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How to check your car service history

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How to check car service history

One of the most important steps when buying a used car is checking its service history. This will give you a sense of how well the vehicle has been maintained, any repeated faults to be aware of and the true value of the car.

Below is a look at the different types of service history a car can have, how you can check the service history and why it might affect your car insurance.

Types of car service history

There are three main types of car service history you’ll come across:

Full service history

With a full service history, you can comb through all the maintenance work, repairs and inspections a car has undergone in its lifetime. For example, if a car is five years old, there will ideally be a record of five full car services, alongside MOTs.

This type of service history will give you the clearest picture of a car’s value and can make you more confident in your decision to purchase it.

Full dealership service history

A full dealership service history means there’s a complete record of a car’s service history and all its services have been carried out by one of the car manufacturer’s official dealerships.

This is preferable to a standard full service history, as it means the people who worked on the car had the best understanding of its specifications. It should also indicate that any repairs were carried out with manufacturer-sourced parts.

Part service history

A part service history means that the vehicle has missed one or more service intervals. You can tell if a car’s service history is only partially complete if there are big time gaps or significant mileage (typically more than 12,000 miles) between recorded services.

How do I check the service history of a car?

If you’re buying a car, a good seller should present you with its service history.

If you’re looking to sell your car, however, there are several ways you can check your car’s service history to present it to prospective buyers.

Check its physical service book

The first place to check is the car’s service book. This is a physical booklet where the car’s service history is recorded, and it should have all the information you need, including stamps denoting each service and servicer. It’s a good idea to keep your service book in a safe place.

Request its digital service history records

If you’ve lost the car’s service book, you can contact the garage or dealership that services the car. It’ll likely have a digital or paper record of the car’s service history. You may need to prove you’re the owner of the car to access these records.

You may also be able to contact the car’s manufacturer for its digital service history. However, accessibility can differ by manufacturer.

Check its MOT history

While there’s a difference between an MOT and a full car service, you’ll be able to get a partial view of a car’s history by checking its MOT records. To do so, simply put the vehicle’s registration number into the government’s MOT history tool.

Contact the DVLA

If you’re really struggling to find your car’s service history, you can request information about your vehicle from the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). To do so, you’ll likely need your driving licence and vehicle log book (V5C).

Why is it important to find and check a car’s service history?

Checking a car’s service history is worth doing whether you’re a buyer, a seller or simply the owner of a car.

As a buyer

First and foremost, checking a car’s service history will allow you to see what kinds of repairs have been made, how well maintained the vehicle has been across its lifetime and whether there are any persistent issues you need to be aware of.

All of this can inform how much you might be willing to pay for the car. For example, a car with a partial service history is arguably worth less than one with a full history.

Since service history plays a part in dictating a car’s value, it also has a role to play in any car insurance claims. The fuller a car’s service history, the more information a car insurance provider will have to determine its value and how much it’ll pay out in the event of a claim.

As a seller

As a seller, it’s good practice to provide your car’s service history to potential buyers. It can also help you decide how much you list the car for and back up why you believe the vehicle is worth what you’re asking for.

As an owner

Even if you aren’t looking to sell your car, checking its service history can be a useful reminder of past faults or repairs that you may have forgotten. It can also help you spot inadvertent gaps in its history that you may want to fill in.

What is included in a car service?

If you choose a full service, it should include but is not limited to an inspection of your car’s:

  • Engine
  • Engine oil
  • Oil filter
  • Air filters
  • Cabin filter
  • Brake pads and brake fluid
  • Gearbox
  • Lights
  • Tyres
  • Windscreen wipers
  • Bodywork
  • Exhaust
  • Fluid and coolant levels
  • Suspension
  • Car battery
  • Charging ports, cables and connections (if you have an electric vehicle)

What is the difference between a car service and an MOT?

The first big difference between an MOT and a car service is that the formal is a legal requirement each year, while the latter is not.

However, they also differ in scale. An MOT just checks whether your car is roadworthy. A car service is much more rigorous and goes far beyond checking the safety-critical areas covered by an MOT. It also includes the replacement of certain parts, such as filters and spark plugs, where needed.

People often book an MOT and car service at the same time to give their vehicle a full health check.

How often should I have my car serviced?

It’s recommended that you have your car serviced every 12,000 miles or at least once a year, whichever comes first.

You could also consider having a less intensive interim service every half a year or 6,000 miles – again, whichever comes first. This ensures your car is in good health between full services.

Car service history FAQs

It’s possible to buy a car without checking its service history – it’s just not advisable. Without looking at its service history, you won’t know how well maintained the car has been, if there are any problems you need to know about and, importantly, whether the asking price is reasonable.

Unfortunately, forging car service histories has become more common in recent years.

The best way to check the history hasn’t been forged is to cross-reference the history you’ve been provided with against the manufacturer’s database. However, it may not be possible to check the full history of an older car using this method.

In this case, you can try to check that all the garages and dealerships stamped in the service book are legitimate enterprises and that they worked on the car in question. Again, it may be hard to verify every service, depending on the age of the car.

If you’re still doubtful, you can also ask for receipts and proof of paperwork.

Connor Campbell

Finance Writer

Connor Campbell is an experienced personal and business finance writer who has been producing online content for almost a decade. 

Connor is the personal finance expert for Independent Advisor, guiding readers through everything they need to know about car insurance and home insurance. From how much it costs to the best insurance providers in the UK, he’s here to help you find the right policy for your needs. 

In his capacity as writer and spokesperson at NerdWallet, Connor explored a number of topics close to his heart, such as the impact of our increasingly cashless society, and the hardships and heroics of British entrepreneurs. His commentary was featured in sites such as The Mirror, the Daily Express and Business Insider

At financial trading firm Spreadex, meanwhile, his market commentary was featured in outlets such as The Guardian, BBC, Reuters and the Evening Standard

Connor is a voracious reader with an MA in English, and is dedicated to making life’s financial decisions a little bit easier by doing away with jargon and needless complexity.

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.