Beware the Certified Used Car

Certified Used CarsThe last car I bought was a Certified Used Car. That moniker gave me some comfort about the quality of the car. After all, the car was c-e-r-t-i-f-i-e-d. Surely that means high quality, right?

Not so fast. And I should have known better. The car I bought was a 2011 Toyota Camrey Hybrid. It was a current year model with about 20,000 miles. And I noticed my first warning sign that certified doesn’t mean much before I even drove the car off the lot–week-old McDonald’s french fries under the driver’s seat. No joke.

Exactly how much care and attention can a dealer give a car if it misses french fries under the seat? Thanks a lot Koons Toyota of Tyson’s.

Note to business owners. Most customers who are unhappy with your service or product never complain. They just don’t come back. And they tell all of their friends and family, too.

My experience with this car came rushing back today when I read an article on CNN. It quotes Rosemary Shahan, founder of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, advising consumers not to rely on certifications: “Don’t buy a certified used car. Instead, get your own inspection for $100 and save thousands. The dealers who do the certifying will okay anything with four wheels.”

So true. The Toyota I bought, as it turns out, had far more serious issues than some fries under the seat. Here’s what happened.

When I bought the car, I noticed that it made a funny noise at certain speeds. At the time I assumed it was part of the hybrid system, so I let it go. But it really bugged me, to the point of wondering why Toyota would produce a car that made so much noise.

About a year later during routine maintenance service at a different dealer (remember the french fries?), they informed me that I needed new front tires. Apparently the tires on my car had steel poking through the inside of the tire. That’s a bit odd, so I of course had the tires changed.

As you are no doubt guessing by now, that odd noise magically disappeared. So that “certified” Toyota that a dealer sold me came with bad tires. A year had gone by, so it was pointless trying to get compensation from the dealer. But it was an expensive lesson learned.

What has your experience been with certified used cards?

Published or Updated: November 30, 2012
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Cathy says:

    Thanks for the post and here’s my question since I recently helped my 18yo daughter buy a car. How exactly do you go through the process of getting a car inspected?? They aren’t going to let you drive it off the lot without purchasing it. I wanted to do it with some of the cars we looked at with her, but couldn’t figure out the logistics, particularly if it’s a private seller. Would really like to know, as I will probably be going through this process in the next 2 years with my other daughter.

    • Rob Drury says:

      Most reputable dealers will, in fact, allow the customer to take the vehicle to be inspected by a third party. Also, most locales have many mobile vehicle inspectors or mechanics to do inspections at the dealership. If your dealer has a problem with this, walk away.

  2. Bob says:

    I had a friend purchase a so called certified car. I guess he didn’t check to closely before he signed on the dotted line. He said to me, I can’t seem to be able to get the air conditioner to work. I looked and he didn’t have an air conditioner in the car. He was told it had air conditioning. Next he said lets see what I got for a spare tire. He looked and where the spare tire was supposed to be was an empty space with a half dozen or so empty beer cans. I guess they missed a few checks in their 125 check plan. They gave him a $100 back because of the missing air conditioner. I purchased a brand new car from this dealer without much better luck. This dealer has ads on TV and radio in which he says, “If your not happy I want to know”. Believe me he doesn’t want to know nothing.

    • jim says:

      “an empty space with a half dozen or so empty beer cans”

      Thats too funny. I’m sure your friend didn’t think it was funny of course.

  3. Bill says:

    I have a few stories to share, here’s 2. First: Ford Escort with front end shimmy – Ford dealer could not find problem in three attempts, but, a Sears tire mechanic did first try – it was a bad ball joint. Second: A Ford Windstar that we bought from used car dealer had recurring check engine light problem – don’t recall how it ended-up being an exhaust Y-Pipe problem, but, they had trouble finding the right Y-Pipe that would align correctly with the exhaust manifold. After 3 failed attempts to cure problem, the used car dealer enlisted help from local Ford dealer who checked car and said the car had low compression in 3 cylinders and wanted $1200 to explore further – I said no thanks and took car to my preferred local mechanic for a 2nd opinion (best $100 I ever spent). Local mechanic said there was nothing wrong with the compression and asked “who buggered-up the Y-Pipe?” Turns out 1) the Ford mechanic never measured the compression, he just “inferred” the compression from their computer analyzer, and 2) none of the mechanics ever thought to check if the Y-Pipe / manifold problem was due to having the wrong manifold…and, guess who suggested they check… ME! They checked, manifold was wrong [for whatever reason] and, once the right manifold was on, they had no problem fitting Y-Pipe and we never had THAT problem again. Bottom Line: After months of dealing with the inconvenience of having the car in and out of numerous shops, it all boils down to how these people think – they are NOT trained in problem solving.

  4. BillyBob says:

    Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.

    • Rob Drury says:

      Point taken, but this is actually not an appropriate analogy. Most reputable car dealers do a painstaking, competent, and honest job of matching an individual’s needs with the appropriate vehicle within the buyer’s means. Most car buyers are not qualified to make these decisions unassisted.

  5. Bob says:

    A part of the certification process, the recondition/used car manager has to install manufacture approved tires if needed, at the dealer I worked (a BMW dealer) they would install non-approved china made tires but still certified the vehicle. My point being is arrange for a private mechanic look at the vehicle your interested in, it will you thousands.

  6. Rob Drury says:

    In most cases at a franchise dealership, factory certification offers a certainty of quality commensurate with the brand itself. Of course, it should also include specific written guarantees. Face it, automobiles are mechanical devices designed and built by humans; there are simply going to be an inevitable few lemons coming off the assembly lines for any brand. I once sold a brand new Chevrolet Silverado, far and away the most dependable half ton truck on the road, and the transmission absolutely disintegrated inside two days after the sale. Stuff just happens. Most Chevy trucks are good for at least 300,000 miles without any significant issues. Most factory certified vehicles have additional warranty added to the original factory warranty – IN WRITING. While a certification inspection is only as good as the individual/dealer performing it, if done properly, there should be an incentive for the mechanic to find problems and correct them (not the other way around). At most reputable dealerships, there is. Bottom line: When considering a certified use vehicle, check out the written certified guaranty and the reputation of the dealer, both the sales and service departments.

  7. I will prefer to buy a new car than a used car. Though it is certified used car, you don’t know exactly the history of the car, how the previous owner used or take care the car.
    New car have a comprehensive warranty, that is why for me new car is more reliable and can give me peace of mind.

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