Cerified Preowned Cars Might Not Be Good Bargains

Cerified Preowned Cars Might Not Be Good Bargains
Image: NCCC

We have all seen the commercials and heard the radio ads proclaiming a 'so many point' certified inspection of a preowned vehicle. But are certified preowned vehicles better then that your run-of-the-mill used vehicle?

Robert Cumento has recently filed a lawsuit over a 2007 Acura MDX vehicle he purchased from a dealership in North Haven, Connecticut. In the lawsuit, he claims that a 150 point vehicle inspection failed to turn up signs of repaired body panels and signs of significant bodywork. He insists that the vehicle should not have passed a 150 point inspection, especially since an independent repair facility easily spotted the repairs and estimated the cost of between $5000 and $7000 to get the vehicle back up to industry standards. It is important to note, however, that the dealership is admitting that they knew the vehicle had been repainted. But they also claim there was no evidence of structural or residual damage. They also note that the vehicle had a clean Carfax report, which NCCC notes can assist consumers in finding issues with vehicles, but which should not be used as a blessing from the 'car gods.' The case is pending.

This complaint is not an isolated complaint. Consumers all over the country are feeling the heat from the auto industry's certified preowned programs.

Dan Blinn, of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, says that the problem is a growing trend. He notes that often vehicles in certified preowned programs made it through the certification process with a very significant amount of prior wreck damage. He notes that in many of those cases, they were not properly repaired.

Blinn continues to note that most consumers think they are buying excellent vehicles when they see a certified used car. They think it has a pristine history, that has been properly maintained, and that it hasn't had any prior wreck damage.

Because of this belief, certified preowned vehicles often sell at higher prices than your ordinary used car. In some cases, the vehicles are in excellent condition. In others, the vehicle has significant prior damage. We hardly consider damaged vehicle a bargain if it is at a higher price than a quality vehicle.

All of the vehicle manufacturers have very different certified preowned programs. Ford and General Motors programs advertise 172 point inspections. Volkswagen only advertises a 112 point inspection. The inspections almost always come with vehicle history reports.

In any case, we recommend that consumers be skeptical of any used vehicle, certified or not, and insist on taking it to a private mechanic for an evaluation prior to purchase. If an auto dealer of any kind seems hesitant to let you take a vehicle to an independent inspection facility, red flags should go up immediately.

Most reputable auto dealers, be it a new vehicle dealer or a dealer that specializes solely in used vehicles, will have no problem with you having the vehicle inspected my mechanic of your choice. This inspection is, of course, on your dime and you may have to put up collateral when you take the vehicle to ensure that you bring it back.

NCCC reminds consumers of a very important fact. The instant you sign that paperwork, the car is yours. There is no return policy on the vehicle if you discover something after you sign the paperwork. Make very sure that when you sign on the dotted line that you truly want the vehicle you're buying. Otherwise, a lawsuit after the fact might be your only recourse and may only be available in cases in which the dealer knowingly deceived you, not simply on the basis that you're unhappy.