Buying a used car can be a nerve wracking experience. Is the seller being completely truthful when answering your questions? Could you find a better price on a similar vehicle? What if you discover problems days or weeks after making your purchase? The list goes on. That’s why more and more used car buyers are choosing to buy certified pre-owned vehicles.
Certified pre-owned cars and truck have been fully inspected by highly trained, manufacturer-certified mechanics. These are the same mechanics that perform warranty repairs on new vehicles so you know they are competent and have received the most up-to-date information and training. Certified used vehicles are also backed by extended manufacturer’s warranties. These warranties typically cover major systems like engines and transmissions, but some also offer services typically found in new vehicle warranties. BMW certified auto warranties, for example, include roadside assistance services.
Even so, the old expression “let the buyer beware” still applies. Some warranties on certified vehicles remain in effect for years while others are only valid for a few months. There have also been reports of unscrupulous car dealers representing non-certified vehicles as certified.
Here are a few ways that you can protect yourself.
It’s always a good idea to thoroughly read any warranty, and that includes the fine print. Also, ask very specific question about the coverage. Don’t be timid about pressing the salesman for detailed answers. Providing the customer with information is part of the salesperson’s job. A good salesperson will be happy to answer all your questions and take as much time as necessary to make you feel comfortable about your buying decision.
Keep in mind that certified vehicles will always cost more than comparable non-certified ones. In essence, you’re paying for the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ll be taken care of in the unlikely event that a covered repair is necessary down the road.
Just how much is that peace of mind worth? A better question would be “how much does the dealer think that peace of mind is worth?” The amount varies by make, model and year but is generally around $2,000. The difference between certified and non-certified vehicles is typically greater on luxury models.
Also, remember that there are two types of certified used vehicles. In addition to manufacturer’s certifications, some dealers also offer their own version of certified pre-owned vehicles. The worst examples of the latter involve dealers who simply place a “certified” sign on the windshield. This rarely happens but, again, you need to be cautious. Some dealers offer their own certification and warranties but they are typically more limited and provide less thorough inspections than manufacturer certifications.
So how do you, the prospective buyer, distinguish between the two? For starters, only branded dealerships are authorized to sell manufacturer-certified pre-owned vehicles. Independent dealerships are not manufacturer-authorized and branded dealerships are not authorized to offer manufacturer-certified on other automaker’s vehicles. Such certifications may be backed by the dealership but not by the manufacturer.
According Kelley Blue Book’s editorial director, Jack Nerad, even manufacturer-certification can vary from dealership to dealership. He says, “We’ve found that some dealerships are willing to certify cars that wouldn’t meet another dealership’s criteria.” Even though dealerships are required to perform identical inspection methods on the same items, the human element can play a part in the certification process. Some issues are simply a judgment call made by mechanics. Nerad says that, while one mechanic may feel that it’s alright to certify a pre-owned vehicle that was involved in a small accident because, in every other aspect it meets the criteria for certification. To another mechanic, the collision would be enough to prevent them from certifying the vehicle.
The best way to protect yourself is by requesting a complete repair and maintenance history and inspection report. It’s also a good idea to obtain a CarFax or AutoCheck report on any pre-owned vehicle you’re considering buying. Both services provide reliable vehicle histories for a reasonable price. Again, you’re paying for peace of mind, so these reports are well worth the nominal investment.