Technician’s Update : Rubber stamps or rubber bullets

Mike Humble


When there is nothing on the box I love nothing more than to trawl through the on-line car adverts with a big mug of hot sweet tea. The female of the species call this “window shopping” and for me anyway – my favourite part of the adverts are the long and never exhausting abbreviations. ESR PAS RCL BBC ERF B&Q – the list is endless but of course the one that catches the eye is our old friend – FSH. Those three magic letters that promise you a tip top car as good as new for second hand money – grab that phone  you cant go wrong… or can you?

Well after recently hearing a distant friend recount his tales of woe regarding a used Volvo estate that’s going through his bank account as quickly as a bad pint, its a sad fact that the magical automotive abbreviation – FSH can in fact mean FA. Within a few months of ownership the chap has forked out for a new centre silencer, rear brakes, wiper blades, front wheel bearing and the air-con compressor moans like… in his words not mine – a bored eight year old. Clearly, what we have here, is a tired and worn out Swedish suitcase that’s far from factory fresh – he’s well and truly shot himself in the foot!

One of the problems with the aforementioned contact is his laziness when it comes to his car purchasing. He’s the sort of chap who unless the ideal car is located within a 20 yard radius of his armchair he just simply doesn’t want to know and after further probing told me the car was sourced from “some mush who sells cars from his property” – all the boxes ticked for some serious motoring misery. Feeling like an agony Aunt he solemnly told me how the service book was all stamped up to date and how pristine the car looked when he parted with the folding stuff.

A thorough valet and a fully stamped book may be good but backed up by bills is as good as it gets.
A thorough valet and a fully stamped book may be good but having it all backed up by bills and paperwork is as good as it gets.

Of course, valeting a car is the easy part but there again, so is stamping the service book… as I shall explain. One of the less reliable contacts I knew sold used clunkers from his driveway in a busy village just outside Bedford, most of his stuff bordered on being mobile death-traps but every now and again he would have something half decent. I once witnessed Mr and Mrs Gullible looking round a used Citroen ZX (it was a few years back) and when the husband of the dippy duo asked about a service history the vendor glibly replied “not a problem… I can sort one out for you”

In his kitchen drawer was a varied selection of rubber stamps and wherever a service book was missing one or seven entries, he would simply thump the book with a carefully selected seal of approval – there was even a choice of black, blue or red ink pads too.  With all the best will in the world, a car with a full service history is NOTHING without a bundle of bills in the old A4 sized brown envelope to back up the proof. But equally be aware of a service book full of Fast-Fit centre stamps as quite often fitting the seat cover and driving it into the workshop accounts for the Lions share of their “Multi-Point Service Check”

Rubber stamps can be purchased on-line for a few quid – even your High Street stationer sells the type you can make yourself, I too had one made up for when I worked as a mobile mechanic. But at the end of the day there is no substitute for a pile of paperwork to accompany the service book – as dog eared and tatty it all may look spread over the kitchen table so far as used car peace of mind goes… its priceless!





Mike Humble


  1. But lets face it, even a kosher FSH will only confirm the Oil has been changed and the car given a quick look round in line with the manufacturers recommendation’s. It wont stop Air Conditioning compressors or Exhaust boxes failing.

  2. I looked at a 2.5 V6 75 with a ‘full service history’. Yes it had indeed been serviced and at Evans Halshaw too, but all it had received over the previous 6 years was the basic service because it was doing tiny miles. Oil and filter only. No mention of cambelts, spark plugs, air filters or anything else.

    If all you have is a service book with some stamps in it – contact the dealer to check the work was done.

  3. I found a lot of very dodgy cars for sale in South Wales when I lived there – they also went for unloved models (Talbot Tagora, Triumph 2.5PI); so when I wanted a Manta GT/E hatch in white, I went further afield.
    Number of white Manta GT/E hatches in South Wales Auto Trader that week=0.
    Number in Midlands Auto Trader:6, plus a dodgy black one.
    I bought mine in Leicester.
    When I bought my Rover 216, I travelled from Gwent to Somerset to view a car in Chard. It was on the border between AT Devon and Cornwall and Wales and West (magazines in those days) – everyone else said it was too far to travel, I did the miles and got the right car at the right price.
    Sometimes – often – you have to make some effort to buy the right car.

  4. Try buying a car in Canada. You will be very lucky to find one with any service history due to “data protection” excuses. I bought a car with the service book completely blank – I phoned the dealer who had serviced the vehicle but they would only tell me fairly rudimentary stuff.

  5. @ Paul (Comm:1)

    Your point is a fair one but by having tangible and documented paperwork should feature the all important technicians boxes for advisory / immediate work required.

