The Top 10 Tips for Buying a Certified Pre-owned Used Car

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Tips for buying smart when searching for your pre-owned vehicle. Scott Olson / Getty Images

A certified and pre-owned car is a particular type of used car that is offered through factory-certified programs. They are backed up by the original manufacturer of the vehicle in order to handle warranties and repairs nationwide so drivers aren't out in the cold if something goes wrong. Certified pre-owned used cars are becoming more popular as Americans increasingly need to replace their older used cars and may not be ready to buy a new car.

Below are some tips to keep in mind when buying a certified pre-owned used car.

10 Tips and Considerations for Buying a Certified Pre-owned Used Car

  1. Most used cars don't need certification.
  2. New car warranties should be transferable.
  3. Research is essential during the buying process.
  4. Availability is key when it comes to certified, pre-owned used cars.
  5. Keep an eye out for local certified pre-owned buyers for convenience and deals.
  6. Use name brand cars from their own dealerships and avoid crossbreeds.
  7. Make sure the car program offered is certified. Some appear to be but aren't.
  8. Compare buying a pre-owned certified used car versus just a used car for warranty and repair reasons.
  9. Think about the car to buy, not just the program itself.
  10. Read up on individual dealership's service departments.

What You Didn't Know About Buying a Used Car

Most used car dealers aren't willing to admit that many used cars don't need certification.

Most two to four-year-old cars are so well made that, with the proper maintenance, they're going to coast through five-year warranties. Car companies lose money when they have to fix cars. In regards to warranty, most new car warranties should transfer, but it's important to check, just in case. If one doesn't, then it's recommended too strongly consider only buying certified pre-owned.

Research is important in general during the car buying process, but especially when looking at a particular make and model. Google the year (i.e. 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring) followed by the word "problems" to see what results come up. It's important not to be overly alarmed because every make and model will have complaints. If the car is still desired after the research has been performed, then certified pre-owned is the way to go.

Availability and Local Certified Pre-owned Used Cars

It's going to be challenging to find a two to a four-year-old used car at a new car dealership of the same brand. For example, it is unlikely to find a two to four-year-old Honda Accord at a Honda dealership. It especially is going to be a rare instance when a dealership won't sell its own used product as certified because it's more profitable to sell a certified pre-owned for more money.

Consider the following scenario where a nice two to four-year-old used Honda Civic is found at an Audi dealership that has not been certified. Across town, there is a certified pre-owned Honda Civic for sale that's about $1,500 more but comes with a warranty. To figure out which one to buy, consider how often the car will be used on the road.

In this scenario, it would be suggested to buy the certified pre-owned Honda because it comes with a nationwide warranty. If the owner is a homebody, it would be suggested, rather, to buy the used Honda Civic from the Audi dealer after getting a pre-purchase inspection.

5 Do's and Dont's When It Comes to Certified Pre-owned

It's important to weigh the pros and cons before buying a certified pre-owned used car. Here are five additional considerations to keep in mind when shopping around:

  • No cross breeding is allowed. That means that it isn't recommended to buy a certified pre-owned Ford at a Chevrolet dealership. If the dealer says it's certified, it's certified by an insurance company and that means a claim has to be filed for payment.
  • The VW World Auto Program is not a certified pre-owned program. Volkswagen also has a program called Volkswagen World Auto that it bills as a certified used car program, but realistically, it's an insurance program. One can't buy a certified pre-owned Dodge at a VW store that is the same as buying a certified pre-owned Dodge from a Dodge dealership.
  • Buy a used car if a new one isn't a consideration. When a new car isn't affordable, it makes sense to buy a certified pre-owned used car. This way, the car owner will save money on monthly car payments.
  • Buy the car that's wanted, not just the program. By now, almost all certified used car programs are the same. Don't be swayed by how one ranks against another for customer satisfaction. Find a certified pre-owned used car that fits personal needs and budget. That's going to be the right one.
  • Research the local dealership's service department. This is an important factor that is often overlooked in buying a certified pre-owned used car. It's important to figure out what reputation the dealership's service department has because the main reason for buying a certified pre-owned used car is the warranty. Also, consider if the department has good customer service.