt change)?
  • Will the next service be a full or interim service?
  • Where have previous services been carried out?

Some manufacturers can be strict regarding where you are allowed to service the vehicle whilst it is in warranty - and what parts can be used.

For example, if a vehicle had its oil changed at home by a keen hobbyist or by a garage that isn’t VAT registered, it won’t count as part of the service history. What’s more, if this work wasn’t carried out by a professional mechanic using the correct parts, there is a risk that the vehicle could be damaged.

How do I know my vehicle needs a service?

To keep your vehicle in good working order, it is important to be aware of the signs that it is due a service.

The dashboard on most car models includes a light that illuminates to warn you that your car requires maintenance. This may indicate that you are approaching a mileage-based service interval – or that your vehicle needs a check over. Some modern cars will even tell you when a service is overdue.

Other signs include: oil leakage, unusual noises, stalling - or a loss of engine or braking power. Regardless of whether you are approaching a servicing milestone, you should take your car to a qualified mechanic if you notice that it is not working as it should.

If you miss a service milestone by a wide margin, your car could develop a serious mechanical fault, which might lead you to ask yourself, “Should I repair my car or sell it?

The lesson here is simple: look out for the signs and stay on top of your servicing schedule!

What if I missed a service interval?

If you miss a service interval by a just a couple of months or a thousand miles, this is unlikely to significantly affect your vehicle’s condition or performance, but we would recommend booking it in for a service sooner rather than later. Failure to take your vehicle for a service at the recommended intervals could invalidate the manufacturer warranty.

What’s more, the longer your car goes without a service, the more susceptible it will be to breaking down. When left unchecked, its parts will succumb to increased wear and tear over time. This can not only increase your vehicle’s emissions and reduce its fuel economy but may also allow it to develop costly faults. Avoidance of routine servicing will also increase your vehicle’s risk of failing its annual MOT test.

Many car buying services, including webuyanycar apply a tolerance, which depends upon whether the vehicle is in its warranty period. If it is within the warranty period, the tolerance is much stricter to ensure that the warranty is not invalidated. Outside of the warranty, the tolerance for a missed service tends to be more relaxed.

Digital Service Records

Digital Service Records contain the same information found in a vehicle’s service history book, only in an electronic format. They are utilised by many modern car manufacturers and are updated each time a vehicle is brought to an approved garage for repairs or servicing.

Any independent garage that is registered with the Independent Garage Association (IGA) can upload servicing records to the vehicle manufacturer’s centralised database.

Digital Service Records are being increasingly adopted by car manufacturers and garages – and can make it easier to verify the service history of a vehicle when paper records are lost and misplaced.

Which car manufacturers use Digital Service Records?

Manufacturers currently utilising Digital Service Records include BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Ford, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Smart, Mini, Volkswagen and Skoda.

How can I check whether a service history is genuine?

As we mentioned earlier, having a full service history not only makes it easier to sell a vehicle, but also typically increases the price it can command on the second-hand market. Therefore, before purchasing a second-hand car, you should take care to ensure that its purported service history has not been falsified.

You should also contact any repair garages or dealerships listed in the service records to verify that the claimed work has been carried out as described. For additional reassurance, you can ask the seller to show the paperwork and receipts, as these will provide further proof that servicing was carried out by trained mechanics on the recorded dates.

If the car is less than three years old, its service records should be available on the manufacturer’s central database, so you should contact them to verify that the claimed service history is correct.

How to check the service history of your car

The first place to check for your service history is your vehicle’s service book. If this document is missing, there are other ways to retrieve this information:

If your car was regularly serviced at a franchised dealership, you should contact them, as it is likely that they will have Digital Service Records for your vehicle. It may also be possible to retrieve these by contacting the car manufacturer directly, if the vehicle is only a few years old.

If your car has been serviced at numerous garages over the years, you should still be able to retrieve the relevant servicing information by contacting them individually. You’ll just need to provide them with a few simple details about your vehicle.

How to check a vehicle’s service history online

If you are unsure about where your vehicle was serviced previously, you can try running your registration number through the Government’s MOT checker.

This service allows you to see where each MOT test from 2005 onwards was carried out (from 2017 onwards in Northern Ireland).

To retrieve this information, you’ll need to provide your vehicle’s 11-digit V5C number, which can be found in the V5C logbook.

From here, you can contact the relevant MOT garages to determine whether your vehicle previously had a service with them.

You may also be able to retrieve some (or all) of your missing service history by using an online service history checking tool. These are designed to trawl the internet for the missing records using your car’s registration number.

For more in-depth advice, please refer to our guides on ‘How to find your car’s missing service history’ and ‘how to check car service history’.

Should I buy a car with a partial service history or none?

If a car has only a partial service history, or even none at all, you will have less information about the vehicle’s overall condition than if all the records were present – and this is often reflected by a lower price. With that said, when a vehicle has a partial or missing service history, this does not necessarily mean the seller is attempting to deceive you.

They may in fact have serviced the vehicle on a regular basis, or at least taken reasonable care of it, but simply misplaced the paperwork proving this. It is also possible that the seller simply doesn’t have time to source the missing paperwork (this can be a time-consuming process, particularly for older vehicles with extensive service histories).

So, is it worth buying a car with an incomplete service history? If you like the car and the price is right, the answer may be yes, as this can present an opportunity. Just think, if you are able to turn detective and find the missing service history yourself, you just might be able to sell the car on for a profit in the future!