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Not so long ago, buying a used car was a dicey proposition.
Actually, it still can be.
But it is so much easier now to buy a used vehicle that is in excellent working condition―and to find one whose reliability will allow you to sleep at night.
Part of the reason for this is the emergence of the pre-owned certified car market.
Generally, a certified car:
- Has undergone an extensive safety and performance inspection;
- Has been repaired or refurbished to bring it to nearly new car standards;
- Carries an extended warranty.
As these cars grow in popularity, more and more groups are getting into the picture. Car dealers and third-party companies are now joining an area that was once the domain of vehicle manufacturers.
However, cars with manufacturer-sponsored programs are still the largest part of the pre-owned certified market. Let's take a look at these programs, which offer the most benefit to the consumer.
How Certification Programs Work
The certified market began with high-end or luxury cars that were coming off a lease. Many of these cars were already in terrific shape and had low mileage. Manufacturers decided to recondition the cars before allowing them back on the market. They also added some nice extra features, such as attractive financing deals and extended warranties.
Eventually, the market spread to include vehicles in lower price ranges, and the popularity of the programs mushroomed.
Only certain used cars will make it into a certification program. Usually these cars are less than five years old and have fewer than 75,000 miles. They've also escaped any serious accidents that would have required extensive body work.
Why are manufacturers so fussy about what cars make it into their programs? For starters, they don't want unhappy customers. Also, manufacturers want to uphold the resale value of their cars, a selling point for their new car customers. And they don't want to deal with costly repair bills. Remember, these cars are still under warranty.
Certified vehicles have been a hit with consumers for several reasons.
- These cars have already passed their steepest depreciation period, which occurs in the first couple of years.
- Since these are used cars, customers have a crack at affording a type of vehicle that might have been out of their price range as a new car.
- Owners love the peace of mind that comes from having a car that has been verified by the manufacturer to be in top working condition―and to have an extended warranty, should something go wrong.
What's the Catch?
Expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 more for a certified vehicle, due to the cost of the refurbishment and extended warranty. So make sure to shop around for the best deal, just as you would for a new car. And remember: negotiate.
Be sure to comparison shop for the best certification programs. Sites such as Kelley Blue Book and Intellichoice make it easy for you to see what each manufacturer's program has to offer, in terms of things such as warranties and inspections. All the programs will provide you with adequate protection and value, but some stand out in these categories.
Contact the dealer or manufacturer for more details about the inspection and repair programs. Be sure to find out:
- Exactly what parts are checked out and fixed during the inspection.
- Look up the model you're interested in to find out if it has a history of maintenance problems, and ask if these have been addressed.
- Find out if the more costly repairs have already been made, or if they are under warranty.
- Get details of the warranty programs to discover how much you'll be responsible for.
As mentioned earlier, many nonmanufacturer certified programs are sprouting up. Be careful when dealing with these programs. You could still wind up with a wonderful used car, but be sure to ask a lot of questions about the program. And you need to know who is behind the program, in case something goes wrong with your vehicle.