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How to check a car’s service history

If you're buying a used car, the service history can help make sure you get a good deal.

A car's service history can help you avoid issues and negotiate on price when you're buying a used car. This type of report includes important details about the vehicle, such as whether it's been reported as stolen or if there's an existing finance agreement. It can even help you determine if the odometer is accurate.

These details can be very valuable when you're searching for a used car, because the standards can vary a lot between private sellers and used car dealerships.

How to find a car’s service history

There are 3 main options for checking a car's service history.

  1. Ask the seller for a copy of the car's service book and any other documents on its history
  2. Conduct free finance and registration checks
  3. Pay for a full check on the vehicle if you want more information or a single, detailed report on the car

Most of the time, people will either choose between doing their own checks or paying an agency for a full report on the car.

Free and low-cost car service history checks

  • Car service book: This booklet or logbook should have details of the type of work or repairs that have been done by a registered repairer. The used car seller should be able to provide this book or a copy of the details for you to review. If you're concerned or have further questions, you could also contact the repairer listed in the service book.
  • Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) check: You can use the Australian government's PPSR to find out if there is any finance owing on the car. An online search costs around $2 and you'll get a certificate you can use as proof of the details listed at that time. Finder's PPSR guide has more details.
  • Free registration checks: You can check an car's registration through the state or territory government where it is registered. This will tell you key details about the car's registration, including when it is due to expire, if there have been any suspensions, the compulsory third party (CTP) insurance provider and policy expiry date and even previous odometer readings.

Full car service history checks

If you want a more detailed view of the car's history, you can pay an agency or organisation for a complete check of the vehicle. This typically costs less than $50 but pricing can vary depending on the service you use.

For example, Service NSW currently offers a full vehicle history report for $23, while Equifax's CarHistory has a $38.95 fee. And if you're a member of NRMA, you could get a car history report for $27 ($37 for non-members).

What does a car’s service history look like?

A car’s service history can show:

  • PPSR (formerly REVS) check results
  • If the car has been listed as stolen
  • Whether the car has been previously written off as a result of damage
  • Odometer readings
  • A log of previous repairs
  • Previous sales history and how many times the car has changed hands

For example, depending on the provider, a service history check might look like this:

DateOdometer readingWork done
15 September 202260,000kmFull inspection, oil changed, tires rotated
1 January 202365,000kmCar registration changed from QLD to NSW
2 January 202465,001kmFull inspection, replaced drive belt

You can also get added services, such as a valuation of the car, included in the car history check.

Red flags to look out for

  • Has the car been previously written off? This means that it was decided that repairs would cost more than the car is worth. If a car has been previously written off, but is now sitting before you in the hands of a salesman, there’s a good chance it has some invisible damage or very shoddy repairs.
  • Is it stolen? Buying a car from a thief is a good way to get robbed on price.
  • Has the odometer been rolled back? This is near-ironclad proof that the seller is trying to gouge you.
  • Is it poorly maintained? If the car has a poor service history then it’s a long way from good as new.

Finding out a car’s service history can reveal to you the state of the car and its current value. Getting these checks done along with following a used car buying checklist can help ensure you get value for money and help you avoid driving away with a poorly maintained, possibly stolen lemon that’s been trumped up by a shady salesman.

Picture: Shutterstock

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