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Issues with Certified Used Cars


My wife and I are in the market for a Certified Used Car. We found one we liked, and were about to sign a contract of sale, but then we took it to a local outside mechanic to do one last inspection. The mechanic said that the car was solid, but he did point out a few things that he felt should be corrected. These included: (1) Replacing the brakes–(mechanic said 25% or less left), (2) Replacing the battery (failed load test), (3) Following up why the codes have been cleared. (4) Get new wiper blades. Not being a mechanic, I felt that these did not seem unreasonable, especially given that these repairs would probably not amount to much more than a few hundred dollars, which isn’t a lot when you are talking about a $19k purchase. But instantly, we got a lot of pushback from our dealer, as the sales person immediately asked us if we trusted this mechanic, and then proceeded to say that if their “Certified Used Cars,” had this little brake level left (the mechanic was saying 25%), they would get fined X dollars, and probably be put out of business. I felt that this was a pretty strong reaction, and it made me and my wife feel a little uncomfortable. They did let us go out into the mechanics’ area and let us inspect the brakes–which they said were brand new, but the first car they led us to was the wrong car! Eventually, the mechanic conceded that the instrument he had been using, (the borescope–(sic)), may have been misleading, and the front brakes appeared to be 100%, with the rear brakes 60%. The salesperson also questioned how we could need a new battery when he starts it every morning. And when we asked for new wiper blades, the salesperson said they are new, but then when he went back to check the sticker which listed all the improvements, he noticed that they were not new. At the end of the day, they said they would put in a new battery and wiper blades, but my wife and I felt a little uncomfortable with the experience and have decided we would like to shop around at other dealers. Do you think we were too sensitive, or reacted too strongly? Or, being that this is the first time I have ever bought a Used Car, maybe this is how all dealers are? I would appreciate any feedback from this community.

But instantly, we got a lot of pushback from our dealer, as the sales person immediately asked us if we trusted this mechanic, and then proceeded to say that if their "Certified Used Cars," had this little brake level left (the mechanic was saying 25%), they would get fined X dollars, and probably be put out of business.

Haw haw, alot of dealers put “certified” used vehicles on their lot that do not meet standards, and alot do.

I would trust you mechanic and go to another dealer to buy the car.

The salesperson also questioned how we could need a new battery when he starts it every morning.

A battery can fail a load test and still start the car. Will the salesman be there to jumpstart you in 2 months when the battery fails? Will he replace it then?

The way I understand certified used cars is this, The dealer pays a fee to “certify” it, they are supposed to do an inspection to manufactures Certified standards. If there is a problem durning the warranty period I think that the manufacturer pays to fix it, so its basically an insurance policy.

The fact that the car had codes cleared tells me they had a check engine light on and cleared it to get it on the lot.

I would run from that dealer. Or change your offer to 15k. That should cover any needed repairs.

If you don’t go to another dealer you should at least find another car. Any time codes were cleared you could have a serious problem that was not fixed. That is the biggest red flag in the search for a good car.

The salesman and his crew are really wired for twisted explanations. I believe it’s a 99% thing with dealers. You can start a car every day with a battery that doesn’t pass a load test. You just don’t know for how long or in what temperature.

So, they’re willing to replace battery and wipers. That’s like addressing 19% of the issues. In some cases certified means you’re crazy to believe it. They probably checked the wrong car for that too.

As a customer, it is impossible to react too strongly. Just leave dangerous objects at home when shopping for cars. As far as botching your requests goes, “they all do that”. It’s hard to run an honest business; just watch Kitchen Nightmares and see. When it comes to training and experience, there are a million ways to get the wrong kind.

I also think certified is a marketing tool. You did not say what you were looking at but at the 19000.00 to 23000.00 dollar range there are a lot of really nice new vehicles. Use the manufactures web sites and you can build and price almost anything made.

It was very smart to have the car inspected by your own mechanic

A battery can most certainly be bad, but start the car in moderate temperatures

However, when the temperature is 0 degrees or 110 degrees, that battery will fall flat on its face

Once when I was car shopping for my mom, we went to a very large Toyota dealer to look at a 2006 camry

The price was right, the car looked almost flawless, and the mileage was fairly low.

However, the abs light came on during the test drive, and turned off. This was not a self-test, in case anybody is wondering. On my 2005 Camry (same body style) the abs light does not come on during regular driving.

I told the sales guy “I like the car, but I’m not buying it if you don’t take care of this.”

He said okay. We actually went to their contract shop that preps used cars for resale. The guy there hooked up a snap on modis and showed me that there weren’t any codes in the abs system.
At that point, the salesmen said if the problem occurs within so many days after I buy it, they’ll take care of it. I had a weird feeling about the whole thing, so I didn’t buy the car in the end.

What if I’d bought the car, and 6 months later I need a wheel speed sensor, or even worse, an abs unit?

