If you're interested in buying a used car, you're probably curious about its maintenance history. Was the previous owner obsessive about making sure every detail of the car was perfect? Or did an earlier driver neglect the maintenance and keep the car going as cheaply as possible? To find out, you might be tempted to call a dealer and ask for maintenance records, but this isn't always as easy as it seems, as we explain below.

Do You Need Maintenance Records?

Before we cover how to go about getting maintenance records, we think we should address whether you really need them. For many drivers, the answer to this question is no. A lot of people don't care to see receipts for maintenance and repairs, especially for an older used car that isn't worth too much. A lot of drivers also prefer a mechanical inspection to checking records, since a mechanic's word is often a lot more important to shoppers than making sure the car has had oil changes performed at recommended intervals.

But some car shoppers will want to see the records, and on certain cars (especially high-end models), many drivers will expect them to be included in the sale. So what do you do if you want to see a car's maintenance history and the seller doesn't have any records?

Call the Dealer

Our first suggestion is to call an authorized dealership for the brand of car you're considering and politely explain your situation. If the dealer provides the records, they probably won't charge you, so you should make sure to be appreciative.

In some cases, the dealership will not want to release the maintenance records. The reason for this is privacy; maintenance records often contain addresses, phone numbers and credit card information of the car's previous owners. If the dealer tells you that it won't release the records, you should try another dealer. You don't have to go to your local dealer or even the dealer where the car has been serviced. Any authorized dealership should have access to a car's maintenance records.

If several dealers hassle you about privacy concerns, you may want to visit a local dealer and request the records in person. There, you can ask the dealer to print the records and cross out the previous owner's personal information using thick marker. While this may sway some dealerships, others still may not provide the records, and in that case, you may just have to give up.

Will Dealers Have All the Records?

If you can't get the records from a dealer, don't be too disappointed. If a car is ever serviced at an independent mechanic or if it's had an oil change at a corner store, that record won't show up in the dealer's database. As a result, the dealer might not have the most complete records on a car, so fighting hard for a car's service history might not be worth your time.

Still, we understand the reason why you might want a car's service records, and we think most dealers will feel the same way, if you ask nicely and explain that you're buying a used car. But don't think that your mechanical worries are over once you have the records: We still recommend that buyers get a thorough mechanical inspection on nearly all used cars and trucks.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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