The Truth About “Certified” Used Vehicles


Car makers and dealers are increasingly advertising that their used cars are “certified.”   However, what “certified” actually means varies from manufacturer to manufacturer or dealer to dealer.  Generally, though, certified vehicles are recent model-year vehicles, have undergone an inspection, have been repaired or reconditioned, and may come with some kind of warranty.

So, in theory, a certified vehicle’s major components are inspected, repaired, or reconditioned.  Vehicles certified by the manufacturer typically undergo a more rigorous inspection/repair process and are backed by the manufacturer’s warranty.  Vehicles certified by the dealer may undergo a more limited inspection/repair process and may not a have a warranty.  

Auto manufacturers and car dealers do not certify vehicles out of generosity.  Instead, they certify vehicles in an effort to increase their profit from the sale of used vehicles.  Manufacturers and dealers see the certification process as a way to increase used car inventory turnover as well as profit per used vehicle. 

In addition, if a manufacturer or dealer fails to inspect and repair a vehicle prior to selling it as a certified vehicle, a buyer’s recourse will vary from state to state.  Many states have no laws specifically regulating the sale of certified used vehicles.  Buyers in those states may have to prove fraud—intent by the manufacturer or dealer to defraud them—and the certifier can always argue that it simply made a mistake.  Otherwise, the certifier may be held only to the terms actually appearing in the written contract or warranty.  Other states, like California, have enacted laws that regulate the sale and advertising of certified vehicles.  California, for example, prohibits vehicles with damage and odometer discrepancies, among other things, from being certified and requires sellers to provide buyers with a copy of the certification report prior to the sale.

In short, the mere fact that a vehicle is being sold as a “certified pre-owned vehicle” does not mean much.  A consumer should still find out:

  1. Which components were inspected,
  2. Which components were repaired/reconditioned,
  3. Whether the vehicle was in an accident,
  4. Whether the vehicle sustained flood damage,
  5. Whether the vehicle comes with a warranty from the manufacturer,
  6. How long the warranty lasts, and
  7. Which components are covered by the warranty.

For more information, see the entry on buying a quality used car, Tips for Buying a Quality Used Car:


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