How can you check a car’s service history?

Find out how to check a car’s service history, why it can affect a car’s value, and what to do if you’re missing service information.

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 10 January 2023  | 4 mins read

Key points

  • A full service history indicates that a car has been looked after, making it easier to sell
  • A partial record or missing service information is likely to decrease your car’s value 
  • There are several ways to track down missing service details, including contacting franchised dealerships and previous owners 
  • Before you buy a car without a service history, always get it inspected by a trusted mechanic

Why is it important to know your vehicle’s service history?

When you’re buying a used car, checking its service history can tell you how well the car’s been maintained by previous owners.

A good service history will provide details of all the services, maintenance and repairs that have been done. It should show the name and address of the garage, the service date and the car’s mileage.

The service record should also provide details and proof of any parts that have been replaced. All of which can help you avoid unexpected and unnecessary costs in the future.

What is a full service history?

A full service history (FSH) means the car has been serviced according to the manufacturer’s service schedule - typically this means it should be serviced every year or every 12,000 miles.

To have a FSH, the car needs to have been taken to an approved dealer or garage for each service and any repairs.

The service book should show dates and stamps for each service and contain relevant paperwork for any repairs and replacement parts. This gives future buyers confidence that the car’s been looked after and should be reliable.

If the service record is missing a service stamp, the car will only have a partial service history which could affect its resale value.

A FSH can also be useful if you need to make a car insurance claim, as your insurer can use it to estimate your car’s previous value.

What difference does a car’s service history make to buying and selling?

A car’s service history plays an important part when it comes to buying or selling. A FSH helps to maintain a car’s value and can make a big difference to the price it will fetch.

In a KwikFit survey of more than 2,000 car owners in 2019, almost 50% said they wouldn’t buy a car without a FSH. And those that would still buy the car expected to get a discount of around 20% - potentially leaving the seller considerably out of pocket.

A FSH provides proof the car has been well-maintained and is less likely to encounter problems in the future - peace of mind that buyers are usually willing to pay more for.

How do I check a vehicle’s service history is genuine?

Because a complete service history can increase a car’s value, when you’re a buyer it’s important to check that the service record hasn’t been forged.

There are a few steps you can take to verify a service history:

  1. Check online records

    If the car has been serviced at a franchised dealership, the manufacturer should have a record of your car’s services online that you can use to check against the service history you’ve been given

  2. Look at mileage and ask for receipts

    Look to see what the car’s mileage was each time it was serviced. For most cars, there should be an interval of 10,000 to 15,000 miles between services. And ask the owner if they have any itemised receipts that detail previous services and repairs

  3. Contact the garages listed

    Search online for the contact details of the mechanics or garages that have been listed as servicing the vehicle. They may not be able to provide you with details if you’re not the owner, but they should be able to confirm if the car was serviced there

What to do if you’ve lost your car’s service book

If you can prove you own the car and know where it was serviced, you can contact the garages and ask for copies of your previous service history and maintenance records.

If your car was serviced by a franchised dealer, they should have the records online. And if you’ve been using an independent garage, it’s likely they’ll still have your car’s details on file.

It’s a good idea to try and retrieve the service history, as it’ll make it much easier when you want to sell the car.

How can I find missing service history information?

To track down the missing details or service history you’ll need the car’s registration number, vehicle identification number (VIN) and be able to prove you’re the owner.

Ask the seller

If the person who sold you the car doesn’t have the service book, they may still be able to tell you where it’s been serviced. You can then ask the service centre to provide you with copies of any details and documentation they have about the car.

Speak to the manufacturer

If you don’t know where the car was serviced, or the original garage has gone out of business, you can contact the car’s manufacturer. If you tell them the VIN they should be able to tell you which dealer originally supplied the car, which can help you piece together the information you need.

Contact the DVLA

If you want to know about the car’s history but don’t know who the previous owners were, you can get this information from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) using a V888 form.

However, you’ll need to show you have good reason to ask for their contact details and the previous owners aren’t legally obliged to provide you with information about the car.

Check the MOT status

Another way to find out about the condition and service status of the car is to check the MOT records.

You can do this on the DVLA website by entering the car’s number plate. You can find out where each MOT was done, what issues were found and when the next MOT is due.

Plus, there’s a chance the MOT centre may have also serviced your car, so it’s worth doing some digging.

Can I see the car’s service history online?

The digital service records (DSR) are stored on the car manufacturer’s central database, so it’s generally only franchised dealerships or registered service centres that can access them.

Sometimes you can request a copy of the digital service history - but this depends on the manufacturer.

And some car brands have apps that allow you to view your car’s service history and maintenance schedule online.

Should you buy a vehicle with no service history?

Although it’s a good idea to buy a car with a full service history, if there isn’t one it doesn’t always mean it’s a bad sign.

The service book may have been lost in a house move or accidentally thrown out, or in some cases the car might have been serviced but it wasn’t recorded in a service book.

If you’re interested in buying a car without a service history, it’s best to organise a thorough inspection of the car with a trusted mechanic first.

You can also take steps to find the service history yourself by contacting the manufacturer or local dealership. The service details of cars less than three years old are usually stored online.

How much can I save by buying a car without a full service history?

You could save as much as 20% off the market price if the car only has a partial service history, so you’ll be in a good position to haggle.

However, any savings you make may be offset if you need to pay for problems with the car later on that you weren’t aware of or that were caused by poor maintenance.

This is why you should always have the car thoroughly inspected by an independent mechanic before you part with any cash.

Does main dealer service history make a difference to the price?

A main dealer service history means all the car’s maintenance and services have been carried out by an official authorised dealer.

This is typically seen as the gold standard in service history - only approved parts and specialist mechanics are used for your make of car. Plus, it guarantees your car is kept up to date with all official software and part upgrades.

A main dealer service history provides an extra guarantee and buyers will pay more for it.

Is it possible to get a ‘full service history check’?

No, this type of check doesn’t exist. The service history will either be maintained and recorded by the owner or a franchised dealership.

If you want to check and confirm whether a car has a full service history, you can do most of the checks yourself by contacting the dealerships or service centres directly.

And you can check the car’s MOT and road tax status through the DVLA website.

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