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The Importance Of A Service History

We’re always told never to buy a car without a service history, but just how much difference does it really make? Should you automatically discount the purchase of a used car just because its service history is missing or incomplete? And what difference does it make if the car has been serviced by an independent specialist rather than a franchised dealer?
Without a service history there’s always the possibility that a car has been clocked or that important components haven’t been replaced as part of the service schedule. Any history is therefore important, but as a car gets older and its value drops, the history makes less and less of a difference, unless it’s a prestige or luxury model.

Buyers will always gravitate towards a car with history as it provides peace of mind, but the age and brand of a car can make a significant difference. Prestige models would prove very difficult to move on without history but as they get older, typically over eight years, condition becomes the main consideration. Budget cars are bought on price and condition, so the service history acts more as a selling feature than adding any additional value.
Scott Willis is sales director of Arnold Clark. He observes: “A lack of history simply means that the general condition of the car needs to be examined that bit more carefully and can make a small difference to the price paid.  A service history is only one consideration, along with the vehicle’s cosmetic and mechanical condition, so the service history alone is significant but not crucial”.
No surprises there then; a car with a service history is often more saleable and more valuable than one without. But who does the work is also important; there are numerous franchised dealers vying for your business, as well as independent specialists. Predictably, official dealers reckon you should stick with them.
John Bentley of the Startins Motor Group comments: “Any warranty or recall work has to be undertaken by an official dealer, plus we use only genuine parts and factory-trained technicians, which isn’t always true of the independents. Importantly, some independent specialists keep their costs down by using cheaper pattern parts, which might not be as durable as the genuine article”.
Unsurprisingly, Peter Thorpe of Telford-based BMW specialist AutoTech doesn’t agree. He says: “Many independent specialists like us are staffed by factory-trained technicians who use only genuine parts – which might be in unofficial packaging. Our prices are lower, the service more personal and we’ve got the same diagnostic equipment as the main dealers, so we can do the same work. That equipment cost £10,000 though, so it wouldn’t make sense for a general workshop to buy it, which is why using a marque specialist is essential for maintaining a modern car”.
Thorpe adds: “It’s always worth getting a quote from an independent specialist, but you need to ask what parts they’ll be using and who will be working on your car. We service a lot of brand new cars and save their owners a fortune in the process. I’ve just done a first service on a 5-Series for £114 instead of the £318 that the main dealer wanted. For what’s basically an oil and filter change that’s a lot of money. Our labour is cheaper and our oil is seven quid a litre instead of eighteen, yet it’s the same oil.”
It would be fair to assume that if you’ve invested in a main dealer service history, your car will be worth more when you come to sell it. According to John Bentley you’d be right: “We’d definitely pay less for a car that hasn’t been serviced by a franchised dealer, although the difference is less marked as the car gets older. If we were looking at a three-year old Honda Accord for example, we’d offer up to £500 less for it as a trade-in”.
This isn’t a universally held view though. According to trade valuation guides, as long as the car has been serviced to the manufacturer’s schedule there should be no difference in its value. However, it’s more desirable to have a franchised dealer history, particularly with prestige or executive cars, and these would be considered ahead of those with a non-franchised history.
What can really make a big difference to a car’s value is a missing history. A three-year old BMW 5-Series or Mercedes E-Class could be worth up to around ten per cent less without the necessary paperwork – that’s around £1500-£2000. For something like a three-year old Focus or Astra you could expect to lose more like £500-£700. Once these cars reach 8-10 years of age or more though, condition becomes the main consideration.
But just because you lose your car’s service history, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Most manufacturers can replace a service book as long as the car has been maintained by a franchised dealer – everything is logged on computer. Complications are rare; you’ll need to prove that you own the car, the book may be marked as a duplicate and it may be that the service records don’t go back to when the car was new, but piecing everything together is usually possible – as long as it’s been maintained by an official outlet.
Richard Dredge
August 2015