Pre-Loved Cars You Can Trust

June 3, 2010

Smiling Sammy’s Used Car Lot may claim the best prices in town but how do you know if the vehicle you’re buying hasn’t been around the block one too many times. Sure it looks solid and drives okay but somehow Sammy’s personal guarantee of quality doesn’t quite ease your apprehension. If this sounds familiar to you then maybe you should be looking at buying a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) car.

CPO vehicles are backed by the original manufacturer and sold through its network of dealers. Typically, these are late-model, low-mileage cars that have passed through a rigorous inspection process. Some even come with extended warranties offering additional guarantees beyond the normal factory protection. But there's a premium to be paid for these vehicles and not everyone agrees the higher price is always justified. “You should expect to spend at least $300-500 more for a certified used car, but the question remains, is it worth it?” asks Phil Edmonston, author of the Lemon-Aid Used Car Guide. His answer is a qualified yes for several reasons. For one thing, if your certified car breaks down, you’ll have an additional avenue of complaint. “With a certified used car, it’s easier to hold both the dealer and the manufacturer accountable,” explains Edmonston. “It gives you a more direct route to settling a dispute because you can always bring the manufacturer into the mix.”

And because certified used cars are usually covered by an extended factory warranty, any qualified repairs are done in-house with original parts. As well, unlike third-party warranties sold by independent dealers, owners do not have to pay upfront for the warranty work and wait for reimbursement.

And there are other good reasons to trust certified vehicle programs, says Mohamed Bouchama, director of Car Help Canada, a non-profit consumer association. “They are very good programs because the manufacturer doesn’t want these cars to come back to them for repairs, so they make sure only their best vehicles are put out to their dealers for sale,” he says. And unlike new cars, CPO vehicles are not subject to freight and pre-delivery inspection (PDI) charges, air conditioning tax or fuel taxes.

In addition, many certified programs offer new car perks, such as roadside assistance, free customer shuttle service, free maintenance and low-interest loans.However, both Edmonston and Bouchama agree that not all certified cars are created equal and buyers should always enter any used car deal with both eyes wide open. Here are their top five tips for buying a certified pre-owned vehicle:

1) Brand power: Many people prefer buying used cars over new because of the steep depreciation that goes along with that new car smell. But vehicles from Japanese automakers, like Honda and Toyota, tend to lose value at a more glacial pace, making them still quite pricey even after a year or two. However, domestic vehicles from the likes of Ford, GM and Chrysler depreciate much faster and represent better certified buys, say the experts.

2) Check it out: Just because CPO vehicles are subject to a thorough inspection, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also send your next set of wheels to an independent mechanic for a second opinion. “Don’t be fooled into thinking every certified car has new brakes and tires,” say Bouchama. “Certified could mean that brakes are still 50% worn and may need replacing in the next six months.” An independent mechanic should charge about an hour’s worth of labor (roughly $80-$100) for an inspection.

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