Research and budget tips 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


Ready to buy a used car? Before you dive into your search, it’s important to do your research first. Research helps you avoid costly mistakes, make informed decisions, and inform your budget. Here's what you need to know to start the process on the right foot.

Research car makes and models

With so many car makes and models on the market, it’s important to narrow your options. Start by looking into different makes and models of cars to find ones that meet your needs and lifestyle. For example, are you looking for a fuel-efficient car for your daily commute? Or maybe a spacious and family-friendly SUV? Once you’ve narrowed your options, review and compare factors such as fuel efficiency, reliability, and safety features.

Reading reviews from reputable sources, speaking with trusted friends or family members, and exploring online forums can give you invaluable insights into the pros and cons of different car models.

Compare prices and value

Once you've narrowed your choices, check out online platforms, dealership websites, and classified ads to compare prices. This will give you an idea of what to expect and whether an asking price might be over or undervalued. Keep in mind that prices can vary depending on things such as the car’s age, odometer reading, condition, and any accessories that might come with it.

When comparing prices, consider the value you're getting for your money. For example, a higher-priced car in better condition that is still under warranty might be a better long-term option than a less expensive car that’s older with a high odometer reading. Take note of the differences and use this information to negotiate a fair price.

Check the availability of spare parts

Before making a final decision, check the availability of spare parts for your chosen make and model. This can impact the cost and convenience of maintenance and repairs down the line. Popular car brands have a more comprehensive network of service centres and mechanics who can quickly source parts, making maintenance and repairs more affordable and convenient. On the other hand, sourcing parts for less common brands may be difficult, meaning added costs, time, and inconvenience when needing repairs.

Set your budget

Armed with your research, you can now make an educated estimate of your budget. Don’t forget to consider the initial purchase price and ongoing expenses such as insurance premiums, regular servicing, petrol, and potential modifications or upgrades. Expenses can differ widely from model to model and may influence your final choice.

Researched and ready to go

With these tips in mind, you're well-equipped to start your journey toward finding the right used car. And once you find your car, don’t forget to get a CarHistory report for peace of mind before you make the purchase.

View a sample report >