    For example: “Rear pads 80% worn” or “exhaust centre silencer in poor condition”

    The car in question alleged to have a franchised dealer service history but when further probing was done both the air / oil filter were factor parts (of two differing makes nonetheless)and it was quite obvious the car was no where near as cared for it first seemed.

    Though its true that even the paperwork will not guarantee your car as such, it would be fair to say that it lowers the risk of being sold a clunker with a seemingly fake service history.

  6. Full Service History is one thing. But if a car has a FSH, load of old recipts, invoices and paperwork with work and maintenance done on the car.

    Lots of old MOTs tell a lot about the car too -especially with the advisories on previous MOTs. If the paperwork is backed up by the condition of the car, two and two should make four and not five.

  7. Working in the trade for some time has taught me that you can trust no one, seeing cars come in for a service, and some young oik who gives the customer’s car about as much care as they would their worst enemies, and things get missed, bodged and compromised. Oil can be cheap stuff to save costs, bolts stripped and inferior parts used. I do all the work on my car and am pleased that I can do this, because I don’t think I would be a car owner if I couldn’t…

  8. Andrew (9)

    Sadly not… And if you’re havering the cambelt changed, make sure all three (yes three) are replaced from an Xpart or Gates timing kit.

    Just bite the bullet and relax in the knowledge they are good for 6 years or 90.000 miles – they do go the distance too!

  9. I bought a SAAB 900, from a home trader, and it turned out to be one of the best cars I’ve owned. A Berlingo for the wife, bought from a very respected used trader was a nightmare for the first few months. Mind you the SAAB was a real SAAB, before GM corrupted the marque, and in the Citroens defence it has been a godsend over the last few years.

  10. I bought a brand new Mk4 Golf. It was in the dealers on average every 7 weeks for the 3 years that I kept it.

    My previous Mk2 Golf, bought from a dealer at 2 years / 15,000 miles only had problems when it went near a well known VW dealer in Stockport. As soon as I stopped taking it there and went to an independent VW specialist it suddenly got more reliable and the dealer induced faults stopped happening. I sold the car 7 years later with 140,000 on the clock and it continued to run about for another 6 years.

    My Disco gets serviced by a local indie, usually for cash so I get a stamp but no receipt. But it gets serviced properly using good quality parts – not necessarily LR ones, but e.g. FRAM filters, Mintex brake pads. When I first got the car I changed all of the fluids including diff oils, transmission fluids and gave it a good going over. So long as you stay on top of the minor faults, the car should be reliable.

  11. @P Edmunds

    You’re the type of Saab snob that means I’ll never attend a Saab meet. If it wasn’t for GM the marque would’ve died 20 years ago.

    The same with Citroen meets, people like you in DSs, scoffing at the BXs, ZXs, Xantias etc. as Peugeot influenced.

  12. @14 GM killed Saab just as effectively but more slowly.

    The 9-5 was nearly a great car, except for the GM bits, like the Cavalier chassis (not up to the job), nasty Ansin-Warner gearbox (now where is 3rd gear?) and various other GM parts bin sourced bits. Never mind the later 9-3 and 9-5 models with the 1.9 diesel (cambelt & water pump every 35,000 or else risk the pump seizing and blowing the engine up — oh, yes, that was a joint GM-Fiat engine.

    Back on topic — and the Vaxuhall dealers who said they could service a Saab without the correct diagnostics or understanding of the differences between Saab and Vauxhall engine management and other parts — and then screwed the car up.

    Ask me how I know this? ……..

  13. I always get my service book stamped up to date everytime but also keep all the invoices for those services and any replacement items/repairs aswell. Even tyres & wiper blades.

    Despite the so called paperless society, I still like hard copy records in my file!

  14. Haven’t been to a dealer for years but always service according to the manufacturers recommendations as per original manuals and have had no problems with my collection of English cars (yes I mean English not British) 😉 although I do change fluids, especially engine oil, more frequently than necessary.

  15. @15, Sounds like you have a agenda, Vauxhall agents have the Tech2 diagnostics platform and as such will have the SAAB cartridge.

    They also have the MDI/CANdi system that has the Tech2 emulator built in.

    Perhaps you should have used a specialist that has the same access to the very same equipment.

  16. Every marque has their ‘purists’.

    I noticed it when I went to a Citroen meet, ZXs and Xantias were Peugeot.

    I’ve noticed it a lot on here, post-Phoenix MGs aren’t MGs.

    There are some who may say that post-BL/SD1 Rovers aren’t Rovers, and that post-Ford Jags aren’t Jags.

    Have started noticing this, post-GM Saabs aren’t Saabs.

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