3 things to look for when finding your perfect vehicle online

Where Can I Find the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?

The vehicle identification number (VIN) is composed of 17 characters (digits and capital letters) that act as a unique identifier for the vehicle. A VIN displays the car's unique features, specifications and manufacturer.

The VIN can be found in a couple of places including on the car's registration label (1), on the compliance plate in the engine bay (2) or on the passenger side windshield (3), or on one of the door posts (where the door latches when it is closed) (4). See the image below:

Look for the VIN in these other locations:

  • Insurance card/Insurance policy
  • Vehicle title and registration certificate


Buying a car online takes time and effort to find a suitable match. It's certainly possible, but you may have to spend longer than you'd like weeding out the less-desirable options.

Sure, you can use a dealership or a car auction, but an online purchase can cut out the middle man and allow you to focus on finding what you want in a vehicle.

However, it's important to be a savvy online shopper. According to consumer advocacy group CHOICE, two-thirds of car buyers (even if it's a new car) experienced problems with their vehicles in the first five years1.

What's the cost of buying a lemon? CHOICE found that the average amount spent by Australians with a faulty vehicle was $858, as well as a huge 31 hours of their own time. Add the amount in lost wages to that figure and you could be looking at a $1,295 loss for one ill-informed decision1.

So, it makes sense to create a great shortlist of vehicular gems to go see and test-drive from your online search. Here are three tips to help you on your way:

1. Check the car's history

Every car has its past - a good one can help you get the most return on your money, though a bad one could land you in hot water. Fortunately, you can have a better picture with a quick and comprehensive CarHistory report.

All you need is the car's VIN number, and you can check the vehicle's financial liability, whether it has been stolen, damaged or written-off, and much more. A CarHistory report is the ultimate in consumer power, and all you need to do is ask the owner for the VIN, if they haven't provided it already via the online listing.

Do your research before you buy - it can pay off in the long run.


2. Do your research

Finding a car that'll stick by you for a few good years means you should know a bit more about your potential car purchase beforehand to see if you'll be a good fit.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of online reviews to settle your car-buying nerves, from both automotive experts and individual owners who've had to live with that model in the past.

For a small amount of time, you can get a big idea what the consensus is regarding that car. Just make sure you're researching the right make, model and year and you should have a good foundation for a smart purchase.

3. Benchmark the price

Unless you're planning on buying a yacht, a car will be the second most expensive belonging you ever spend money on (behind a house), so it pays to get the best possible price - after all, commitment isn't cheap!

A CarHistory report can give you information such as the previous sales prices and when it was last sold.

The trouble is, different used cars are in different conditions, and have travelled different distances - it's hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

However, as part of your CarHistory report, you can see estimate sales price comparison of similar cars in this range. You can also get information on the previous sales price, including when it was last reported as sold, how much it went for and how it was sold (online, auction, etc.).

If your seller is trying to make a quick buck at your expense, you'll know when they're charging too much. It also gives you more room to negotiate, on top of the benefits of ensuring the new purchase is in a safe and road-worthy condition - unfortunately, not all of the cars on Australia's roads are.

Buying a car is a long-term commitment. To find your perfect match, have a look into the CarHistory report before splashing the cash.

1CHOICE, Lemon cars and the law. Accessed October, 2016.

View a sample report >