What is a full service history?

A full service history normally adds value to a used car, but how do you know whether a car really has a full history?

BuyaCar team
Oct 23, 2020

Trying to find the perfect used car deal? You've no doubt spent hours fishing around for the best price, the lowest mileage and the right paint job. But, perhaps more importantly than all of that, you need to know that the car your buying has been well maintained and is not about to fall apart on you five miles down the road.

The best way to understand the true condition of a used car is to check its service history. This will provide a detailed rundown of the all the maintenance work undertaken on the car throughout its life. A full service history will allow you to confirm that the car has received all of its necessary service checks to either address problems or prevent them. Things like timely oil changes can pay huge dividends on the reliability of a car later in its life.

Here at BuyaCar, we carry out a thorough investigation on all of the cars on our website, so you can be sure that the car we deliver to your door will be complete with its full service history and have confidence that it has been well looked after.

If you want to know more about what a car's service history will show, and how you can spot if a car has been properly looked after or not, read on for all the details - as well as what to do once the car is yours to ensure you properly maintain it yourself.

What does a full service history mean?

Whenever the time comes to put some money down on a new car, its mechanical integrity should always be a keen point of interest. You don't want to be forking out on something that's going to prove unreliable and costly further down the line.

On the flip side, maintaining a full service history for your car can also make it much easier to sell on - you may even be able to ask for a higher price if you choose to sell your car privately. No matter which way you look at it, a full service history is well and truly the most important aspect of a used car sale.

Essentially, a full service history will show that a car has been well looked after, with oil changes carried out on time and parts that have a limited lifespan being replaced before they become unreliable.

Many car manufacturers offer fixed-price servicing packages when you purchase a brand new car that can help to make maintaining a full service history more cost effective. So looking for used cars that are only a few years old - possibly still even covered by an initial manufacturer warranty - should mean you're finding models with pristine service histories, as they should have been cared for by the manufacturer and not neglected by a careless owner.

What does a full service history look like?

A full service history usually means that the service book that comes with the car has been stamped by the garage to confirm the relevant work has been completed, with receipts covering the specific work carried out and parts fitted.

It should be stamped with the name and address of the garage and dated, with details like the mileage reading of the car and what level of service has been undertaken. Some services in a car’s scheduled service life will be small while others could be much more extensive – it’s vital that the big services are carried out at the correct intervals to keep the car in the best possible condition.

However, many manufacturers now log servicing online, rather than stamping a physical service book, so there may not be a physical, stamped book with cars you're looking at. If that's the case, you should be able to get a printed copy to confirm exactly how many services the car has received and when.

Do I have to take my car to a dealer?

This is where the definition of precisely what constitutes a ‘full service history’ gets a bit blurry. In the eyes of some people, as long as a car’s service logbook has been filled in and stamped at appropriate intervals (whether related to time or mileage) and maintenance checks have been carried out to the appropriate service level, then that counts as a full service history.

Others would insist that a car has to have been looked after by an official manufacturer main dealer in order to be classed as having a full service history. When you’re buying a used car, one way to ensure this is to buy from a dealer’s ‘approved used’ scheme, as these tend to only include cars that have been serviced within the dealer network. Another way is to look for advert descriptions that talk about a car having a ‘full dealer service history’ or 'full manufacturer service history'.

If a car doesn’t have a full dealer service history, but still has a full book of service stamps, then it’s definitely worth making sure the independent garages the car has gone to have a good reputation. If the vehicle you’re considering is a luxury or specialist model then it’s worth ensuring that any servicing work has been done at a business that specialises in that particular make, too.

One significant advantage of opting for a car with a full dealer history is that you should be able to get in touch with them and get more details of work carried out on the car, as their computer systems should have a proper record of all the work they have carried out.

Many manufacturers now hold service records online rather than printing out paper receipts, so it's possible the dealer will be able to prove the existence of a full service history with an online printout. This may be in addition to a physical service book or instead of it, depending upon the manufacturer.

How and when should a car be serviced?

Most cars require servicing at specific intervals. Normally this is after a certain amount of miles or a set time period (often 12 or 24 months) – whichever comes first. This is to ensure that parts on high-mileage cars don’t wear out or, if you cover relatively few miles, that parts or fluids with a specific life (i.e. rubber parts that might perish) are changed regularly enough.

To find out the particular service intervals relevant to your car you’ll be able to check the manual, or visit the manufacturer’s website. Many modern cars will actively warn you when they are due for a service - with servicing warning lights or a readout of which service is needed. Some have ‘variable’ services intervals, too, where the car’s systems monitor how it’s getting driven and can adjust the service requirements accordingly.

Should you cruise gently up and down the motorway every day, the car may decide there's no need for a service just yet, while if you spend all your time zooming around town, stomping on the brakes and accelerating hard, a service may be needed sooner to ensure that the engine and brakes remain in good condition.

There's no doubt a car, no matter how it's driven, will require a regular service at least once a year. Keeping on top of that will keep it on the road longer, keeping track of them will make it more desirable if or when you come to sell it.


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