By: Brett Shainfeld

Whether you’re buying a car new at the dealership, driving it direct off the lot, or used from a private seller, it’s likely that the last thing on your mind as you’re cruising home in your new vehicle is how to keep a detailed log of maintenance going forward. The reality of owning a car is that at some point, down the road, you’ll want to upgrade to your next vehicle and having a full-fledged log prepared to show off to a potential buyer is crucial in getting the maximum price on a sale or trade-in. Conversely, if you’re on the market for a quality used car, being on the receiving end of a well-cataloged car repair record can put your mind at ease and save you a fair amount of time and headaches in the process.

Keeping auto repair records certainly isn’t rocket science, but it still requires an attention to detail. Grabbing a cheap, dedicated notebook with some dividers will do the job just fine and have you on the right path to managing your vehicle’s maintenance. Once you have this, you’re ready to get started. But what should be included in your maintenance records, and what should you look for when trying to assess the auto repair records of a used vehicle you’re considering buying?

What Should Be Included in Car Maintenance Records

Quality maintenance records will vary in what they include, but if you keep your eyes out for the right things along the way you’ll save a lot of frustration. Often, just a few things can be major indicators of what’s to come for your vehicle.

The obvious place to start is checking for and keeping track of accident reports. This includes everything from collisions where a ticket was written, all the way down to a discarded semi-truck tire smacking the front bumper and leaving a crack. On down the line, this kind of detailed information will help with insurance or vehicle issues that seemingly spring up out of the blue, but may actually be a result of the accident. Look for or include police reports, insurance reports, photos if available from after the accident, estimates from body shops and subsequent work order write-ups that may have come from repairs. This type of information is crucial, and will do wonders to assuage buyers rather than saying, “Well, we got in a little fender bender but you can see that the car is fine now”.

The second thing to look for and hold on to are service records. At the top of importance are service records that pertain to items related to the transmission and engine. Any type of service done on these should catch your eye and make you ask questions, and conversely, you should keep detailed records of your own encounters with these problems in anticipation of those same questions when you go to sell your vehicle.

From there, it’s arguable that the next most important info to include are any recall corrections that may have affected your vehicle. Since recalls are critical faults that a manufacturer has deemed such a mistake that they’re willing to correct the problem for free, they should be thought of with the utmost significance. Not only that, but showing that you stayed on top of your recall notices conveys that you were a responsible vehicle owner from the beginning.

Going on down the list, there should be brake replacement information and air and fuel line filter records also implemented. Brake replacement information is useful when buying a used vehicle, as brakes can be pricey and being able to anticipate that cost can play into negotiating the final sale of the vehicle. You’ll have a more firm idea as to the life cycle you can predict and stay vigilant in maintaining your brakes. Filters need to be regularly replaced as well, so noting that is useful not just for such a case but also so you can either demonstrate or make note of how much attention an owner put into their vehicle.

Other things to keep an eye include records on tires. Knowing the types of tires on the vehicle and the rough amount of tread remaining can assist in figuring costs that may be occurred within a relative time frame following the sale.

Last, while it may seem tedious to do, having a record of oil changes can go a long way in establishing buyer confidence in your vehicle and should stick out if you’re looking to buy. Tracking information like the type of oil used in the change, the date of the oil change and the mileage are all pertinent pieces of information to include in your vehicle maintenance records.

How to Set Up Your Own Vehicle Records Notebook

All of the above information should undoubtedly be included when constructing your own record of vehicle maintenance, and it should be expected that these types of details are available when you’re looking to purchase a used vehicle. The reality is that enough cars are for sale on the market to be picky, and if a seller doesn’t have this kind of maintenance information available it should be taken as a red flag.

When you’re looking to avoid such red flags for your own vehicle, start your maintenance records off right. Include necessary vehicle vitals such as the vehicle identification number, make, model and basic records like date and location of purchase. Track your gas mileage from the start, making note of fluctuations. If the gas mileage is steadily decreasing over time, this can be a strong indication that a maintenance issue may be on the horizon for your vehicle.

Additional information that’s worth including are the receipts from repairs, purchases, and any types of maintenance you’ve had performed on your vehicle. This is good practice regardless of whether or not you’re about to sell, as you can track if parts are wearing out before they should be expected to and can contact the seller with the appropriate information.

Note that there are electronic, app-based logs out there that are also particularly useful at creating a maintenance log, even tidying everything up for you and sending alert notifications when expected maintenance may be coming up.

Vehicle records aren’t just important for selling, either. Let’s say you purchased your vehicle from a dealership at low mileage (20,000 miles, perhaps), and at 50,000 miles, you’ve brought the vehicle in because the engine has completely quit on you. A few different things can happen from here, but here’s the catch: each and every outcome can be made easier by having proper records and taking careful attention of factory specifications. If the dealership wants to know how frequently you’ve been changing the oil, you can hand them the specifics. If they need to know what type of oil, you’ve got that as well. Documentation will go a long way in getting a warranty claim accepted.

Vehicle maintenance records are absolutely critical to owning a vehicle; they’re the medical records of your car, and you should treat them with an appropriate level of significance. It doesn’t have to necessitate a filing cabinet at home and a personal assistant to govern; simple accounts with collections of receipts and tracking the basics will go a long way.

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