Mechanic inspecting underside of car on a lift.

So when you're buying a car, what's one of the first things you check? Well, first, you make sure it's got the requisite amount of wheels, an engine - and, if you're really flash - brakes. Then, when you really get into it, you want to make sure it's got a full service history. This tells you that the previous owner or owners have taken good care of the car. A full, main dealer service history can increase the value of a used car by as much as 23%, according to research carried out by Kiwk Fit.

The document itself, typically emblazoned with manufacturer's logos and holograms, is a seal of approval, listing all the work and maintenance carried out on the car over its lifetime. For many, the service history (or lack thereof) is a deal breaker. There are two types of service history, really; main dealer history and the other kind.

A main dealer history means that all work has been carried out by the main dealer or approved franchises, essentially guaranteeing that the work is of a certain standard. The other kind is just a list of jobs at independent garages, fine as a record but no guarantee of the standard of work carried out.

But beware, service histories might not be worth the paper they're written on. Imagine for a second that some unscrupulous sorts have got hold of official main dealer service history books and are flogging them on well-known online auction sites.

And it doesn't even need to be a legitimate service book. In May 2019, a Cornwall man was found guilty of fraud after he was caught selling counterfeit service books he'd created himself. The fakes were so convincing that Trading Standards were brought in to investigate.

Imagine that the next time you pay a premium for a car with a service history, the document you take home and put somewhere safe was actually fabricated.

All it takes is a few blank service books to find their way out of the dealer shop and into the wrong hands... Because we don't want to promote this sort of thing, we're not going to link to them, but it's alarmingly easy to find vendors of hooky histories online. And because we don't want to invite legal action (or an angry visit from any of these vendors), we're not going to name names but rest assured, if you look hard enough and ask nicely enough, you'll be able to get pretty much any manufacturer's service history you want. So now we know that dodgy histories can be made and sold with relative ease, but how do you know whether yours is the real deal or not?

How to spot a fake service history in 8 easy steps:

  • * Check the ink. Like the paint on your first Ford Fiesta, ink fades. This is natural. The early stamps in the service books should be lighter in comparison to the recent ones. If they're not, it's possible that these stamps have all been added around the same time. A sure sign of a fake.
  • * Phone the manufacturers. Since 2011, a number of manufacturers have been keeping a central database of services carried out, mainly in a bid to cut the number of fake histories swamping the market. It's always worth checking with them whether they've serviced the car you're thinking of buying.
  • * Check the garages listed. Fraudsters often make up their own stamps, and to avoid an angry visit from a local mechanic with a reputation to protect, they'll create fictional garages. (how often do you check that the garage actually exists?). A quick Google will tell you whether A) the garage exists and B) whether they're an authorised main dealer.
  • * No receipts. When you pay for something expensive, say a head gasket or a clutch, you tend to keep the receipts. Especially if you want to sell the thing, you're repairing. It's plausible that receipts get chucked out, but no receipts at all, even for recent work. Hmmm.
  • * Unusual movements. Do you get your car serviced locally, or do you drive to the other end of the country to do it? If the garages listed in the service book are nowhere near the owner's addresses in the logbook, ask yourself why.
  • * Suspiciously low mileage. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If the mileage in the service books seems low, even if it corresponds to the clock, proceed with caution. A good way to gauge the legitimacy of the mileage of the car is to inspect the steering wheel and doors. A car with worn-out patches anywhere around where the driver sits should have a high-ish mileage.
  • * New pedal rubbers. Do you know anyone that regularly replaces the rubbers on their pedals? People who really love their car might do it, but I've never known a car dealer to care that much about the state of the pedals unless they're trying to cover up wear and tear that would otherwise give away the car's true mileage.
  • * Check the handwriting in the job list. Even if the fraudster has attempted to alter their writing style to make it look like different people were filling out the book, we bet they weren't smart enough to alter the way they held the pen and, therefore, the pressure they put on the page. If all of the writing is roughly the same strength, it could be dodgy.