Certified Cars

Certified Used Cars. Worth the Money?

What are certifed cars? What benefits do they offer?

certified used carA few short years ago there were only a handful of used-car dealers who offered “certified cars” for sale. Now almost every major automobile manufacturer’s dealers offers certified pre-owned cars and sales are increasing every year.

Why all the excitement? In short, it’s about reduced risk. Most used cars are sold “as is” and the buyer takes his chances. Certified pre-owned car programs offer less risk and greater peace of mind — for a price.

What is a certified used car?

A certified car is typically a late-model pre-owned car, often an off-lease vehicle, that has been inspected according to manufacturer specifications before being placed on a dealer’s used car lot. Although manufacturer’s programs vary in specifics, all are fundamentally the same.

Before a vehicle can be certified, it must be a relatively new model, have low mileage, and have no serious damages or mechanical deficiencies.

Each vehicle is inspected according to a detailed checklist that may contain 150 or more points of inspection, including engine and transmission, lights, airbags, power equipment, fluids, exhaust system, suspension, brakes, battery, tires and wheels, paint, trim, windows, doors, belts, hoses, alarm system, and more.

Even less critical items such as wipers, mirrors, interior lights, radio, gauges, and carpets can be on the list. A road test is typically performed to make sure there are no noises, vibrations, and squeaks that need attention.

Certified pre-owned cars are typically offered with warranties, although the type of warranty and coverage can vary by manufacturer. Some simply extend new-car warranties on their certified vehicles. Others have a separate warranty that can range from 3 months to 5 years or more, but is often specified as time from original new-car in-service date.

There is also usually a mileage limit that generally ends at 100,000 miles, but could be less, depending on the program.

Some certified used car programs also provide for road-side assistance and satisfaction-guarantee return policies.

What do certified cars cost?

Dealers are motivated to sell certified cars because customers like them — and because they make a larger profit than on non-certified cars. Dealers must spend time and money doing certification inspections and repairs. And extended warranties cost money.

Therefore, customers who buy certified used cars can expect to pay a somewhat higher price for the extra peace of mind. The fact that sales of certified cars has been steadily increasing says that many automotive consumers consider it a price worth paying.

The alternative to buying a certified car is to buy an “as-is” used car, which means a car that comes with no warranty, no guarantees, and no return policy. Many “as-is” cars have never even been inspected. Therefore, there’s a greater burden on the buyer to determine the condition of an “as-is” car than with a certified car.

What to watch for when buying a certified used car

There are independent used-car dealers who offer “certification” programs, but be aware that these programs are not sponsored by a major automaker and may not be of the same standards. It could simply be a ploy to increase profit without giving additional customer benefit. Therefore, use caution when buying “certified cars” from independent used-car dealers.

Be sure to look at the inspection report, warranty, and other details before you buy. Understand exactly what you are getting for your money and decide if it’s worth the extra cost. Also understand that the price of certified cars can be negotiated the same as other cars.


This article has been about certified pre-owned car programs offered by new-car dealers who also sell used cars. These programs are backed by major car manufacturers who provide dealer training, set standards, set policies, and back up warranties. Not all programs are alike, so make sure you understand the details of any program you may be considering.


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