How To Buy A Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle

Lance Treankler receives his replacement Certified Pre-owned 2008 Escalade (source: gm)
Buying a certified pre-owned vehicle is one way shoppers can save over the cost of a new car, with the added assurance of a detailed inspection before the sale and a comprehensive warranty after the sale.  You’ll still want to do your due diligence though, and these tips will help.

Know the differences.  There can be an assumption that any certified pre-owned car has the manufacturer’s backing.  That is the case with many, but not all.  In some instances it’s actually a dealer-backed program.  Therein lie differences.  Manufacturer programs generally hold vehicles to more rigorous standards for wear and repairs, plus have a warranty that will be honored at any of their authorized dealers.  A dealer-certified program isn’t undesirable per se, though it’s typically more limited.

Familiarize.  A certified pre-owned vehicle gets the fine-tooth comb treatment, but it’s still on you to thoroughly poke around it and test drive as you would any potential purchase.  Read all the information on what went into the vehicle’s inspection, as well as the details of components covered.

Finance.  Since few of us have the option to acquire a nearly-new car by paying with cash in full, some degree of financing will probably apply.  Be prepared for certified pre-owned vehicles to command higher prices than non-certified equivalents.  Shop around for financing as you would with any car purchase, but do make it clear the car is certified pre-owned.  Not only can this settle any raised eyebrows over the asking price, it can also give the lender peace of mind that the vehicle they finance is a more solid choice. Finally, certified pre-owned cars can be financed through their manufacturers, so include them in your consideration.  Manufacturers offer periodic incentives like special interest rates or scheduled maintenance at no charge.

Purchase or lease?  Another assumption is that certified pre-owned cars can only be purchased.  Buying commands the majority of these transactions, but several manufacturers do allow leases.  Your individual situation will dictate whether a lease is a feasible option.     

Weigh warranties.  Certified pre-owned units are examined thoroughly and issues are remedied before they go on sale.  Still, remaining warranties will vary.  Make sure in any case that a comprehensive warranty is included in the sale price at no extra charge.  If a dealer-certified car, the warranty may be extra cost and place restrictions on where the car can be serviced.

Pre-purchase inspection.  A good once-over by an independent technician is highly recommended for used-car purchases.  It’s arguably less critical when buying certified pre-owned, but it is still important.  An extra set of qualified eyes can’t hurt and can also buy extra peace of mind.

Perspective.  Certified pre-owned vehicles appear and function extremely well.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t qualify.  Still, be realistic.  They have been driven and used, so a certain amount of limited wear and very minor imperfections are to be expected.

Negotiate.  Know that these vehicles sell for more than non-certified vehicles.  Also remember there’s nothing barring you from negotiating with the dealer for the sale price as well as your trade if you have one.

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