You basically caught the dealer ‘with his pants down’…no wonder he was upset!

Nothing surprising in the BS they tried to feed you after that point. Lots of good comments above…

Good for you - getting an independent inspection is a smart move. Most cars that are “certified” should have 60% or more of brake pad depth. Tires should have lots of tread depth too. Balking about replacing the wiper blades really bothers me. This is so cheap and easy to do that it leads me to question the integrity of this dealer. If you have a problem with this car in a month or so this is how you will be treated. Tell the sales rep he or she has lost your confidence and look for another car.

The “Certfied” part means essentially nothing. If a clean looking car comes in, the dealer wants to keep it for his used car lot. That needs just enough inspecition to make it saleable, and the "Certfied " sticker goes on.

At the price differernce between a private sale and Certified from the dealer, you can do some $4000 in repairs at that price range. The last time I bought a used car from a dealer was in 1959, a 1948 Dodge for $135 and it was a dog!!!

I have no idea what “certified” means. You did the right thing taking the car to a mechanic for inspection. I remember years ago, the Chevrolet dealers sold “OK” used cars, the Buick dealers sold “Owner Certified” used cars, the Pontiac dealers sold “Goodwill” used cars, the Ford dealers sold “A-1” used cars and so on. All of these labels were essentially meaningless and my guess is that “Certified” means nothing more. You found problems with the car and the dealer really doesn’t want to do anything about them. Shop elsewhere.

Some dealers will send cars back to their service departments and have them thoroughly checked over. They may then be designated “Certified”, for what that term is worth.

Most do not do this and the sign out front states “Certified” anyway. They’re rolling the dice on whether the car holds up and quite likely hoping the new owner will move out of state or wreck it before a problem does surface…

DavHir45, you did everything right. And you caught the dealer with his pants down. The salesman, needing your money, then reverted to the full-frontal BS attack. You responded properly.

Congratulations. Best of luck with your CONTINUING search. :slight_smile:

There is supposed to be a inspection for specific items that takes a couple hours to do. Then you get an extension of the factory warranty up to the limit (Something like 7yrs/100,000 miles) the difference between a CPO car and one without the certification can be a couple thousand dollars but the cost of the warranty (On BMW’s it’s around $500) plus the shop time for the inspection makes up the difference. Some may cut corners but they’re not supposed to. Dealers might have their own “Certified” program but the factory program is usually better. Cars with problems still slip through the cracks though.

Car&Driver did a series a year or two ago about various makes CPO programs

I have bought 3 CPO cars and all of them had issues before I bought them. Their “certified” inspection did not catch the most basic issues. To me it was like buying any other used car, made them fix the problems and I was happy to have a one year full manufacturer warranty and also was getting a good deal on the cars.

I should also mention all the issues I found were much less concerning than codes being cleared. They were bulbs that were out, corroded battery, missing hub cap and so on.

Smart to have the car checked and I agree on passing on a car with those issues and more so, passing on a dealer that has so many lies ready to feed the costumer.

For many unscrupulous dealers…Certified is just a numbers game. If a used car is less then a certain number of years old (2-3) and has less then a certain number of miles (usually less then 30k)…then the dealer will give it the Certified classification. Most vehicles that fall in this list will probably be fine and won’t have any issues. So the dealer takes a chance and sells it as Certified. These dealers can’t be bothered with actual inspections. That costs too much. All they is clean it up…fix any obvious problems and hope for the best. Unsuspecting buyers THINK the vehicle was thoroughly inspected (as advertised)…when in fact it wasn’t. Certified was the old marketing gimmick…now it’s Carfax. Both mean NOTHING.

You did the right thing by having the vehicle inspected by a good independent mechanic. Everyone should do that. I was taught by my dad to “Never trust anyone in business”. And it’s served me well over the years.

+1 to Mike’s comments.
The two biggest used car marketing hypes nowadays are the use of the “Certified” label (which is frequently meaningless) and the presentation of a Carfax report–which can be even more meaningless.

If a used car is “Certified” via the manufacturer, its label may well have some significance. However, all too many “Certified” used cars are given that label by dealerships whose…intensive inspection…consists solely of a very cursory check and a detailing of the paint & the interior.

To me…“Certified” is just a word used to sell cars and trucks. Nothing more…nothing less.

The car was certified that it made it from the parking spot the customer parked it in before they traded it to the parking spot on the used car lot it’s sitting in.

For $19k there are plenty of brand new cars that you can buy with a warranty that will work if needed.

“CPO”, “Certified Used” just tells you what you already know. IT’S A USED CAR. Nothing more nothing less.

@DavHlr45, you did exactly what you should have done. However, I would have immediately reacted differently when I got push-back from the salesman. I would have walked away from the deal at that point, probably yelling “you’re fired” in the middle of the showroom. There are plenty of used cars out there, and there are plenty of reputable salespeople willing to do business with you. You did the right thing.