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Explained: What does “Full Service History” mean?

A full service history is a desirable trait in a used car — what but does it mean exactly, and is it worth having?

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If you’ve ever been in the market for a used car, there’s a strong chance you’ve heard the term ‘full service history’ (or commonly FSH).

This is a desirable trait in any used car, and one that used car dealers use to catch the eye of potential buyers. But what does it mean, exactly? And is it worth paying extra for a car that has a full service history?

What is a full service history?

Fairly simply, a car with an FSH is one that has been maintained at every required interval since it was built, with work carried out either by a manufacturer directly or by an approved service centre.

Basically, the car has been serviced by an official dealership on time, every time. All regular work has been undertaken, as well as major items like cambelts when they fall due.

If a car has not been serviced on time, every time, or has been taken to a non-approved garage for a service, then it would be considered to have a partial service history.

When looking at any used car, you should demand to see its service history so you can verify for yourself that the service record is complete. If a single stamp is missing or has not been done by an official dealership, it’s not a full service history.

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What makes this so important?

Having an FSH means that a car has been maintained consistently to the standards outlined by the manufacturer when it rolled off the production line, with all of the required service tasks undertaken and all of the correct procedures followed.

It means that any parts used will be from manufacturer-approved sources and will match the exact specification of the original parts taken off the car, rather than third parties which may or may not match the original ones.

With modern cars being heavily controlled by the onboard computer systems that regulate almost every aspect of the vehicle, it also means that the software is kept up to date – just like your phone or home computer.

Car manufacturers are also increasingly designing cars that require specialist tools to be able to properly service the car. Some of this is due to very tight packaging of all the different components under the bonnet in modern cars, but it’s also likely that some of it is done deliberately to try and make life harder for non-approved garages.

All this means that a car with a full service history is likely to be in the best possible shape it can be.

A full service history as shown in the service books | The Car Expert

Is it worth paying extra for a car with a full service history?

Whenever you buy a used car, you are buying a vehicle that has been used and abused by someone else and there’s no way you can be 100% sure how well it has been looked after.

However, if the car has been fully maintained by an official dealership, it’s a sign that the car is more likely to be mechanically sound. It’s certainly not a guarantee, but it’s a good start.

If a car has a problem outside its warranty period, a manufacturer is more likely to contribute to the cost of repairs if the car has a full service history. However, it’s certainly not a given that a full service history will definitely help you out and it would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

You should only consider paying extra money for a used car with a full service history if it has been done by the manufacturer official service centres. If the servicing has been done by a non-approved garage, it’s not worth any extra money – regardless of what a car salesman tells you.

How much is a full service history worth?

While it’s certainly preferable to buy a car with a full service history by the manufacturer’s official dealerships, it’s impossible to put a set value on how much extra you should pay for a car that has it. Used car valuation experts HPI suggest that it won’t make a lot difference to cheaper or older cars, but can significantly affect newer or premium models.

If a car has been fully serviced by a reputable garage that knows the model and has the required tools to undertake all the work as prescribed by the manufacturer, then the mechanical condition of the car may be every bit as good. But you have to look a bit harder to ensure this is the case, rather than relying on the manufacturer’s own service standards.

If a car has a different garage stamping the book each time, or the services have not been done on time and every time, it’s a sign that the previous owner hasn’t shown too much care and probably doesn’t look after the car in other ways.

How can I maintain a full service history?

Service intervals can vary wildly depending on car, so check your owner’s handbook for more information. Some cars have a straightforward time or mileage service schedule, while other cars have a variable schedule that depends on how the car is driven.

When buying a car, you need to understand what the servicing schedule is so that you know when your next service will be due and what your costs are likely to be. All the information will be in your owner’s handbook, so make sure you read it closely.

How can I check my car’s service history?

Every car should come with a service book, marked out with stamps denoting the date of a car’s service and how many miles were covered at the time of the work being carried out. If you’re struggling to find it, they’re often bundled in the wallet that also includes the owner’s handbook.

Traditionally, a car’s service book would be stamped at every service, with the date and mileage noted down. However, most new cars now have a ‘digital service record’, which means that the data is stored on the manufacturer’s database and the service books are not stamped.

This has come about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, customers are notorious for forgetting to take their service books with them when they take the car in for a service so it can be difficult for a dealership or garage to know what work has been done and when.

Secondly, a detailed national database means that any dealer can pull up the details of all the work your car has had at any other authorised dealership across the country, rather than just a simple stamp to say it’s had a service of some sort.

Itemised car service record | The Car Expert
A workshop should always give you a detailed invoice and breakdown of all the work undertaken on your car during a service.

You should always be given an itemised invoice whenever your car is serviced, which lists exactly what work has been done and how much each job cost. Make sure you keep this information somewhere safe so you can refer to it again later if needed and so that it’s there when you want to sell the car.

If a dealer cannot produce a car’s full service history on the spot, assume it doesn’t have one. Excuses like: “We’re getting the service centre to send us the details”, or: “You should be able to get that from the main dealer” are not acceptable and are almost certainly lies.

What does FMSH mean? Or FPSH, or FASH, etc?

Dealers will often include the brand name in the service history acronym. So ‘FMSH’ could mean ‘Full Mercedes Service History’, for example. ‘FBSH’ might mean ‘Full BMW Service History’ and ‘FASH’ could be ‘Full Audi Service history’.

Like any car jargon, if you’re not sure what something in the advertisement or service book means, always ask the seller. Don’t assume that it will all be fine.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.