Car Mechanics (UK)

Peter Simpson column


Modern cars need service histories, but there are sometimes ways a missing one can be found…

 These days, with cars becoming more and more complex and technology-laden, having the right service history matters more than ever before. Once ‘FSH’ was a nice thing to have. Now, though, an unhistorie­d car is not only worth considerab­ly less, it might be difficult to shift at any price.

This isn’t really surprising. Besides providing proof that a car has been looked-after by previous owners, documented history shows when important major/expensive jobs such as timing belt changes were done – stuff that buyers really do need to know. Otherwise, the only safe option is to do the job(s) anyway, and pay for job(s) that might not have been needed.

Sometimes, though, despite its importance, history isn’t always passed on when a car is sold to a new owner. That needn’t, though, be the end of it.

I stress, however, that none of what follows is guaranteed – so please don’t go out and buy unhistorie­d cars willy-nilly.

If, though, a car has low ownership and looks to have been well-maintained – in other words if it’s a car which looks like it SHOULD have a history, then you’re in with a chance.

As an example, I recently bought a 2012 Skoda Octavia Greenline 1.6 TDI with 135,000 miles on the clock. It came from an organisati­on who never supply histories. I’ve no idea why, as their cars are always well looked-after, but that’s their policy, and I’m sure they have their reasons.

Anyway, the Octavia was typical; no written history but almost-new discs and pads all round, along with newish tyres – good ones too! It had, however, been standing around a fair bit; I’m guessing its disposal was delayed due to COVID as the MOT had expired four months before it was actually sold.

Oh, and the DPF light was on. Thankfully, though, this cleared easily; all I had to do was initiate an active regenerati­on by driving at 3000rpm on the way to the test station. The light went out after six miles to indicate a successful ‘regen’, and the car then went straight through a test with just one advisory, for a slightly damaged front numberplat­e.

Mark, the tester, also confirmed that it appeared to have been looked-after. So clearly, there must be history somewhere, but how on earth to find it? Normally in cases like this your first port of call would be the previous owner, but in this case I knew that wouldn’t work; I’ve asked before and they’ve said no before!

So a different approach was needed. The key, clearly, was finding out where the car had been maintained. Fortunatel­y, there’s an easily-accessible clue that anyone who actually owns a car can use; the online MOT history. While the open history that’s viewable by anyone contains only test dates and results, by keying in the V5C reference you can also see where a car was tested. I tried this – and it revealed something very interestin­g! All tests prior to mine had been carried out by two Skoda main dealers; all but one by the dealership in Sunderland, the other by the dealer in Leeds.

So, if a main dealer had MOT’D my Skoda throughout its life, that sort-of suggested they might have serviced it too...

The next stage was to send polite messages to both dealership­s, asking if they held any history, and mentioning that I was specifical­ly interested in knowing whether the timing belt had been changed – which I was. I also offered to pay a ‘reasonable charge’ if necessary. Courtesy is key here; remember you’re asking a commercial operation to spend time doing something they won’t actually earn anything from.

Not all dealership­s will do it, and there’s no point in trying to push it if they ignore you or say no. However, service reception staff are trained and expected to be customer-friendly, and many will therefore instinctiv­ely want to help if they can.

Great customer services

Which is what happened to me. In fact, Pullman Skoda in Sunderland even phoned to confirm that they had serviced my car, but only until 2018. The lady I spoke to could, though, see from her records that it had been maintained by another dealership after that – and yes, they had changed the timing belt in July 2019 at 113,000 miles.

Yippee! She also agreed to email a copy of the printout which she did. Later that day D M Keith Skoda in Leeds emailed to confirm the timing belt renewal.

But what if the dealership in question can’t or won’t help? All may still not be lost. These days, most franchised dealer networks keep service records centrally – that’s why Pullman in Sunderland knew my car had been to D M Keith after they’d last seen it. The idea is that when a car ‘moves’, the dealership covering the new owner’s location will know what’s been done so far.

So try your local dealer. In fact, if you already have a ‘relationsh­ip’ with them – through ordering parts for example – it might even be easier to go there first. They might also help if they sense that you, as a new owner might decide to carry on with main dealer servicing, and buying something like a set of genuine floor mats while you’re there might also smooth the waters. I’ve actually done this several times. As I say, it doesn’t always work, and there have been times when I’ve had to admit defeat. But these days it is often possible to piece together a history, and it’s worth investing an hour or two in trying.

At the end of the day, as a retail buyer, I probably wouldn’t have bought this particular car without the history. As I don’t sell cars I wouldn’t buy, this one would probably have gone to auction. With the history, however, and especially with the proof of a recent belt change, it’s a totally different car.

Henry Ford once, its claimed, said

“History’s Bunk.”these days, as far as cars are concerned, it’s anything but.

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