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Action 9: What is a ‘certified’ pre-owned vehicle?

Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke said that paying more for a certified car doesn’t always pay off in the end.

Kevin Brasler, the executive editor with Consumers’ Checkbook, explains what certified means at the dealership.

“The word ‘certified’ gets used pretty often these days,” Brasler said. “And yet when you dig into what it means, it doesn’t mean much if they haven’t done the things they’re supposed to do.”

Brasler said that only a new-car dealership can offer a manufacturer-certified used vehicle, and the requirements for those certifications change depending on the company.

Other independent sellers can apply their own certification labels with their own list of checks.

But Brasler said don’t be fooled into thinking certified always means problem-free.

“A lot of consumers have been lulled into a sense of security thinking, ‘Oh, this is a good car,’” Brasler said. “They’ve promised they’ve done all these checks. But in fact, the promise is only as good as the dealer selling the car.”

Consumers’ Checkbook reviewed lawsuits and complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.

They found certified cars with unreported crashes, flood damage and one that was used as a federal crash test vehicle.

“Those cars should never have been certified and probably shouldn’t be back on the market,” he said. “And yet, they were promised as being certified cars, having passed all these rigorous checks that really weren’t done at all.”

When buying a used car:

  • Always check the CARFAX report, but ask the dealer to provide it. That way you don’t have to pay for it and save $40.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car before you buy.
  • Test drive the car

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