A handy guide for buying a used car

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 your first car is a very exciting stage of your life. It's a milestone that will open up a range of opportunities, now that you have your own transport.

However, it's also very important that you buy a car worth your money. For a first driver looking at used cars, it's not an easy feat unless you know exactly how to judge the value and state of a vehicle. Here, we've put together some handy tips when perusing used cars, which will hopefully help you to make an educated decision and find a car that'll last.

Prepping for your car

Firstly, you need to consider your budget. Have you put money aside for a car? RateCity reports that in their Consumer Study from August 2014, just a little over a year ago, findings revealed that more and more young Australians were falling into debt at an earlier age. Also in the report, CEO of Rate City, Alex Parsons, said that these figures were worrying, as it leads up to higher levels of debt later on in life1.

If needed, borrow a lump sum from your parents and pay them back in increments. For a first car, it's always a good idea to save up before you dive into the world of loans and interest.

Something to include into your budget is insurance. Depending on the worth of your desired car, you'll have to choose the right insurance policy to suit your budget and vehicle. Another expense to consider will be, of course, petrol. It may also influence what specific type of engine you're looking for in a car. These will be ongoing expenses, so you'll need to factor them in when considering costs.

Even if you've found a car you think looks suitable for you, always get a CarHistory report first, so you can check all the necessary details that may influence your decision. This includes any finance owing on the vehicle, possible odometer rollback, or if it's been written-off or stolen before. Checking all the available information assists you to buy a car that's safe and road worthy.

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Saving up for your first car is always a better idea than taking out a loan.


Looking at the car

It's a good idea to go with someone who knows a bit about vehicles. It'll help a lot when judging if a used car is worth buying.

If you're buying privately, there are no warranties. Make sure you are thorough.

Physically inspecting the car is very important. It's well enough reading the details listed on an information sheet, but you'll need to double check them if possible. This includes scrutinising the paintwork and making sure that all the seatbelts, windows and doors work properly.

Having done that, you'll need to check under the bonnet also. Our Monthly Maintenance series lists plenty of engine specifications that need to be checked regularly, so ensure that an engine meets all these standards first.

Once you've reviewed all those aspects, take the car out for a test drive. This is where you get a feel for driving it, and can be a determining factor when buying a used vehicle.

NSW Fair Trading explains that if you're buying privately, there are no warranties2. It'll be up to you to ensure that your observations are thorough prior to purchase.

These are all possible make-or-break aspects of your decision, which shouldn't be made with haste. If you're really interested, then let the owner know, and go home to sleep on it first.

After the car

You'll need to know and understand all the necessary paperwork when purchasing your used vehicle. It includes a change of ownership and any needed safety checks. The process and rules surrounding cars and paperwork all differ in each state, so getting advice from someone who has dealt with such things before will really help you.

All in all, if you conduct the proper research before and during a vehicle inspection, then hopefully you'll soon be handed shiny new keys to your very own car!

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It's important to check everything thoroughly to find the best car to suit you.


1RateCity, Generation debt - Y Australians are credit crazy. Accessed February, 2016.
2NSW Fair Trading, Buying a used car. Accessed February, 2016.

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