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Tips on Buying a Certified Pre-owned Car

Shalu Bhatti
Pre-owned cars are a good option for new drivers, or for those who wish to save some money on their ride. There are a lot of advantages of buying a used car. However, one does need to keep a few things in mind to seal a good deal. Here are some tips on buying a certified pre-owned car.

Why Certified?

There are many advantages of buying a certified pre-owned car. One being that, the car has been inspected and mended by experts, and usually comes with a warranty from the dealer or company. This makes the process less hassled when compared to buying a car from the owner.
While earlier the whole idea of purchasing a used car was not widely acceptable―probably due to the misconception of pre-owned being equivalent to "disowned"―now, the scenario is somewhat different.
With customers becoming more and more practical and smart in terms of investing their time and money, a huge customer base is welcoming pre-owned cars into their lives with open arms. The practice became a trend when the iconic Mercedes-Benz started selling certified pre-owned cars during the late '80s.
The value of a new car depreciates to almost 30% within the first year of sale. This means that you can buy a car that is as good as new at a lesser price. Secondly, you also get leverage by negotiating the price, and yes, a good bargain can be made, provided that you know the tact.
So yes, certified cars are definitely feasible compared to buying a firsthand car, however, there are many aspects that you need to evaluate before you take your pick.

Points to Watch Out for While Buying a Certified Pre-owned Car

If you think from the dealer's point of view, the whole concept of furbishing old cars and reselling them to new customers, is no charity but a profit-oriented business. Undoubtedly, there will be hidden ways through which the dealer/manufacturer will want to maximize his profit.
Remember, prior research always pays off! The basic requisite before you even end up at the dealer's doorstep, is to first decide on the type of car you want, determine a fixed budget, and do an online search regarding the model's features, mileage, consumer reviews, current market value, resale value, and so on.
After you do the math, the following points will help you perform an in-depth evaluation to make sure you snag a good deal.

Inspect the Car

You may want to prepare a checklist to ensure that all the necessary areas are inspected thoroughly. The following checklist gives you the details that need to be scrutinized.

The Tires

Check the thickness of the tires and try to see if there is an unevenness in the tire wear. If the odometer shows lesser traversed miles, the tires may reveal the truth if they appear to be worn out.
Also, an unevenness in the front could signify that the wheels and suspension of the vehicle are out of alignment.

The Exterior

Carefully scrutinize the exterior of the car and try to look for possible damages such as dents, scratch marks, cracks on the mirrors, and the paint job. Gently rub the surface that appears to have had patchwork done. Inform the dealer regarding the same.

The Interior

Inspect the interior of the car in terms of wear and tear.
Check if the radio, music player, A/C, odometer, automatic window system, and other features are in working order. It is sad to say, but some dealers tamper with the number of miles shown in it. However, inspecting the state of the interiors may help you figure out the authenticity of the odometer.

Car Underbelly

This is a crucial area to inspect as it can reveal the true condition of the car.
While the rest of the parts may be reworked on, if the area underneath the car is rusted, you'll surely know it's time to move on to another option.

The Hood

Open the hood and check the condition of the engine and other parts. Check the oil of the car. It shouldn't be thick or dark in color, if it is, ask the dealer to change the oil and other necessary components.

The Trunk

The trunk of the car needs to be checked not only for its storage capacity, but also for the presence of the spare tire and necessary tools that come as part of the deal. Ensure that the dealer has all these things in place before you drive the car home.

Ask for a Copy of the Vehicle's History Report

There are many companies that provide comprehensive information on the history of used cars, such as Carfax and AutoCheck.
All you have to do is enter the VIN of the vehicle and get access to the history of the car in terms of previous owners, major repairs, and accident reports. However, the records are shown only if the car has been repaired by a reputed dealer or the manufacturing company itself.
Though you may not likely get an accurate report, it is still a good way to get an idea of the car's history. Usually, the dealer will provide a copy of this report without any charge.
You may also get this information from the Department of Justice's National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) also has a database that contains a record of vehicles involved in flood damage and other problematic situations.

Ask for the Certification Points

If the car has been certified by the dealer, ask the representative to let you have a look at the points that qualified the car as certifiable. Usually, all the major components are covered in the list.
Another important point is to make sure that the certification is done by the manufacturer and not the dealer. This is a very important point because only a manufacturer-certified car will be able to avail of services offered by the company anywhere in the country.

Take it for a Long Test Drive

Now comes the big deal―experiencing the feel of the car. This is the moment that determines if this baby is meant for you, so make sure you take it for a good spin.
It is important to take the car for a lengthy drive because a lot can be revealed. Take it around the neighborhood, along bumpy lanes, and the express highway. See how it responds when you change gears, accelerate uphill, and apply the breaks.
Observe if there are any abnormal sounds when you switch gears, or drive speedily. Ensure that the breaks are stiff and not so loose that they completely reach the base when pressure is applied.
If you feel sudden jerks while driving, it may indicate that there is something wrong with the shock absorbers. Also, if the vehicle makes a lot of noise and releases an excessive amount of smoke while on the move, know that it needs major repairing. In this case, it would be a good idea to go for a less problematic option.

Evaluate the Warranty

As mentioned earlier, most certified cars come with warranties, however, it is your job to evaluate what comes under the warranty. Most certified pre-used cars come with a power-train warranty, and you might have to pay additional dollars for extended coverage.
Make sure that the terms and conditions are clearly understood. For example, certain warranties are short-term while others are not. You also need to be aware of the costs involved in purchasing/renewing additional policies such as 24-hour roadside assistance, bumper-to-bumper coverage, and so on.

Ask for the Return Policy

You might want to ask your dealer about the return policy, if any. It is not a mandatory rule imposed by law, but there are a few dealers who provide such policies. The different terms used for this policy are: "Cooling-off" period, money-back guarantee, and "no questions asked" policy.
Here, the dealer may offer to return the money within a three-day period. If your dealer offers this facility, ensure that you take it down in writing and scrutinize it carefully.

Have a Trusted Mechanic Inspect the Car

There is a huge difference in owning a car and understanding a car. Based on the aforementioned points, if something appears to be 'not right' about the car, it is advisable to have a trusted mechanic evaluate the car to clear all your doubts. Tell the mechanic about the areas you feel unsure of and see what he has to say post inspection.

Negotiate the Price

As mentioned earlier, it is essential to check the market value of the model you are willing to buy. There are various resources such as Automobile Dealers Association's (NADA) Guides, Kelley Blue Book, and Edmund's that can be used to determine the value of the vehicle in question.
Once you are aware of that, it won't be possible for the dealer to quote a higher price. You may also negotiate further, based on your observation of the car from the previous points.
Even though the car is certified, it does not take the load off your shoulders to research, evaluate, compare, and negotiate; pretty much the case when buying a pre-owned car from elsewhere.
The plus point of buying a used car from a dealership is the Buyers Guide, which is mandatory by the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Used Car Rule, that dealers have to post it in every pre-owned car offered for sale.
This guide contains effective details related to the warranty, car functioning, and other important aspects of the car. However, the states of Wisconsin and Maine do not come under this rule; they have a different one.
If saving money is your prime motive, make sure that you never opt for a model that is not manufactured anymore. This is because if there is a need to replace the vehicle's parts in the future, it will be difficult to find new parts of the same model. Even if the company manages to get the parts, they will prove to be costlier compared to regular car models.