These cars have the manufacturer's seal of approval, having gone through a strict inspection program designed to meet quality standards when it comes to mechanical, body, and electrical components.
A typical certified pre-owned car goes through a comprehensive inspection and will have worn parts replaced or repaired to meet factory standards.
Furthermore, there are age and mileage restrictions that prevent certain vehicles from being eligible for the program. Most used cars that are older than 5 years or have more than 75,000 miles are not eligible.
Most manufacturers offer a 12 to 24 month extended warranty on their certified used vehicles. Some also offer special finance rates.
Only franchised new-car dealers are able to sell certified pre-owned vehicles that are backed by the manufacturer. If you see a "certified" used car at an independent used car lot, or a "dealer certified" car at a new car dealership, it's not the same thing and has nothing to do with the manufacturer. It usually means they just did their own inspection and slapped on a "certified" sticker to confuse shoppers.
There are some third party companies, such as Automobile Protection Corp., that provide certification programs - the most popular being the MotorTrend Certified Program which charges dealers around $500 and usually comes with a six-month warranty.
These are not as attractive as manufacturer-backed programs and could leave you at risk if the company goes out of business.
There are advantages to buying a certified pre-owned car - most notably the peace of mind you get with the factory-backed warranty and thorough inspection.
But this comes at a cost. On average, you'll end up paying between $500 and $2,000 more on a certified used car
When it comes to luxury cars, the premium is even higher. On average, you'll pay between $2,000 and $3,000 more on a certified luxury vehicle. Whether this extra cost is worth it depends mostly on the length and coverage of the extended warranty.
You could have a used car thoroughly inspected by an independent mechanic and combine that with a factory backed extended warranty and you'll have something close to a certified used car.
You just need to compare the costs of each and see which one offers you the best deal. In many cases, buying a certified used car is a good decision if you value the peace of mind that comes along with it.
Even if you do decide to buy a certified used car, you should still get an independent mechanic to inspect it before purchasing. If a problem is found, the dealer will fix it for free and you'll have maximum peace of mind.