Paying extra to buy a certified pre-owned car is supposed to bring you peace of mind. But don't count on it. There has been a sharp increase in the number of cases involving certified used cars that have been previously wrecked or have other substantial problems, says the consumer attorney Daniel Blinn of the Connecticut-based Consumer Law Group.
"I’m going nuts with these certified pre-owned vehicles," said Blinn, who recently blogged about the problem. He says he currently has about a half dozen cases centering on certified used vehicles. One involves a certified 2010 Mazda that Blinn says was sold to an unsuspecting consumer after being wrecked and then poorly repaired.
Consumers pay a premium for certified used cars because those vehicles typically come with a manufacturer's warranty and are marketed as having been thoroughly checked to ensure the vehicle meets high manufacturer standards. For example, Toyota boasts of a certified pre-owned checklist that includes 160 items. "We check 160 points," the Toyota website says. "All to prove one point: Only the best get to be Toyota Certified Used Vehicles."
But they may not be the best after all, says Blinn, who points to evidence that some dealers don't conduct the detailed inspections. He said his office asked an independent auto expert to assess a certified Toyota that turned out to have been previously wrecked. He said the expert found such issues as dirty filters and misaligned headlights. He said some used cars have been certified even though they have clear signs of having been in a collision and undergone bodywork, including mismatched paint, over spray, and unresolved structural problems. He said auto body experts have deemed some unsafe to drive.
That was the case with a Nissan Altima a U.S. service member had bought for his wife and child to use during his deployment to Afghanistan. He learned about the vehicle's structural problems when he returned and tried to trade it in, Blinn said. "I've had a handful of cases that really got me angry, and this one really got me angry," he said.
Often dealers automatically certify late-model used cars, which means consumers get stuck paying hundreds of dollars extra for manufacturer warranties even if they don't want them. Consumer Reports is not a big fan of these warranties, believing instead that consumers should bank that extra money and instead buy reliable used vehicles that have been thoroughly checked by a mechanic.