Certified vs Non-Certified

Hey there, need some help for my first time buying a car myself! I am on a rather strict budget and am looking for used cars (mostly hyundai’s and nissan’s but open to other makes). Anyway, some people I have talked to have told me that if I’m getting a used car that I MUST buy CERTIFIED! But others I’ve talked to (and posts I’ve read) state that certified isn’t as important as it seems, and often “certified” only means what the dealer wants it to mean. So I want to know, is buying certified used car really worth it?

What exactly does “certified” tell you? Probably differs from one dealer to another, but I’d guess it’s only that they spent an hour checking brakes and suspension and electrical systems (maybe) and fixed any obvious problems so that it all looks good enough for them to sell it. As you wrote:

often "certified" only means what the dealer wants it to mean

But chances are that they don’t know much about the maintenance history. I would not buy a car at anything close to market price if I did not get a fairly comprehensive maintenance history in the form of receipts for work done for a good part of the car’s life. If the history is missing, I might take a chance, but that would depend on the price being very low and I have a pretty good hunch that the car is ok.

Have you ruled out buying a car from a private seller? I think you get more for your money that way, and if the seller has maintenance records for important things like transmission fluid changes, coolant changes, timing belt replacements, that may be more than you get from a “certified” sale from a dealer.

When you find a car that you are seriously considering, take it for a pre-purchase inspection at a good quality repair shop (not where the seller has had it serviced). Expect to spend about $100, and if the report is good, then I think you’ll have more certainty about the condition, IMHO, and spend less overall.

If I were in your situation, I’d search Craigslist for a few weeks to get an idea of what is available at what price, keep some notes… and be patient. Then once I know what’s normal, I’d be on the lookout for a creampuff with low miles from a nice older couple who bought the car new, and serviced it regularly. I’d check out that car right away, expect that it may need a few minor things like alignment or brake pads or something, and figure that cost into the price you offer. Don’t be afraid of a car that needs something, no car is perfect, and often a seller will reduce a price more than the actual cost to fix a problem.

Do NOT buy a car with the check engine light on, or which shows low oil pressure or running hot, or which makes strange noises, has something leaking underneath, etc, without having that thoroughly checked. Walk away from a car with no engine oil or transmission fluid showing on the respective dipsticks.

If you really want to get into the weeds on this, don’t immediately disregard a car with a disclosed problem. It’s possible that the seller misunderstands the problem, that is, that the problem is not as bad as the seller thinks. If you can have a competent mechanic evaluate the car and find out it’s a cheap fix, you may save hundreds. These may be few and far between, but just a possibility to consider.

An example of the latter is a car I had owned for a few years. I was 1000 miles from home on a trip when I encountered an intermittent transmission problem. I made it home ok, figuring I’d have a $1500 transmission repair in my immediate future. Instead, the transmission shop read the codes and determined I needed a $35 sensor which I was able to install myself. I celebrated!

Don’t hesitate to post back here when you get down to choosing between a few possibilites, and need some help deciding. Good luck!

That word may or may not mean anything. A large dealer I worked for quite some years ago sold “Certified” used cars and the question was exactly who was doing the certifyin’?
Very, very few of those cars ever entered the service department doors for any reason.

On the flip side of that, another dealer I worked for did not sell “Certified” cars but did send most of the trades or auction purchases back to service to have them looked over and maintenance or repairs done as needed.

Certified means that you have a better chance of getting repairs done for free if you have an obvious defect, which you didn’t cause, one day after you drive it off the lot and sometimes for quite a bit longer than a day. In some cases it is more than just the new buzz slogan of the week.

If you want to know what it means, ask to see the prospectus which describes what it means.

In today’s market, a certified car should have extra warranty by the manufacturer (not a 2nd tier warranty company). The warranty usually gives you bumper to bumper for one year and drivetrain for 7 years or 100K miles, whichever comes FIRST. Now the one year does not cover “wear and tear” items like brakes. They state that the brakes & tires should at least have 50% left, but don’t think that is what happens. Also what I state is the accepted norm. You have to grab the exact warranty papers of the car you are considering and read through it. Usually this reading starts from bottom where the tiniest font is used and market with a small *.

Most CPO cars are less than 5 years old, so in the used market, they have higher price. Sometimes it just makes sense to buy new, esp if you are looking at 1-2 year old used cars.

Whether a used car is certified or not, you need to have a used car inspected by your mechanic. This mechanic should be someone you pay who doesn’t work at a dealership so there is no possibility of a conflict of interest.

Personally, I’ve seen enough people buy certified used cars that had undiscovered problems that I put zero stock in that certification. My mother bought a certified used car, only to discover the windshield wipers didn’t work. A friend of mine bought a certified used car that overheated on the way home from the dealership. Trust me, you should ignore the certification and get every used car checked as thoroughly as if it had no certification, before you sign anything.

When shopping for a certified used car, make sure it is certified by the factory and carries a factory extended warranty.

“Certified” has no legal meaning and is used by crooks as well as reputable places. It’s been my experience that if you buy a “certified” used vehicle from a dealer with a new car franchise, it will have been thoroughly checked over (they should be able to show you a checklist), come with a warranty, and the dealer will stand behind the warranty without hassle. The franchiser sets standards to protect their product name and holds the dealer accountable. If it’s a place that does NOT hold a dealer franchise, than “certified” has no useful meaning whatsoever.

Of course, always get a used car checked over by your own mechanic and never buy one from a dying dealer or dying brand name. If you do, all bets are off.

I agree with @Same and @whitey and @jt. The idea that a car is certified is more at the discretion of a dealer who first, wants to sell a car at a higher price that has been well taken care of by the previous owner and not necessarily something the dealer has done. Because of this, it can range anywhere from legitimate or a complete sham. Just because it is certified, in no way should keep a perspective buyer from having a mechanic he can trust, check the car over. The exception might be if you have been doing business at a dealer for a long time and have trusted their work in the past. Bottom line though, it’s as much a profit maker for them as anything else.

I believe you are wise to consider the question of “certified.”

It means nothing more or less than whatever the the person or dealer means. It has no legal meaning. It may help you tell the difference between two cars at the same dealer, but not much more. It has no legal meaning.

Good Luck.