It's highly recommended to check the service history of a used car.
It will tell you if there’s any finance owing on it, whether it’s been reported as stolen, if the odometer might not be accurate and any other dealbreakers you should be aware of before buying.
The used car market is largely buyer beware, meaning you as the buyer take on the responsibility of checking the used car and ensure that everything’s up to scratch.
Read our guide to find out how to check the service history of the car you want to buy and make sure you're not buying a lemon.
How to find a car’s service history
If the car still has finance owing on it, the seller probably shouldn’t be selling it, especially not without letting you know first. This doesn’t mean they won’t try. Checking for outstanding finance through a Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) check is one part of a car history check and looking at its service history is the other.
- Free REVS check: This only shows whether there is any finance owing on the car. See our step-by-step guide to find out how you can do a free search. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can pay a nominal fee to have an agency do it for you as part of a full service history check.
- Free service history check: This will reveal the car’s service history, specifically where it has been repaired and what work has been done. You can check it for free, but this will only show you when a vehicle has been repaired at a National Vehicle Security Register (NVSR) workshop. If it comes up clean, it might simply mean that it’s been repaired elsewhere.
As such, the easiest and most secure option is generally to pay an agency to do a full check for you before buying. Some agencies will charge a one-off fee, while others will offer a car history check, and other services, as part of a subscription package.
What does a car’s service history look like?
A car’s service history can show:
- REVS check results
- Whether the car has been listed as stolen
- Whether the car has been previously written off as a result of damage
- Whether the odometer reading is accurate, or whether it may have been wound back
- 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:
|Date||Odometer reading||Work done|
|15 September 2013||60,000km||Full inspection, oil changed, tires rotated|
|1 January 2014||65,000km||Car registration changed from QLD to NSW|
|2 January 2014||65,001km||Full inspection, replaced drive belt|
You can also get added services, such as a valuation of the car, included in the car history check. Considering that the vast majority of Australians loathe the idea of haggling for a car, getting the full history is a wise move.
Red flags to look out for
Some things should be considered a deal-breaker, or should at least warrant an enormous price reduction:
- 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.
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