A car's service history: what is it really worth?

Visiting a dealership

Dealers should provide ‘clear and accurate info’

We hit the showrooms to find out when ‘full service history’ is not all it seems and whether dealers play fair over it

To discover how lightly a full service history is treated, I visited a used car dealer and a franchise dealer in search of a couple of used cars out of warranty. I hoped they’d have poor service histories and wondered how the sales staff would handle the situation. 

At the used car dealer, I quickly identified my target motor: a 2011- reg Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI S line with 135,000 miles, priced at £4395. The salesman produced its service book, which showed only four services had been carried out: one at 21,000 miles in 2012, another at 44,000 miles at the end of the same year and a third in 2013 at 67,000 miles, all by Audi dealers, and then nothing until early 2019 when, at 130,000 miles, it was serviced by an independent garage. 

Unfazed by this revelation, the salesman said he had the previous owner’s word that the car had been serviced regularly during the intervening six years and 63,000 miles. So that was all right then… 

I left, pondering the meaning of service history. The Audi had some but by no means could it be described as full. In any case, I wondered, what is full service history? Is it an unbroken line of services performed every year or 12,000 miles, or at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals? Is it full only when all the minor and major services have been carried out, in addition to other periodic work? If that was the case, you’d have to scrutinise all the workshop invoices to find out exactly what was done. Amazingly, some dealers do, which is why they put a higher value on full invoice history as distinct from full service history. 

On that point, a friend recently had his 2016-reg Volkswagen Scirocco TDI, which had done 33,000 miles, serviced at a VW dealership. It was due a major service, but because he’s planning to sell it in February 2020, he opted for a minor. In doing so, his vehicle missed, among other things, a change of air, fuel and pollen filters, and a thorough, wheels-off brake check. 

Not that the car’s next owner will know. They will see from the service book that the Scirocco has a full service history, yet on one occasion, it had a minor service when it should have had a major. 

Webuyanycar.com is one company that takes service history rather more seriously. It defines a full one as conforming to the manufacturer’s schedule. It also advises that car buyers find out what service the car is due to have next since, if it’s a major, for example, it could be expensive. 

From the dealer with the Audi A3, I popped into a franchise dealer, a Renault agent. My attention was caught by a Captur Dynamique S Nav TCe, a 2015-reg model that had done 35,000 miles and was priced at £8295. 

The salesman agreed that service history was important and recounted a story concerning one of his customers who, on the day he was due to collect his new Renault, handed over the service book for his part-exchange, a four-year-old Vauxhall Zafira

“It had no service stamps in it,” said the salesman. “I couldn’t give him what I’d offered for his car, and when I told the trader who had agreed to buy it that it had no service history, he reduced his offer by £1750. My customer ended up selling his Zafira to a car buying company for £1000 less than I’d originally offered him.” 

He now entered the Captur’s details on Renault’s ICM online workshop database, intending to show me its service history. It recorded the car as having its PDI (pre-delivery inspection) in August 2015 – and then nothing. 

He hurried off in search of the car’s service book. When he eventually returned, it showed the car had been serviced just twice, at 22,000 and 26,000 miles, both services carried out by an independent garage in 2018. There were no invoices to show what work had been done. 

“They’ll probably have been oil changes,” said the salesman. “In any case, the Captur can go for 40,000 miles without one.” 

In fact, the model’s oil change interval is 18,000 miles or two years. 

I asked the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) what it thinks about dealers glossing over the fine detail of service histories in this way. Sue Robinson, its director, said: “It is essential that franchised retailers provide their customers with clear and accurate information about the service history of a vehicle. Transparency and integrity are vital to our sector.” 

Was the motor trader that the Renault salesman mentioned right to penalise the four-year-old Zafira without service history to the tune of £1750? Derren Martin, head of valuations at Cap HPI, says the cost of having no service history depends on factors including current vehicle supply and demand, the make of the car and whether it’s still in warranty. 

“It’s a complex picture,” he said. “At the moment, the supply of used cars is high but demand is low, so anything less than perfect – for example, a car with little or no service history – has to be priced to sell. 

“In a normal period, the cost of no service history is about £500 on a £10,000 car. It’s more serious on prestige and performance cars, where buyers expect to see a full service history.” 

Meanwhile, on lower-value vehicles, it seems that, for some dealers, service history is something to be taken very seriously when buying a car but less so when selling it. To avoid trouble later down the road, when you’re next buying a car, don’t let full service history become fool’s service history.

Digital records

If you’re lucky, the used car you’re considering buying may come with a service book. Assuming it’s not a forgery or taken from the glovebox of another car, it should contain official service stamps, dated and with mileage readings. 

However, things are changing. More car makers are adopting electronic or digital service histories stored remotely from the car but able to be accessed by the owner when necessary. 

I discovered this when I visited a BMW dealer in search of an approved used BMW with a poor service history or even no service book. As it turned out, the service history was full, but of a service book there was no sign. 

Instead, the salesman simply inserted the ignition key into the car – a 2015-reg 318d M Sport with 35,000 miles and a screen price of £14,995 – and in a flash up popped its service history on the dashboard screen, complete with details of the types of services carried out. 

The system isn’t exclusive to BMW dealers, but an independent garage wishing to access it must buy the necessary diagnostic software and pay a charge each time it updates it with a service. Only services carried out by BMW dealers or independents with the approved software and an account with BMW are recorded in this way. 

Read more

Buying a second-hand car? Check out our used buying guides

Failure is an option: what changes in the MOT test have meant for drivers

A quick check-up: Servicing the McLaren F1​

Source: Autocar

Leave a Reply