Check a car’s service history

Find out about the car's maintenance history before you buy.

Car inspection

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:

  • Oil change is perhaps the most common maintenance performed on a vehicle is to regularly change the oil.

  • Cabin and air filter replacement

  • Windshield wipers replacement

  • Battery replacement

These common forms of vehicle maintenance are all typically quick and easy ways to maintain a vehicle. Other maintenance services that can put a strain on your wallet 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.

  • Wheel balance and rotation. 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:

  • Timing belt replacement. 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?

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.

It may be possible, however, 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.

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.

Check the service history on the CARFAX Report

What can you do to obtain service history of the vehicle you are interested in?

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.

There is another, easier way to find out the service history of a car. The CARFAX Vehicle History Report contains all reported service and maintenance records over the course of a vehicle’s lifetime.

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

  • Registration information

  • Technical specifications

  • Vehicle age

  • Number of owners

  • Mileage records

  • Odometer manipulation

  • Title history

  • And much more…

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!

Check in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises

Where can I find the VIN?