What is service history?
Service history is a comprehensive record of a particular car's completed maintenance. It acts as evidence documenting if the car has or hasn't been maintained as per the manufacturer's recommended service requirements.
Usually, a car needs to be serviced every year, or every other year, or by a certain mileage - whichever comes first. Normally this is for engine servicing. For additional items such as brake fluid changes, these can be every two years and sometimes not be due at the same time as a regular engine service.
Again, it all depends on the time frames as set by the manufacturer's handbook.
How important is service history?
In short, service history on a car is very important. A service history proves in essence how well a car has been kept at the very minimal. If a car has been maintained properly, it's far less likely to suffer any mechanical problems in the long run.
For example, if you were looking for a used car and found two identical examples, one with a full service history, and one with missing history, which one would you choose?
Logic states you'd opt for the car with a full history, as it would've been maintained properly, whereas the one with missing history runs the risk of encountering potential problems due to poor maintenance, especially with the engine, if servicing has been missed.
What's a full service history?
A full service history is a record of a car's routine maintenance recommended by the manufacturer. If a car has a record showing each service interval has been met, without being late, then that car has a full service history.
Sometimes cars can have part history. This is when some servicing has been done to the car, but some scheduled servicing has been missed.
A full dealership service history is sought after when buying a used car. For example, if you were looking to buy a used Ford Focus RS, a full Ford dealership service history (always serviced at Evans Halshaw Ford for example) is seen as a great selling point, as it would've been serviced by fully-trained technicians who specialise in Ford cars, as opposed to just a generic garage.
How to check service history
Usually, older cars will have a service book or books which have stamps in showcasing when they were serviced. Some owners will also keep receipts as a back up. Dealers have databases that can check if those services were actually carried out too, as sometimes fake stamps can be used by untrustworthy garages or owners.
Some manufacturers have got rid of books altogether. For example, in many used BMW models after 2014, the service history can be viewed on the car's iDrive infotainment screen. This is often shown when you look at a used BMW advert in one of the photos, which proves how the car has been looked after mechanically, and can also help market the car too.
How to maintain a service history
Being prepared is key in keeping a car's service history perfect.
Usually with every new car, the dealer will explain when it needs servicing and will usually contact you a month or so before to book your car in.
Servicing usually consists of things such as oil, filters, and spark plugs. Brakes tend to need looking at depending on mileage, whereas brake fluid is usually every two years.
Most cars from the modern era give you a warning on the dashboard when a service is due, so the best thing is to not ignore these helpful indicators and keep on top of your servicing. In the long run, a well maintained car is far less likely to give you any mechanical problems.
So, why is it important to keep an up-to-date service history?
The simple answer is value. A car that has been looked after and features a full service history will always command more when it's time to sell.
This is especially the case with older cars as they'll more than likely have no warranty left, so purchasing a car with a patchy history is far more likely to breakdown due to lack of maintenance, than a car which has been maintained properly.
This of course is not to say that if you make sure all your car's servicing is done on time you'll never have any mechanical issues, but the chance of encountering a problem is greatly reduced.