Check a car’s service history

Find out about the car's maintenance history before you buy
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One often hears that you should never buy a used car without having its service history. But just how important is the service history of a car? Should shoppers automatically walk away from the purchase of a car, simply because the service records are incomplete or missing altogether? What are the possible consequences of buying a vehicle which hasn’t undergone the proper maintenance services? Here at CARFAX, we take a look at these questions and explain the importance of the service history of a car, as well as where you can find the complete history of service records.

What kind of service records are there?

The service history of a car consists of any maintenance work done on a vehicle, regardless of the frequency, difficulty, or cost. Perhaps the most common maintenance performed on a vehicle is to regularly change the oil. Other typically quick and common forms of maintenance are the replacement of cabin and engine air filters, windshield wipers, and batteries. These are all typically quick, easy ways to maintain a vehicle.

Some more forms of maintenance which should not be neglected include changing spark plugs. If the spark plugs are covered in a buildup or simply worn out, the engine will not operate efficiently. This means extra fuel costs, and can lead to a breakdown in the future. It’s also important to ensure the tires are balanced and rotated. Having the car properly aligned also prevents the need to replace all four tires at once (which can be very expensive) due to uneven wear.

But there are some records in the service history of a car which are more critical to look out for. For example, many vehicles require that the timing belt be changed every 100,000-120,000 kilometers. This service can be an expensive, and failing to perform it can result in the belt snapping. When a timing or serpentine belt fails, your car will break down wherever it is, and there is a risk that other significant parts will be damaged due to the failure. A snapped timing belt can also lead to an engine replacement being necessary, which increases the costs of repair significantly.

Without having the service history of a car, it’s very difficult to know if and when this maintenance has been performed.

Service history represents good ownership

One of the greatest benefits of buying a vehicle which includes with the service history, is the peace of mind it brings with it. Owners who took the time, and spent the money, to regularly maintain their vehicle often tend to have taken better care of the vehicle in general.

If the previous owner kept all the service and maintenance receipts, one could assume they drove the car with pride and wanted to ensure it was in the best technical condition possible.

This is usually seen as a plus for used car shoppers, as it is preferable to buy a vehicle which was driven with love, rather than abuse. While a stack of service records doesn’t automatically mean the vehicle is in perfect condition, it is still a good sign.

What about vehicles with no service records?

Used cars shoppers will learn quickly that the previous owner doesn’t always keep the service history of a car. If the owner of the vehicle you’re interested in doesn’t have the records available, this doesn’t necessarily equal a red flag for the vehicle. Some owners perform the regular maintenance, but aren’t the type to keep records. Or sometimes the owner simply lost them (e.g. during a move, accidentally thrown away, etc.).

Just because the previous owner cannot provide them to you directly, it doesn’t mean the service history doesn’t still exist. If the vehicle was serviced by an official manufacturer or franchised dealership, records are maintained in their computer system. It is often easy enough to obtain them from the dealership directly.

It may be possible that the vehicle simply wasn’t properly serviced. These vehicles carry a much higher risk. Buyers should be aware that problems can, and often do, arise when a vehicle has no service history. Accidents can occur due to an unforeseen mechanical failure. Hefty repair bills can come suddenly and without warning. For these reasons and more, it’s very important to find out if the vehicle has been properly maintained.

Thankfully, there is another, easier way to find out the service history of a car.

Check the service history on the CARFAX Report

The CARFAX Vehicle History Report contains all reported service and maintenance records over the course of a vehicle’s lifetime. The records are displayed in a clear, easy to read format which details the date and location of the maintenance, as well as which service was performed. Additionally, in many cases, the mileage at the time of the service is recorded as well, giving potential buyers a deeper look into the vehicle’s past.

The service history of a car should show most of the above mentioned maintenance types. Some of these can be performed at home by adept owners, but others are more commonly performed by a service / repair shop.

It is important to note that the service history of a car is only one element to consider when buying a used vehicle. While service records are helpful in learning about a vehicle’s past, it’s important to learn as much about a vehicle before you buy it.

In addition to the service history, CARFAX’s Vehicle History Report offers used car buyers a lot more useful information, including:

If you are a used car seller, and you have lost – or never had – the service history of your car, showing the CARFAX Report to potential buyers demonstrates that you have nothing to hide about your car. This builds trust in a situation where the customer could potentially walk away from the sale.

Our ever-growing database has over 14 billion records from sources around the globe. Learning about the service history of a car and much more can help you avoid buying a vehicle with costly hidden problems. Check the CARFAX before you buy!

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