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
Aug 30, 2019

When buying a second-hand car, it can offer real peace of mind to know that the vehicle you’re getting has been looked after properly and correctly maintained. A full service history - often abbreviated to FSH - shows that the vehicle has received all the relevant service checks and maintenance at the right times to prevent any problems arising.

As an owner, maintaining a full service history for your car can also make it much easier to sell on - and you may be able to sell the car for a higher price - especially if you choose to sell your car privately. This is even more true for high-value or sporty models. That's because a thorough record of servicing shows that the car has been looked after, with oil changes carried out on time and parts that have a limited lifespan being replaced before they become unreliable.

All this means that a car with a full service history is likely to experience fewer issues than one with no record of servicing that may or may not have had parts changed before they've worn out and start to cause problems. There's never any guarantee that even a brand new car will be reliable, but a full service record is a good indication that the previous owner or owners have looked after the vehicle.

Many car manufacturers offer fixed-price servicing packages when you purchase a brand new car that can help make maintaining a full service history more cost effective. If you opt for one of these deals, you can pay an up-front fee for all servicing for a set period of time - usually three to five years - or make a set monthly payment to cover the servicing cost.

Be aware, though, that as with many warranties, you may have to pay for certain consumables - wear and tear items like tyres and windscren wipers - often it’s only the basic service cost that’s covered. Even so, a number of service packs cost less than the total cost of the individual services if you paid for them at the time.

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 dealer 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 dealer 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 with a car you're considering buying, you should be able to get a print out of this to confirm exactly which 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 everything.

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 (ie 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 are able to 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, for instance.


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