auto

Certified cars offer value, reassurance

In these days of tighter credit in virtually all markets, consumers with less-than-perfect credit who shop new car dealerships are increasingly being steered to used vehicles rather than new vehicles.

The reason is that someone with a relatively low credit score -- usually less than 700 -- may not qualify for the higher monthly payment of a new vehicle.

A salesperson who doesn't want to lose the customer may recommend a "certified" used vehicle. Typically, such a vehicle is no more than 3 years old and has the added benefit of being inspected and brought up to a manufacturer's standard for a used car. It also typically comes with an extended warranty.

It sounds good, but is a certified vehicle a good deal for the buyer?

The first thing a shopper will notice is that the certified vehicle will carry a significant premium over a similar vehicle that isn't certified.

For example, a 2005 Honda Accord LX sedan in outstanding condition with 20,000 miles would likely be listed by a dealer at about $16,000. If it's a certified vehicle, shoppers can expect to pay about $1,100 more for the same vehicle.

In addition to making sure that the vehicle looks and runs flawlessly, the Honda Certified Used Car Program includes a warranty that covers the powertrain -- generally defined as parts relating to the engine and transmission -- for seven years or 100,000 miles from the time the vehicle was sold as new.

Honda certified vehicles also come with a 12-month/12,000-mile general warranty on nearly all other areas of the vehicle from the time the vehicle is sold as used.

That's pretty much in line with the certified programs offered by other manufacturers.

Whether a certified used vehicle is a good deal depends on the individual vehicle. Shoppers should ask to see the service report on the specific vehicle they're considering, checking to make sure the vehicle identification number matches.

In the case of this hypothetical 2005 Accord, the car was sold new with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty on the powertrain. So, a buyer of a certified Honda will get more than twice the original warranty period.

But the comprehensive 12,000-mile/12-month warranty may not be that valuable because it might overlap with what's left of the factory warranty on this hypothetical 20,000-mile Honda.

One option for the used car buyer is to save money by getting a noncertified vehicle and then buying a separate extended warranty.

The downside of that scenario is that extended warranties can be expensive, because they are profit centers for dealers. Also, the warranty is only as good as the company behind it, and there have been many warranty companies that have defaulted on their policies.

In the final analysis, shoppers who are looking for a used car in a condition that comes as close as possible to the condition of a new vehicle likely will find the certified used vehicle to be the best deal. It offers value and a degree of peace of mind.

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