It's a staple of the used car advert, an assurance that a car
has been maintained, cared for and loved with no expense spared.
But an investigation by Watch My Wallet has revealed that a full
service history may not be worth the paper it is written on. In
fact, it may be concealing a lifetime of dangerous neglect.
Fraudsters acquire genuine service books from main dealers,
including BMW, Ford and Nissan.
RAC mechanic admits creating fraudulent service histories for
his own cars.
Online scammers offer "bespoke service histories," complete
with main dealer barcodes, stamps and genuine service books.
Stamps acquired online for £25 after going missing from
BMW aware of service books being used for organised crime.
Books used to con people into buying stolen and "clocked"
A full, dealer approved service history can add hundreds,
sometimes thousands to the value of a car. Privilege Insurance
estimates that a complete, main dealer service history adds between
£1,000 and £1,500 to the value of a prestige car, such as a BMW or
Mercedes. More importantly, a service history should provide peace
of mind for rightfully wary car buyers.
But unscrupulous car dealers have
found an easy way to create fake service histories that dupe
consumers into buying potentially dangerous, poorly maintained
second hand cars, thinking they have been regularly serviced by an
approved dealer - and the dealers know it's happening.
Left: A fully stamped, but blank main dealer service
book. All we need to do is add a fictional maintenance
Missing Service Stamps
A mechanic at a BMW main agent in Scotland, who didn't wish to
be named, explained just how easy it is to create a fake service
history for any car.
"It's commonplace for stamps to go missing. In theory, the
stamps are key to the service history. You can legitimately buy a
blank book from the parts department, and write what you want in
it. That's not illegal. If you then manage to stamp up the book,
with a stamp you've "acquired" from god-knows-where, you can easily
falsify a history."
Gavin Ward, a BMW spokesman, told us.
"Anyone can buy a service book but you would have to show
relevant documentation showing you were an owner of the BMW you
were seeking the booklet for, such as a V5 and proof of
"There would not be a reason for anyone to purchase multiple
books, unless they were very careless or were the unfortunate
victim of a break-in. It's our policy not to sell service books to
people without the relevant documents."
How We Got Our Fake Service Histories
We found one Liverpool based fraudster, who introduced himself
as Steve, to enquire about made-to-order service histories. He
assured us he could get multiple service books from his main dealer
We ordered blank service books, with dealer stamps for a 2004
Ford Focus, a 2000 BMW 3 Series and a 2003 Nissan Primera. Without
regular servicing, cars of this age would be prone to a range of
potentially dangerous and expensive mechanical faults.
Left: Genuine main dealer service books, with holograms,
barcodes and other reassuring features.
The fraudster offered us a choice between completed service
books or books with stamps but no other writing. We opted for
stamped, but otherwise blank books to which we could add records of
reassuring and valuable maintenance work, such as timing belt
checks, oil filter changes and new brakes.
Within minutes we received a quote for the service books, one of
which even came with a genuine dealer barcode sticker. The BMW was
priciest, at £60, the Ford book cost £45 and the Nissan £35 plus
£10 for recorded delivery.
The whole deal was conducted via text message and
The following day, we were contacted by the seller, who asked
what mileage we wanted the service books stamped to, enabling us to
create a service history for a car that had been clocked, a
practice where the odometer is tampered with to show a lower
mileage. This also added another layer of authenticity to the
document, as a car's mileage governs how many stamps its book is
likely to have.
As well as asking for mileage, the seller asked us a series of
questions about the cars, in order to help us to create the most
authentic service history possible. He told us he had stamps from
dealerships all over the country and advised us to use stamps from
dealerships in areas where the car had been registered. This way,
our fabricated service history would match up with the history of
registered owners for that car.
Here we are writing in a history of fictional
maintenance for a BMW 3-Series into a stamped official main dealer
What is the Trade Doing to Protect the Integrity of Service
We asked BMW what they do to prevent fraudsters obtaining their
"BMW is aware that individuals involved in organised crime
do try and gain service books as a way of adding legitimacy to a
stolen vehicle," Said Gavin Ward.
"As such we are always upgrading facets of car security for
added peace of mind for BMW customers."
The value a service history adds to a car's resale value enables
dealers and their approved garages to charge a premium to service a
car. Even compared to pricey national chains such as Halfords (£235
for a major service) and Kwik Fit (£225 for MOT and most expensive
service), main dealer services are expensive. But dealers are only
now moving to protect the integrity of the service histories that
motorists rely on.
Cost of Single Service vs Fabricated Service History
BMW Value Service(one stamp in book) - £399
Genuine BMW service book history with nine dealer stamps from
fraudster - £60
Ford Service(one stamp) - £265
Genuine Ford service book, with ten stamps and dealer barcode
sticker from fraudster - £45
Nissan Service(one stamp) - £323.11
Genuine Nissan full history with six dealer stamps from
fraudster - £35
Linda Robinson, spokesperson for Nissan commented:
"A stamp in the service book is not always proof that a service
has been carried out. Since Sept 2010 we operate a system where
services carried out at a franchised dealer are registered on our
warranty system. This provides a service record for the
vehicle and registers the car for 12months free RAC cover.
BMW spokesperson Gavin Ward added:
"We are already in the process of introducing an Electronic
Service Book which will allow owners to view the service history of
their vehicle by entering the vehicle identification number in a
protected area of a BMW Intranet."
The dealers mentioned on the stamp may have no idea
their name is being used fake for service histories, but the brands
themselves are already trying to eradicate service book
After receiving the fake service histories, we contacted the
seller again to discuss the purchase of main dealer stamps, in
order to make our own fraudulent service books.
He advised us that each BMW dealership used its own stamp, so we
would need one stamp per dealership to create an authentic service
history. But other manufacturers, including Ford, use a variety of
stamps bearing their trademark, with no system in place to help
buyers identify incorrect service stamps.
Independent Garages are Involved Too
It's not just main dealer service histories that are open to
abuse. Independent service histories can easily be faked too.
Watch My Wallet spoke to an RAC mechanic, who didn't want to be
"A service history means nothing. I service my own car and I do
it to the manufacturer's standard, using manufacturer parts. But I
don't have a commercial garage, so I can't stamp the book. I get a
friend at a local garage to stamp it. He knows that I do the work
correctly, so he doesn't mind putting his name to it. It's so easy
to fake a service history that I would assume any service book is
fake unless there is a receipt for every piece of work on
Service History Advice
- Low mileage plus high wear and tear is a big red flag. If the
driver's seat is threadbare on a 60k car, be suspicious.
- Brand new pedal rubbers (the tops of the foot pedals) on an old
car might be covering up tell tale wear and tear.
- People tend to keep receipts for expensive maintenance, like
timing belt repairs. Only trust a service if it comes with
- Inspect the ink in the service book. If the stamps are all the
same colour, be suspicious. Ink fades over the years, so older
stamps should be lighter than newer ones.