What hidden signs should you look for when you test drive 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


Not all used cars are equal - in fact, some of them are going to be far more trouble than they're worth. However, spotting that from the exterior is almost impossible. If you don't know for sure that a car is going to be perfect for you, it likely won't be. You have to sit in the driver's seat, get a feel for the engine and make sure it's all mechanically sound. You should also check that it's not hiding any nasty surprises with a CarHistory report.

Test driving a car isn't as straightforward as turning it on, going for a drive around the block, and checking that the brakes work. It's more about finding out if all the little things will work for you, and if the faults will be too much to deal with.

Is the interior of the car going to work well for you?


What should you look out for in a test drive?

It's imperative that you take a car for a test drive. Before you even turn the key, however, you should sit in the driver's seat and make sure of a few things:

  • Check that the sun visors are in good working order, that the mirror covers slide smoothly, and that the lights work. Further, ensure they can rotate to cover the side window without knocking into your head or blocking your view of the road1.
  • Make sure the handbrake isn't obstructed by an armrest or by the seatbelt clamps. There are few things more annoying than having to scrape your arm up the side of an immovable centre console just to put the handbrake on!
  • Check your blind spots. Not everyone is the same size, and what works for one person might not for another. For example, a tall person driving a car might have a much better view out of the blind spots than a shorter person, or vice versa. If you can't see well out of your blind spots, it could be dangerous.
  • Play around with the centre console dials and switches and make sure they all work and aren't in a fiddly position. If you want to turn on your heater while the car's moving, you don't want to have to muck about finding the right dial.

Of course, not everyone will have the same gripes for their next used car, but the important thing is you check that it's going to work for you. Put yourself in a number of situations where you have to change something inside the car, and if you can't do it easily (and you think it's going to become a problem), it's not the right car for you.

For help finding a great used car that suits you, talk to the CarHistory team today.

1. CarAdvice. Try before you buy: test drive tips. Accessed May 2017.

View a sample report >