Is a Certified Used Car a Good Idea?


With slightly used cars selling at much lower prices than their brand-new counterparts, buying a used car can be tempting to most buyers. While bargains can be found on mechanically and cosmetically sound used vehicles, consumers looking for second-hand cars risk being accountable for a potentially costly car, especially if the warranty is expired. In order to ensure that you’re buying a quality used car, hours if not days of specific research is often involved to determine what issues typically affect any given make or model. Even once the perfect vehicle has been chosen, most buyers will need to examine the vehicle’s history reports and complete service history before feeling safe with such a financially momentous decision.

One of the best ways to combat this buyer’s anxiety is through certification programs. A certified used car is typically a lease return sold by dealer that has passed a thorough manufacturer certified inspection and is often backed by an extended warranty. Used cars that are certified give buyers more peace of mind, knowing the car has been looked over compared to those sold by private parties or by unaffiliated dealerships. This eliminates one of the major concerns of used car shopping – getting stuck with someone else’s problems.

The idea of certifying a used car is not new--it is a result of a steady increase in off-lease cars being returned to manufacturers in the 1990’s, leaving dealerships with a plethora of low-mileage, well maintained cars. By adding the value of certifying these lease returns for customers, they we able to increase their asking price for the cars, benefitting the consumer with peace of mind and benefitting the dealer with higher profit margins.

Automotive manufacturers use their licensed dealerships to inspect ex-leases, once they know what lies beneath the hood they determine if the car meets high enough standards to be deemed as a certified used car. Different manufacturers have different standards and inspection criteria, however it is common for dealers to have a 100 or 200 point inspection. They will check things like tire tread and pressure, fluid levels, and brake pads and rotors. There isn’t a unified legal standard of what qualifies the “certified” nomer, making it imperative to understand what a dealer’s certified program checks for, as critical systems need to be checked and not overlooked. Fortunately, dealers do not accept substandard cars as they have little incentive to buy poor cars and bring them up to a decent condition, so buyers can anticipate certified used cars to be in somewhat good condition.

After the mechanical inspection has transpired, often times and extended warranty will be included and factored into the financing. While the higher initial cost of a certified used car may seem unwarranted at first, having a warranty will help keep the price of operating the car lower for the remainder of your ownership. Warranties also yield added benefits like roadside assistance that can help in a pinch.

All in all, if you’re going to buy a used car, purchasing a certified pre-owned is the way to go. While it may seem more expensive than what you can find on the private market, the added peace of mind and savings down the road through an extended warranty are well worth the money. Before making your decision, compare the price of certified used models to those of similar mileage and age in the private market. Your decision should ultimately come down to a combination of reputation for reliability, extended warranty service and, of course, price.

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