What to look out for when inspecting a used vehicle

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


If you've been searching for your next used car for quite some time, it may feel like one car is just like the next. You may even have convinced yourself that you'll "have a feeling" when you find the right car for you. You've heard the horror stories, but there's no chance of someone pulling the wool over your eyes like that, is there?

You might be amazed to know just what lies beneath so many vehicles' recently washed (or even re-painted exteriors). Here at CarHistory, we should know - over the period of 12 months (2013-2014), we found that over a staggering quarter of a million vehicles showed up with a less than favourable CarHistory report1.

Car fraud more common that you'd like to think 

This accounts for just over 10 per cent of all used car sales over the year leading up to May 2014. The most common negative factor was a used car being written off in the past (205,000 vehicles), as well as illegal odometer tampering, also known as odometer rollback (27,500)1

By requesting the CarHistory report of a vehicle you are interested in, you can save yourself significant fingernail biting and undue angst. All you need is a car's vehicle identification number (VIN) and you can access information you could want to know about its past, including a price comparison with similar vehicles. 

However, we always recommend supplementing your research with an in-person inspection, so when you go to check out a car, here are a few things to watch for. 

Age is but a number 

You can afford to be a little ageist in selecting a used car. If it's done more than 100,000 kilometres in its lifetime, there is a greater chance of something being wrong, but this is not always the case. While a number of cars will be past their best operating condition by then, others will still be running safely. 

Check the details 

If you are buying privately, the Queensland Government advises you'll need to take it on yourself to double check that the details of the person you're buying from match up with the car's registration certificate2

Squeaky clean 

No one wants to inspect a dirty car - when things are left in a shabby state, it gives the impression that the previous owner hasn't taken much care of their vehicle. However, while the fresh scent of pine and vacuumed carpets are a good sign, where you should be more cautious is under the hood. 

A filthy engine will appear neglected, but be wary of any "sparkling clean" engines, too, as it may be the result of a seller trying to disguise evidence of damage or wear and tear. 

1CarHistory, Worst of the Worst used cars revealed. Accessed July, 2015.

2Queensland Government, Buying privately. Accessed July, 2015.

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