A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Your Car's Service History

Published on 4 Apr, 2024, 9:35 AM IST
Updated on 7 May, 2024, 10:57 AM IST

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Buying a used car is always a tricky affair. Without proper background checks, you may end up with a vehicle that gives you more headaches than it's worth. The car's service history is one of the most important things to verify before purchase. In this complete guide, we will cover everything you need to know about making sense of service histories to buy a reliable pre-owned car.

Car's Service History

Significance of Car's Service History

A full car service history gives insight into how well the previous owner maintained the vehicle. It documents the essential servicing and repairs done at scheduled intervals. This includes details like

  • Oil changes,

  • Fluid top-ups,

  • Filter replacements,  

  • Brake repairs,

  • Tyre rotations,

  • Safety inspections 

A complete history lets you analyse if the critical tasks were done on time. It also helps uncover gaps that may indicate neglect or hidden issues. Even a single missed oil change is a red flag for most buyers.

Overall, the service record reflects how well the car was cared for in the past. And this directly impacts its current condition and longevity down the line. With a thorough service history, you'll have peace of mind that no unreliable surprises are waiting for you.

What is Full-Service History?

An entire service history provides documentation for all the manufacturer-recommended maintenance tasks. Most automakers specify servicing timelines and checkpoints based on mileage or time intervals.

For the history to be considered complete, the records must cover:

  • Service centre details for all tasks performed

  • Exact dates for when the servicing happened 

  • Current odometer readings at the time

  • Which specific maintenance items were performed

  • Any significant repairs or component replacements  

Modern cars have over a dozen different servicing requirements during their lifespan. A complete history will have entries covering all the scheduled maintenance items across years of ownership.

Gaps in the timeline or missing details for major jobs indicate it's a partial history. This makes verifying accuracy essential before buying the car.

What is a Part Service History?

In contrast to a complete history, a part service history has incomplete or sporadic records. Usually, important servicing events are left out. 

Common examples leading to partial histories include:

  • Only oil changes and minor maintenance entries

  • Large multi-year gaps between reported servicing dates

  • No major repairs were documented despite the car's age

  • Vague descriptions that don't mention specific parts replacements

Limited records make it tricky to confirm if previous owners ignored critical servicing. The car may otherwise seem fine during a test drive but develop issues from delayed maintenance.

Overall, there needs to be more transparency and certainty with partial histories. You can still buy cars with partial records, but you should be more cautious. Get a certified mechanic's inspection done to uncover underlying problems beforehand.

Types of Car Servicing

To understand service histories better, we should first examine the different types of car servicing. Basic maintenance tasks fall into four main categories:

a. Full Service: A full service is comprehensive maintenance that covers all fluid checks, replacements, inspections, and tune-ups needed. The exact work done will vary by car model and age. However, most workshops adjust the full service based on mileage intervals recommended in owner's manuals. Expect a full service around every 10,000 miles or one year of average driving.

b. Manufacturer's Service: Also called interim service, this happens between full services based on a fixed schedule. The carmaker specifies a checklist that includes inspections, fluid top-ups, filter changes, and software updates. It helps prevent issues from cropping up before the next major round of maintenance is due.

c. Major Service: As engines accumulate mileage, internal components reach the end of life and demand replacement or rebuilding. A significant service indicates this extensive repair work was performed. This includes timing belts, gearboxes, engine overhauls, and emission control repairs after a certain number of miles are covered. Details should explicitly mention 'major service' in the records.

How do you Find a Car's Service History?

With various kinds of histories and servicing events, making sense of records can get confusing initially. Here are some pointers on locating service details:

1. Service Log

The best proof lies in the shop bills and job cards issued for each maintenance task. Cross-check dates and mileage along with work done. Scan QR codes on new digital logs to verify authenticity.

2. In-Built Data 

Modern connected cars record servicing logs internally in dashboard computer systems. Technicians can extract and translate this data into readable history reports. Reliable with manufacturer certifications but usually limited to recent years.

3. Manufacturer Data

Brands offering certified pre-owned programs tie maintenance records to the car's unique VIN code. Dealers can retrieve the history reports from this database. Covers tasks done within the authorised service network across regions.

4. Previous Owners

If all else fails, tracing records from previous owners is an option. However, documents may be lost, edited, or excluded from unauthorised servicing. Insist on proof like original repair invoices, not just vague verbal claims.

Physical documents offer the most credible proof of car history. Cross-verify multiple sources whenever possible before buying used vehicles.

