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How to check a car’s service history

When you’re buying or selling a car, one factor that can influence the price is its service history. This could tell you or prospective buyers how well the vehicle’s been maintained.

Here’s how to check a car’s service history so you can find out all about its past.

When you’re buying or selling a car, one factor that can influence the price is its service history. This could tell you or prospective buyers how well the vehicle’s been maintained.

Here’s how to check a car’s service history so you can find out all about its past.

Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance comparison expert
Reviewed by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
18 AUGUST 2023
7 min read
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What is a car service history?

A car’s service history is a bit like a person’s medical records. It’s a full rundown of the services, maintenance and repairs your car has had in its lifetime.

It should also include regular tasks that keep your car running smoothly – for example, oil changes, air filter replacements and wheel balancing and rotation.

Your car should have a service book, which the garage will use to log every annual service, the vehicle mileage and any work carried out. This information will then be authenticated with a stamp.

A comprehensive vehicle service history may also include itemised receipts and invoices for any repair work and costs. This could give you an accurate history of the car’s maintenance and allow you to see which parts have been replaced and when.

Today, in place of a physical service book, modern cars will often have a digital service log instead. Garages, like the rest of us, have increasingly switched to keeping online records.

If the car is serviced through a franchised dealer, the manufacturer should also have centralised online records. This allows you to easily access and verify your car’s service history at any time.

When it comes to buying a used car, there will usually be a reference to its service history in the advert:

  • FSH: full service history – the car comes with a complete car service record
  • PSH: part service history – some information is incomplete or missing.

What is included in a car service?

A car service is essentially a routine health check-up for your car. A mechanic will check the condition of your car for any damage and wear and tear, then replace any parts where necessary.

A full car service is recommended every 12 months or after 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. Routine checks include:

  • Engine, oil and oil filter
  • Fuel filter replacement (for diesel cars)
  • Bodywork
  • Lights, tyres and exhaust
  • Brakes and steering
  • Fluid and coolants (including air-con re-gassing)
  • Suspension
  • Car battery
  • Wheel alignment, balancing and rotation
  • Charging port, cables and connection (for hybrid and electric cars).

Why is a car service history so important?

Regular servicing not only helps to prolong the life of your vehicle, but it could also save you money in the long run. Minor problems, picked up during a routine service, can be dealt with before they escalate into major repair jobs.

If you’re selling, it will show potential buyers that the vehicle has been looked after properly and well maintained.

If you’re buying, it gives you the peace of mind that the sale is legitimate and flags up any recurring faults or problems the car has had.

A full vehicle service history might help with your car insurance policy too. Let’s say your car is involved in an accident and needs to be replaced. Your car insurance provider could look at your car’s service history to estimate its previous value.

Although the V5C log book is essential for buying and selling a car, it will only show the registered keeper. Documentation in the form of a sales receipt helps to prove who the vehicle owner is.

Read our checklist for buying a used car.

What does full service history mean?

A full service history (FSH) means that the car has a complete car service record of all annual services and, in many cases, what work has been done on it. Ideally, this should include regular maintenance tasks like fluid top-ups and tyre changes, as well as more serious repair work.

Owners don’t have to keep every single receipt and invoice for repair work, but it’s a good indication that the car has been well cared for. It could also show that the car has been serviced and maintained by an official garage approved by the manufacturer.

A full vehicle service history could mean better value and a higher sale price if you sell your car further down the line. A complete car service record could also mean less chance of breakdowns and expensive repairs while you own the vehicle.

And if the car is still under warranty, manufacturers may insist on a full service history before they agree to do a repair under the warranty.

What does part service history mean?

If you miss a service, or haven’t used an approved garage, your car will only have a part service history (PSH).

If you’re looking to buy a used car, you should always ask to see its service history. If it’s advertised with a PSH, this usually means some of the documentation is missing or it hasn’t been serviced regularly.

Although you should be wary of buying a car with a PSH, it doesn’t automatically mean that there’s a problem with the vehicle. It might just be a case of lost paperwork or the garage forgetting to fill in the details after a service.

But a PSH could be used as a bargaining tool, and hopefully it’ll help you to negotiate a lower price as a buyer. Of course, it could work against you if you’re the one trying to sell the car.

How to find a car’s service history

The good news is that you may be able to find the gaps in a car’s service history. If you don’t have the car service book, you can check a car’s service history online. Before you start digging, you’ll need the car’s registration number and, in most cases, the vehicle identification number (VIN).

