Shopping for a pre-owned vehicle can be a scary and financially intimidating proposition. While there are many bargains to be had in the used car market, consumers run the risk of being stuck with a costly, mechanically unsound time bomb that is not under warranty. Buying a quality used car requires mountains of model-specific background research to determine what issues typically afflict the model. From there, buyers will need to inspect an individual vehicle's complete service history before feeling secure with the purchase.
There is a better way, however. Certified used cars present an easier means of purchasing a reliable used car. A certified used car is a pre-owned auto sold at a local dealer - typically a lease return - that has passed thorough a manufacturer-certified inspection and is backed by an extended warranty. This system aims to eliminate one of the major concerns of used car shopping - getting stuck with someone else's problems.
Certified used car programs are a byproduct of the dramatic increase in car leases major manufacturers saw in the '90s, which left dealerships with plenty of low-mileage, well-maintained cars. By certifying these lease returns and reselling them, manufacturers are able to retain a relatively high asking price.
Manufacturers use dealers to inspect trade-in models and lease returns, and from there make a decision as to whether the car is worth backing as a certified used car. The inspection criteria vary for each brand and typically number over 100 "inspection points" or more, though the number of "inspection points" a vehicle passes isn't as important as which critical systems are checked and which are overlooked. There is actually no legal definition of a "certified" used car, and therefore consumers need to have a good understanding of what a certified program entails. Luckily, dealers have little incentive to make the necessary repairs to bring vehicles in sub-standard condition up to grade, so consumers can expect certified used cars to be have had few mechanical issues in the past.
Once a vehicle has passed the manufacturer's service inspections, an extended warranty will be rolled into the cost. While the higher cost of a certified used car may seem alarming at first, especially given some of the bargains lingering in the private market, it is important to consider the additional value of a warranty. Dealers often include additional services such as roadside assistance in the package as well.
Overall, certified used cars help consumers achieve some peace of mind with their new investment. If the price is right, certified used cars can be a great deal. Your decision should ultimately come down to a combination of reputation for reliability, extended warranty service and, of course, price.