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Not just semantics: the difference between used cars and certified pre-owned

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Car prices for new cars are rising at a sometimes alarming rate.  In order to outfit a car with all of our must-have features, things can get incredible expensive.  Add in depreciation and the price of a new car doesn’t outweigh the expense in most cases.  For this reason, many people have continued the tradition of buying lightly used vehicles rather than purchase new from the dealership.  However, how does one determine whether or not they’re getting their money’s worth when it comes to the purchase of a pre-owned vehicle?

There are many options for the purchase of a pre-owned vehicle, and the market is flooded with decisions.  Do you buy pre-owned, or do you go with a certified vehicle?  Is there even a huge difference between the two options when it comes to a used car versus a certified vehicle?  Is the wording just a gimmick used by dealerships to make you spend more money, or is there actually a discernible difference between the two?  Often, buying a pre-owned vehicle can be more emotionally taxing than the purchase of a brand new car because you have to worry about the vehicle’s history before purchasing.

The answer to the question about whether or not there is a huge difference is a vehement affirmative.  There is absolutely a discernible difference between pre-owned and a certified pre-owned vehicle; it’s not just semantics, and it isn’t a sales trick.  In order to make the decision properly, you must examine all of the differences between the two types to determine what is best for you and for your budget in the long run.  Some of the differences are a little bit subtler, but essentially the biggest difference will be the most important factor in determining which you choose.

The first major difference, and often the determining factor is that a certified pre-owned vehicle is put through a rigorous inspection before being offered for sale again.  Many dealerships require an intense one-hundred-point checkup to ensure that the vehicle they’re selling is of the best quality and won’t require expensive repairs soon after purchase.  In order for a vehicle to be tagged as a certified pre-owned, it must pass a bevy of tests in order to be marketed as such.  Often, when a car passes these tests, it is also backed with an extended warranty from the dealer.

To further complicate things, there are also two types of certified vehicles.  One is the dealer-certified vehicle, which means that the dealership conducted the checkups to make sure that the vehicle is reputable and suitable for sale.  There is also a manufacturer certified vehicle, and this vehicle comes with even more assurances as it has been put through tests by the manufacturer instead of just the dealership.  Should the dealership go out of business, there are extra protections offered to buyers through the manufacturer, and these cars often include an extra warranty.  The testing is a little bit more rigorous than that of a standard dealership offers.

The cost is another tipping point for many people, as certified vehicles often cost quite a bit more at the time of sale.  This added cost must be weighed against the potential for the necessity of massive repairs in the event that the vehicle hasn’t been certified.  If the car isn’t a certified pre-owned model, then there is usually no guarantee that it doesn’t have some small issue that will impact its performance down the line.  These cars are also sold in as-is condition, and no additional warranties are offered to cover extensive repairs down the line.  Due to this factor, there is a potential for extreme out of pocket costs down the line, should a buyer choose to go with a non-certified vehicle.

When you are making the decision over whether to purchase pre-owned or certified, the best bet is to ask the dealership for the vehicle history report.  This report will often give great detail regarding previous owners, and any history of significant damage, including fender benders that may impact the future worthiness of the car.  If this report details a spotty history of multiple owners, or small collisions, a certified car will be your best bet, as the dealership is putting their stamp of approval on the vehicle, and a buyer can rest assured that they will be protected in the event of issues with the performance down the road.

It may seem like the whole certified and non-certified thing is just clever word play, but it’s not.  There are significant differences between the two choices, and the importance will be up to the buyer.  If you’re looking for a car that doesn’t need to be a top performer, then going with a traditional pre-owned vehicle may be a viable option.  However, if you’re looking for a vehicle that is going to last for a long while and get you where you need to go without issue, go certified.  It may cost more in the interim, but the savings may be evident over time.

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