What is a Certified Pre-Owned Car?

Does it really mean anything when a dealership claims their stock is “certified pre-owned,” or is it just empty marketing? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. The phrase means different things to different dealers. Because it can mean something, many unscrupulous sorts will try and lure you into a business where it doesn’t mean much.

The good news, however, is that it will at the very least mean something, if only that the car still has some time let on the factory warrantee. At the heart of it, that’s all a “certified” used car is – under warrantee. The problem with a factory warrantee being the only coverage on a used car, however, is that whether it has 10 miles left or 10,000; one week or 10 months, it all falls under that umbrella of “certified pre-owned.”

Adding to the confusion is the fact that “certified pre-owned” is also a term used by automobile manufacturers to mean something like “refurbished” or “reconditioned.” And again, this means different things depending on who decides the car is certified. Manufacturers do typically have higher standards than independent dealers, however, so if you’re looking at something labeled “factory-certified pre-owned,” you’re probably safe – that one extra word can make all the difference. If a car has been Factory Certified, you can bet that it’s been inspected and repaired, and saddled with a brand new warrantee. Of course, there is a price for all this – but it’s measured in dollars, not headaches down the road.

So the long and short of it is: “Certified” doesn’t mean much until you know who has certified it. A factory certification is generally a good thing, but an independent dealer’s certification is a crapshoot. Buyers beware – always do your research, and always be careful of slick advertising that’s all flash and no substance. And if they’re not willing to show you the CARFAX, find a place that will!