How to find your 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. But if you don’t have a service history, where can you find it? Read on to find out.

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. But if you don’t have a service history, where can you find it? Read on to find out.

Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance comparison expert
Reviewed by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
22 AUGUST 2022
6 min read
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What is a service history?

A car’s service history is a bit like your medical records. It’s a full rundown of the services, maintenance and repairs your car has had. 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 service history may also include receipts and invoices that detail the specifics of any repair work done 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. And if the car is serviced through a franchised dealer, the manufacturer should also have centralised online records that can be easily accessed and verified. 

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 record of services
  • PSH: part service history – some information is incomplete or missing.

Why is a service history so important?

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 service history might help with your car insurance policy too. For example, if 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 logbook 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 means that the car has a complete record of all annual services and, in many cases, what work has been done on it – including 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 service history could mean better value and a higher sale price if you sell your car further down the line. A complete service record could also mean less chance of breakdowns and expensive repairs while you own the vehicle.

What does part service history mean?

If you’re looking to buy a used car and you see part service history (PSH) on the advert, this usually means that some of the documentation is missing or the car 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 missing gaps in a car’s service history. Before you start digging, you’ll need the car’s registration number and, in most cases, the vehicle identification number (VIN).

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 – particularly if the car is older – as it’s less likely that the 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) using a V888 form. This could give you details about previous owners and dealers that have worked on your car in the past. You’ll need to see a cheque or postal order for £5 along with your enquiry.  

You can’t request information from DVLA about a car that’s not registered to you or hasn’t been in the past, for the purpose of assessing whether you want to buy the car or not.

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 and can give you information on where each MOT was done, as well as any problems found during the tests, including any parts that failed or were recorded as minor problems.  

You’ll need the vehicle’s registration number to check its MOT history, and in order to view the location of any tests, you’ll need to enter the 11-digit number from your V5C logbook.   

If the MOT was done by a franchise dealer, they’ll most likely have the 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.   

Motor organisations including AutoTrader, the RAC, AA and HPI 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 been clocked
  • If it’s an insurance write-off.

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

Frequently asked questions

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

If you’re buying a newer car that has been serviced at an authorised repair centre, the manufacturer should have a copy of the service records, so it’s worth calling them to check that the information you’ve been given is accurate.

Otherwise, you could check that the service centres listed in the stamp book are real, legitimate businesses and give them a call to check that they did indeed work on the car and complete the work listed.

If something still seems fishy, ask to see receipts for any work that was carried out so you can cross-reference with the service history. It may seem like a lot of extra effort, but it will give you peace of mind that you’re actually getting the car you’re paying for.

How many miles should a car go between a service?

In general, most car manufacturers recommend that you take your car in for a full service once a year or after driving 12,000 miles, whichever is sooner. Newer models may come with a built-in alert to notify you when it’s time, but if not, you can check your logbook to see when your next service is due.

Read our guide to servicing your car.

What does FDSH mean on car adverts?

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

FDSH is the gold standard when it comes to service history because it indicates that the previous owner has spared no expense in maintaining their car. An authorised dealer will have only used manufacturer approved parts and their staff will have been trained specifically to work on vehicles from that manufacturer. 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?

Yes, a car with a missing or partial service history will almost certainly be less valuable than the same car with a complete service history, although there are many factors determining the value of a car, including supply and demand.

There is more risk involved in buying a car with an incomplete service history, because the new owner does not have a full picture of the health of the car. Buyers looking at a car with a PSH should do their research and negotiate for a price that mitigates some of that risk.

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