Once you have this information, you can check the service history of a car in one of the following ways:

Contact the service centre or manufacturer

If you’ve lost the service book, your first port of call should be to the repair centre that performs your car’s annual check-up. They should have their own records of your car’s service history and past maintenance.

If your car has been regularly serviced by a franchised dealer, they’re likely to have centralised digital records. Your local dealership should be able to pull up the information for you or you could even contact the car manufacturer directly online.

If your car has been serviced by an independent garage, it might be trickier to get the information you need. If it’s an older model, it’s less likely that the car service records will be stored online. But it’s still your best first bet.

You’ll need to prove that you’re the owner of the vehicle before they can divulge any of the information. You’ll likely need to show the payment receipt that proves you bought the car from the previous owner as well as the VIN. If you’re buying the car, you’ll likely need the current owner’s permission to get information about it, due to data protection laws.

Ask the DVLA

If you’re the vehicle owner, you could request information about your car directly from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). This could give you details about previous owners and dealers that have worked on your car in the past.

You’ll need to use a V888 form and send a cheque or postal order for £5 along with your enquiry.

You can only request information from the DVLA for a car that’s registered to you or has been in the past. You can’t use this service simply to find out about a car you want to buy.

Check MOT service history

You can check the MOT service history of your car on the DVLA website. They have records on MOT tests done in England, Scotland and Wales since 2005.

You’ll be able to check where each MOT was done, any problems found during the tests, plus any parts that failed or were recorded as minor problems.

You’ll need the vehicle’s registration number to check its MOT history. And, if you want to see where each MOT was done, you’ll also need the 11-digit number from your V5C log book.

If the MOT was done by a franchise dealer, they’ll most likely have the car service records as well.

Get a vehicle history check

If you’re looking to buy a used car, it might be worth getting a vehicle history check, even if it has a full service history.

Many motoring organisations offer a comprehensive check of the car’s history, including:

  • If the car’s been reported stolen
  • If there’s outstanding finance on the car
  • If it’s had its mileage altered
  • If it’s an insurance write-off
  • V5C/VIN match
  • Number of previous owners.

Vehicle history checks only cost a few pounds and can give you the reassurance that there’s no hidden surprises and the sale is above board.

Frequently asked questions

How can I check a car’s service history isn’t forged?

The only way to check a car’s service history is 100% legit is by checking all the places where the servicing was done. These should be stamped in the car service book. You may need to ring around to check they did indeed work on the car and complete the work listed.

If you’re buying a newer car that’s been serviced at an authorised repair centre, the manufacturer should have a copy of the car service records.

How many miles should a car go between a service?

In general, most car manufacturers recommend a full service once a year or after driving 12,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Newer models may come with a built-in alert to notify you when it’s time to book your car in. If not, you can check your logbook to see when your next service is due.

What does FDSH mean on car adverts?

FDSH stands for full dealer service history. It’s also sometimes referred to as main dealer service history (MDSH). It means that all the car’s services have been carried out by an official dealer authorised by the car manufacturer.

An authorised dealer will have only used manufacturer-approved parts and specially trained staff to work on the vehicle.

As a bonus, it also means that the car’s service history is easy to look up and verify.

Does an incomplete service history affect the value of a car?

A car with a missing or partial service history will almost certainly be less valuable than the same car with a complete service history.

Without the full picture, there’s inevitably more risk involved. Buyers looking at a car with a PSH should do their research and negotiate for a price that mitigates some of that risk. In some cases, this could be as much as 10%-20% off the asking price.

What does a car service book look like?

New cars come with a service or maintenance booklet that’s usually kept in the glove compartment. The booklet contains a number of pages to be filled in. Details include type of service, mileage, date of service and stamp of the servicing garage.

However, as most garages now have digital service records, most service books no longer need to be filled in and stamped.

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Julie Daniels - motor insurance comparison expert

Julie is passionate about delivering a great customer experience and rewarding people for saving on their insurance through our loyalty and rewards programme. She’s spoken to the media, including outlets like Sky News and Capital FM, about car and home insurance, as well as our rewards scheme.

Learn more about Julie

Rory Reid - car and technology expert

Rory Reid is a car and technology expert. He serves as the main presenter on Auto Trader’s YouTube channel and was previously a host on BBC Top Gear and its sister show Extra Gear. He is also a presenter on Fifth Gear. Previously, he hosted Sky TV’s Gadget Geeks, CNET’s Car Tech channel, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition and on the YouTube channel Fast, Furious & Funny.

Learn more about Rory

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