Car Service Checklist

Here is a checklist of the most vital servicing items:

1. Engine Oil: Oil is like the lifeblood of your car's engine - it's essential for keeping all the meticulously engineered internal parts lubricated and running smoothly. Fresh conventional oil starts breaking down after just 5,000 miles, letting damaging metal-on-metal contact occur. Make sure the oil changes happen for synthetic blends at least this often, if not more frequently.

2. Tyres: They wear out faster than other components, needing replacement every 40,000 to 60,000 miles. Rotation helps distribute the wear evenly across sets. If rotated infrequently, you'll have to replace them quicker than expected. And alignment issues start pulling the car towards a particular side. Basically, rotation helps tyres live their best life!

3. Lights: You don't notice basic lighting until that dreadful moment a bulb blows out and critically impacts visibility or road safety. While LED lamps last practically forever, old-school fragile filaments require frequent replacements when they burn out. Or when the plastic housing cracks due to vibration and weather damage over the years.

4. Brakes: Stoppers are mission-critical, requiring periodic pad and rotor changes as they erode. Fluid flushes are also needed to avoid corrosion. The all-important brake fluid that transmits force hydraulically degrades internally from microscopic moisture contamination over 2-3 years. Get it flushed or risk a spongy pedal feel and rusted internal brake cylinder components.

5. Fluids and Coolant: Fluids and coolants are vital for transmitting power, preventing rust, and regulating operating temperatures. It requires top-ups and replacement every 2-3 years.

6. Suspension: Shock absorbers, struts, and ball joints enable a smooth and safe ride. Wear out over long distances and demand to rebuild or to replace. 

7. Car Battery: The battery powers all electronics and should last 4-5 years with proper maintenance. Check for timely replacements.

8. Wheel Alignment: Improves balance, fuel efficiency, and tyre lifespan. They are needed whenever new tyres or suspension components are installed.  

9. Charging System: For hybrid/electric cars, cables, ports, and charging components require safety checks before major failures occur.

Signs to Get Your Car Serviced

Waiting until car issues crop up leaves things too late and risks expensive repairs. Instead, it would help if you watched out for these signs it's time for scheduled maintenance:

  • Check if the engine light stays on

  • Shifting gears delays or jerkiness

  • Unusual noises when accelerating

  • Vibrations when braking or at high speeds

  • Excess exhaust smoke, including on start-ups

  • Reduced cooling system performance seen on gauge

  • A significant drop in mileage

Use the above indicators alongside consulting maintenance schedules to identify the optimal servicing timelines. This keeps your car running reliably for years longer.


Verifying service histories when buying used cars gives peace of mind about the vehicle's condition. Full histories indicate responsible maintenance, while gaps require further inspection before purchase. Beyond buying, understanding servicing types helps keep your own car's maintenance on track. Reference the checklists and warning signs to schedule timely repairs that improve longevity and performance. Properly servicing history records benefits buyers and sellers in improving resale values.

Planning to get your car serviced in Bangalore?

Visit ACKO Drive Service Centre in Bangalore for any car related services. Call us at 08655685027 for any further assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few common questions and their answers related questions on Car's Service History

Q1. Why is my car's service history important?

The service history shows if previous owners properly maintained the car. Complete records give confidence, and it won't surprise you with issues later on.

Q2. What is included in a full-service history? 

It documents all the manufacturer-recommended maintenance tasks like fluid changes, filters, and brake repairs at the specified times and mileages.

Q3. What does a partial car history mean?

Partial histories have large gaps between services or lack details on major jobs done. It makes it hard to confirm proper maintenance was followed.  

Q4. When should I get a major service for my car?

Major services involve repairs to internal components like engines, gearboxes, and belts. They happen after several years, and a lot of distance is covered.

Q5. Where can I find service records for a used car? 

Check old service invoices, extract digital logs, trace manufacturer databases using the VIN, or request records from previous owners.  

Q6. How often should I rotate my car's tyres?

Rotate tyres every 5,000-8,000 miles to distribute wear evenly across the sets for a maximum lifespan of around 40,000-60,000 miles.

Q7. When do I need to flush my brake fluids?  

Brake fluids absorb moisture over 2-3 years, which leads to corrosion. Get them flushed on schedule to maintain the brake system's health.

Q8. What signs mean my car needs servicing?

Warning signs include warning lights, vibrations, unusual noises, excess smoke and mileage changes.

Q9. How often should I change the engine oil? 

For most cars, change engine oil every 5,000-7,500 miles or 6-12 months. Shorter intervals for heavy usage.

Q10. Why verify service history before buying used cars?

It highlights well-cared-for cars that are less likely to surprise you with premature failures. It improves resale value, too, when selling later.

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