Do not buy a used car which doesn’t have a service book – you just don’t know where it’s been.

At best the book – a car’s “passport” – was simply “lost” by the former owner, who may or may not have had it serviced at the required place – an authorised dealer – and at the right time.

At worst the car was overworked and under-serviced, or had a radical “haircut” – the industry term for tampering with the odometer to create a fake low mileage.

The service book would reveal this, of course, so it conveniently goes “missing”.

Many, many used car buyers fall for the old “you can pick up the service book next week” salesman’s line, but all they get in the weeks and months to follow is creative excuses for why it hasn’t materialised.

Many just give up, but not Johannesburg schoolteacher David Taylor.

By the time he wrote to Consumer Talk in February this year, he’d been waiting for the Kia Multifranchise Midrand dealership to produce the service book for his 2009 Kia Picanto for an entire year.

He bought the vehicle in February 2011 as a former car rental company car with 29 000km “on the clock”.

At the time, the salesman assured him that the car’s service book was with the car rental company and that the dealership would acquire it in a matter of days.

“He said the rental company was very good with their servicing; he was just waiting for them to send the documents, which would be in a day or two.”

Taylor is adamant that he would not have bought the car had he known it came with no service history.

The dealership assured Taylor at the time that the Picanto had had its 30 000km service, he says.

On the strength of that assurance, he bought a service plan to cover the 45 000km, 60 000km and 75 000km services.

“Two weeks later, I asked for the service history and was told by the salesman and financial manager that they were “on it”.

“They also revealed the car had not had its 30 000km service, and advised me to book the car in for that service, which they would cover.”

The car was duly serviced – and paid for in full by dealership, after some haggling over disc skimming – but the service book was still not forthcoming, and by that time, his salesman had left the company.

When Taylor’s e-mails to the dealership were ignored, he posted a complaint on HelloPeter in January, and received an assurance from Kia South Africa that the problem would be sorted out.

“I have spoken to the dealer and the new sales manager – who wasn’t there when the vehicle was sold – is pulling the file of the vehicle from archives,” a Kia SA representative told Taylor in an e-mail at the time.

“He has assured me that he will personally give you a call once the file has been pulled.”

That didn’t happen.

Truly out of patience, Taylor then took to e-mailing the dealership and the manufacturer in capital letters with liberal use of red type and lots of capital letters, which is what tends to happen when companies don’t keep their promises to their customers for a long time – and then ignore their correspondence. Only when I contacted Kia MD Ray Levin about this case in April, was there some action.

A short while later, Taylor wrote to say he’d collected a service book from the dealership. A service book, note, not the service book.

“It appears that it’s not the original service book because the book is brand new and the stamps for the 15 000km and 30 000km services are identical, the pen used to write in the mileage is identical, and fresh, and the two signatures are identical,” Taylor says.

“Also, the page which is supposed to have the details of the previous owner is empty.”

On the upside, the car is going well, he says.

So here’s the lesson – if a dealership cannot produce the car’s service book – and its spare key – when you’re ready to sign the deal, walk away.

And don’t just take their word that they have these “key” items – ask to see them, then check that the spare key belongs to the car, and read the service book carefully.

If the car is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, any claim will fail if the car has not been serviced as prescribed.

If you are unsure about an aspect of the car’s history – a particularly low mileage, or a claimed “fender bender”, for example – ask for the contact details of the previous owner and then call them to verify the details.