Is keeping a record of car maintenance important?

Yes - it can save you thousands!

Over the years, we perform a bevy of maintenance on our vehicles, ranging from the minor (changing oil and air filters) to the slightly more involved (replacing break pads, grinding brake rotors, etc.) to the unexpected (fulfilling a part recall, replacing a faulty tire pressure monitor sensor). However, how many of us keep a record of these transactions? At the time of service, a receipt or statement of work may seem unimportant, especially after the issue you went in for has already been resolved. It turns out, however, that keeping a perfect maintenance history on your vehicle can save you a lot of money.

It raises the value of your car when you sell it.

So you’ve owned a recent model-year mid-sized sedan for a 4 years now, and you’re considering selling it. Being a careful buyer, you regularly check the sale prices of models similar to your own, and in the process, you notice that prices of essentially the same vehicle can vary dramatically. While a lot of factors determine the price of any particular car, one of the main determinants is vehicle care and condition--which requires proof. Even small difference in conditoin on mid-tier vehicles can swing a price from $500-$1500.

The Department of Motor Vehicles states that maintaning "perfect maintenance history" on your vehicle can get you a much higher price, whether you are selling to a dealer as a trade-in or privately to another person, because a higher price is justified when you can demonstrate that you just replaced the tires, serviced your engine, etc. Kelly Blue Book also suggests that a well-kept record of car maintenance says to buyers that the car was well taken care of and therefore has fewer potential surprises, which increases buyers' willingness to pay a bit more.

Put yourself in the position of the used car buyer. You face a lot of uncertainty in determining the value of cars you’re evaluating. Two cars, both with 30,000m, might have experienced entirely different operating lives, and their expected future lifetime or maintenance could be vastly different. By bringing a paper trail to the transaction, you remove a large amount of uncertainty for the buyer, which might not only command a premium over vehicles without such support, but it may also lead to a much faster transaction.

It is required if you ever need to call on your manufacturer's warranty

The benefits of keeping a car maintenance paper trail are not limited to improving the experience of selling your vehicle. Consider the case of a car you bought brand new three years ago, but now experiences a problem your mechanic has identified as a faulty transmission. Your mechanic recommends a complete replacement, which could cost upwards of a $1000 to resolve. But aha!, you think, my car is covered by its manufacturer's warranty. They should cover this issue, no problem!

When you get to the dealership, however, you may be reminded of the fact that you did not read the fine print. While it's true that many manufacturers now offer generous warranties with their new vehicles, often times including major parts like a car's transmission, a number of conditions have to be met for the warranty to apply.

The finer details of such policies typically state that you must provide proof that the car underwent all manufacturer recommended service in order to qualify for warranty service. Missing even one might provide sufficient grounds for the manufacturer to deny such coverage and leave you paying for a new transmission yourself.

However, taking care of your car and keeping an accurate record of that care will prevent you from being left in the dust. Therefore, it is important to create an organization scheme for your car records that will help you find them when you need to present them.

How to organize your car maintenance records

Whether you do it through Papertrailer or some other method, we recommend organizing your car maintenance records this way:

First, create one umbrella concept (or folder) for your car

If you are managing your records through your Papertrailer account, for instance, you would begin by uploading all your relevant records to your mailbox. Once they are there, you should associate all of them with a concept reflecting your car name, such as hyundai sonata.

Second, create additional concepts (or sub-folders) for various maintenance types

Let's say that of the 20 documents you have previously tagged hyundai sonata, 3 relate to you bringing the car into the dealership for a safety recall. You would then add another tag/concept to those documents called recalls. If 5 more relate to manufacturer suggested maintance (such as at 30,000 miles), you would instead add scheduled maintenance as a concept.

Third, share as needed

An organization system of car records structured this way allows you to both

  • present the full maintenance history (hyundai sonata) to a buyer or dealer, or

  • present just the record of maintenance to your dealer to cash in your car warranty (scheduled maintenance)

create concept hyundai sonata It’s that simple.

One other benefit to keeping a live record: knowing when you last performed maintenance (and when you should do it again)

The final case for which having car maintenance records is a huge boon is somewhat more mundane than the prior two scenarios, but ultimately still important: to know for your own benefit what been done to your vehicle and when. We have found it be useful to know that we last changed windshield whiper 3 months ago, or that or that the radiator should be flushed in about a month or two.


Do you have any stories about how keeping a car maintenance record has helped you? We'd love the hear about them in the comments below or on twitter, facebook, google+, or via email!