How Important is a Car’s Service History?

Four folders stacked on top of each other
Of all the things that serious car investors consider when buying a classic, many would conclude that a fully documented history is one of the most important aspects. But just how vital is it, and what can you do if your car has some gaps in its paperwork?

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Why document a car’s history?

Nowadays online records help prospective buyers immensely, but documentation from earlier years provides a more complete timeline and shows exactly how the car has been treated since day one.

Those little niggles that were ignored 20,000 miles ago could well become a huge problem for the next owner, so it’s no wonder purchasers are so demanding when it comes to service stamps, invoices and receipts.

Once your car becomes a serious investment opportunity it’s even more likely that the buyer will be scrutinising the finer details, and you need to have the evidence to prove that your pride and joy has lived a pampered life.

What documentation should you keep?

A service book full of main-dealer stamps and a ring-binder full of receipts is the Holy Grail, but even if you service your car yourself you should always keep documentation relating to work done on your vehicle.

Parts receipts, photos, even hand-written notes will all help you when it comes to selling.

How to uncover missing documents

But what if you’ve already bought a car with some details missing? Don’t panic, there are a few things you can try to help bolster your documentation, and ultimately add value to your vehicle.

We were speaking to used car specialist Quentin Wilson at an event recently (of Top Gear and Fifth Gear fame), and he provided a simple yet brilliant solution to this common problem if you’re in the UK. The DVLA provide a service which allows you to find the names and addresses of all the previous owners of your vehicle, and it will only cost you a fiver.

Admittedly this could go one of two ways; you may not be able to get hold of the previous owner or you may be completely ignored, but ultimately there’s nothing to lose (other than the fiver!) and it has the potential to be an absolute goldmine for uncovering paperwork.

Write to the previous owners and see if they have any documentation that can be sent to you, and even if they don’t have copies of the receipts any more they could point you in the direction of the garage they used to use, who in turn may have computerised records of the work carried out.

You never know what you might uncover, and anything that fills your ring-binder will be of great help when you come to sell. Even if the only information you have is the main dealer your car was initially sold by, or the name of a garage from a subsequent resale, write to them and see what you can dig up!

If that fails then another route is through online owner clubs. There’s a wealth of information out there, and if there’s an online community dedicated to your car then there’s a chance that someone knows the car. Post your plate on the forum and see what you can find out.


So there we have it. It may take some perseverance, but anything that can add a considerable mark-up to your sale is definitely worth trying.

And if you’re in the market for buying a classic? Make sure you get all the documentation and information you can out of the previous owner, and be sure to check online (the DVLA MOT service if you’re in the UK) for more recent issues that may not have been dealt with.

It will definitely give you an ace up your sleeve when negotiating price with the seller.

Good luck, and enjoy the hunt!

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