You’ve found your potential next car, and are almost ready to buy it — but at the back of your mind something isn’t right, and you want to check if the service history is legitimate or not. Sadly, despite clampdowns in recent years, fake service history is still relatively commonplace in the UK today.
But how do you actually spot it?
And what do you do if the vehicle you’ve already bought has a dubious service record?
And is there a single ‘check’ that you can purchase that will verify the Service History for you? Read the FreeCarCheck Service History guide here to find out – it always pays to be prepared.
Table of Contents
How do I check that a vehicle’s Service History is genuine?
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula here sadly, but being realistic, the best way to find out if service history is authentic or not, is just to use a bit of common sense. Let’s start with the basics:
- Ask to see a copy of the service book. (If the vehicle has been manufactured within the last 3-5 years then it’s likely that there will be no physical Service History booklet available to view – as most modern cars have moved over to digital service logs now. See the section below on how to check that).
- Check over the service book carefully and if you’re suspicious, note down at least TWO of the garage addresses listed. If you don’t know them or haven’t heard of them despite it being local to you, then that’s the first red flag. If the seller doesn’t mind, it’s sometimes easier to take a photo on your phone of the service logs. You’ll need this information later.
- Look at the mileage at the time of each Service. Generally, most cars have a service interval of between 10,000 and 15,000 miles between each service.
- If the vehicle is a sports/luxury car, then it’s possible that there should have been a “running-in” service performed at around the 1000 – 3000 miles mark. If the vehicle is high end and there is no running-in service recorded in the Service History, then ask the seller why. It’s often a good practice to look up beforehand on web forums etc, to find out about the service interval of your vehicle. For example this thread here on M3Cutters lists the required service intervals for a BMW M4 (2015-).
- Take to Google! Try searching online for the contact details of the mechanics or garages that serviced the vehicle, taken from step (2) above. While they won’t be able to give you details of what the service entailed, they will be able to confirm if the vehicle was actually serviced there (in many cases). A common scam is to print fake service history logs using real garage details – this is the easiest way to avoid this ruse.
Can I view the Digital Service History myself?
In some cases, yes. You can request a copy of a vehicle’s Digital Service History – for example, Mercedes Benz allow anyone to fill out a form and request it, although you will need to note down your reason(s) as to why you are requesting it (for example: “I am interested in buying this vehicle“).
However note that this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and if you can’t get access to it by requesting it from them, the only person who will be able to, is the seller.
Note that most sellers – both trade and private – will show you the service history logs if requested. By law, it’s a requirement for trade sellers to advertise basic service history to you. Some of the common abbreviations that you may see, are:
- FDSH – Full Dealer Service History (sometimes called Main Dealer Service History / MDSH). This is when the vehicle has always been serviced by the manufacturer. A “Main Dealer” for example will be a Vauxhall dealer, possibly where the car was bought from, when brand new. FDSH is the best option, but you will pay a premium for the privilege.
- FSH – Full Service History. This is almost equally as good; it’s applicable only when the vehicle has a full service history, i.e. none have been missed or failed.
- PSH – Part Service History. This is when the vehicle’s owner has fulfiled only part of their service obligations. In other words, they have either lost the service logs or they have not had the vehicle serviced themselves.
Should you buy a vehicle with no service history?
There is no requirement in UK law to sell a vehicle with some/full service history. You could for example sell a 30 year old car without ANY services and it would be legally possible to do this. However, you’d have to go into it knowing what to expect and be very careful!
When it comes to buying & selling cars, it’s worth making some generalisations. It pays to know the difference between a good seller and a poor seller. A good seller will keep most receipts for larger purchases made for the vehicle. They will also keep the vehicle fully insured, MOT’d and taxed. They will service the vehicle when required and not overrun the service intervals. Verify if the seller is a good or poor seller by using our free car check service here.
How much can I save by buying a car without Full Service History?
As per the Telegraph article here from a few years ago, according to their research: a vehicle *without* Full Service History (FSH), i.e. only partial, will sell for around -23% less, than the equivalent vehicle with full dealer service history.
If you’re seriously considering buying a vehicle with only partial service history then be sure to take this into account. Be ready to haggle with the seller. Vehicle values are seriously dented by missed services, so get negotiating.
What about Main Dealer Service History? Does that make a difference?
Generally, the difference between Main Dealer and Full Service History in terms of purchase price is minimal. It’s really just a personal preference, although research shows that as long as there’s a Full service history with the vehicle (and it’s genuine), then that’s without doubt the best way to buy or sell a vehicle privately.
Be wary of cars being sold by a “competent mechanic” (but with minimal service history). This is often a ruse and you have no way of knowing how competent or incompetent they are.
Is there such a thing as a ‘Full Service History Check’?
Not really. There is no such thing as a service history check from us or any other provider… although you can run most of the above checks yourself in a few minutes. If you want to check for things like: outstanding vehicle finance, import/export status then make sure to run a vehicle check with us here.
Summary: Be sure to check the mileage history, the garage/mechanic details, and the type of service. Run your own checks on each of them. Of course this may involve some lengthy legwork if the vehicle is older, but these due diligence checks are definitely worth your time now. The worst case scenario is that you get scammed into buying a complete dud.