Most car manufacturers have certified pre-owned ("CPO") programs. Typically, CPO programs involve an inspection by an authorized dealership, who "certifies" that the car meets the manufacturer's high standards. For example, Toyota advertises that it has a "160-Point Quality Assurance Inspection." CPO cars often sell for a premium price. One reason for the higher cost is that most programs include a manufacturer's warranty. But, the main reason that many consumers pay extra for certified pre-owned is because they believe that these cars have been thoroughly checked out and are in great condition.
Unfortunately, at least some dealerships do not really do the detailed inspection that promised by these programs. We have seen instances where dealerships "certified" and sold cars with dirty air-filters, worn wiper blades, poor tire tread, and other problems. Some of these cars were previously wrecked cars that dealerships certified even though there was mismatched paint, overspray, or unresolved structural problems. Some cars were even deemed unsafe to drive by independent auto body experts - certainly not what someone would expect when paying extra for a "certified pre-owned" vehicle.
Our advice is that consumers not rely upon a dealership's certification. Pay a few bucks to get an independent inspection of a used car before you buy. It is also a good idea to check into the dealer's reputation before you decide to do business with them. For more tips on how to buy a used vehicle, check out the video of our webinar: How to Buy a Used Car.