Buying a Certified Used Car?

Certified used, “Certified Pre-Owned”, and “CPO” are ways in which manufacturers and dealers can sell used vehicles for a premium, because they are certified. Be wary of CPO vehicles; just because a vehicle is labeled a CPO, it does not mean that it is immune from the problems you can encounter with any other used vehicle, such as a prior wreck, lemon law buyback, or prior rental. The California Lemon Law attorneys at the Auto Fraud Legal Center are providing information to help consumers understand their rights under California’s consumer protection laws.

What Is A Certified Used Vehicle?

A certified used car or CPO is a used vehicle that has undergone an inspection and received certification from a manufacturer or dealer. A manufacturer certifies a vehicle by using the manufacturer’s network of dealers to determine if the car is worth certifying. While the exact nature of the inspection varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, a typical factory certified used vehicle has undergone an inspection of at least 100 points. The problem is that often those 100+ points don’t include the parts of a vehicle that tell you whether your vehicle is safe, has been damaged before, or been repaired before.

You need to be wary of the exact benefit you are getting from a CPO vehicle. It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some manufacturers will provide an extension of the manufacturer’s bumper-to-bumper limited warranty. If they do this, it is typically one year or 12,000 miles. Other manufacturers may include with a CPO vehicle an extension of the power train warranty for the vehicle. The power train on a vehicle is the engine, transmission, and drive train. Finally, there are manufacturers that give you nothing for the purchase of a certified vehicle except a service contract or agreement. Dealer personnel often tell consumers that the service agreement is an extended warranty, but it is not. It is similar to an insurance policy. If you have a mechanical problem with your vehicle and the part that is causing the problem is covered by the service agreement, the service agreement company will pay for the repair. Sometimes there is a deductible that the consumer must pay, such as $50 or $100. Often times with CPO service agreements, there is no deductible. The difference between a warranty and service agreement is very important, because under the law your remedies may be different. If you have a problem that is covered under a warranty, you may be able to get the vehicle repurchased or replaced under the lemon law. If you have a problem with a part covered by a service agreement, you remedy will likely be limited to getting that part replaced or repaired, meaning you do not get the rights afforded under the lemon law.

Dealers can also certify used vehicles. Regardless of whether it is the dealer or manufacturer selling a CPO vehicle, the law in Vehicle Code Section 11713.18 specifically prohibits the sale of vehicles as certified in which:

  • The mileage on the vehicle’s odometer is unknown, not the actual mileage, or has been rolled back.
  • The vehicle was reacquired by the vehicle’s manufacturer under any state or federal warranty laws.
  • The title to the vehicle has been branded with the notation “lemon law buyback,” “manufacturer’s repurchase,” “salvage,” “junk,” “nonrepairable,” “flood” or similar title designation required by this state or another state.
  • The vehicle has sustained damage in an impact, fire or flood that after repair prior to sale substantially impairs the use or safety of the vehicle.
  • The vehicle has sustained frame damage.
  • The dealer fails to provide the buyer with a completed inspection report indicating all of the components inspected prior to the sale.
  • The dealer disclaims any warranties of merchantability on the vehicle.
  • The vehicle is sold “as is.”
  • The term “certified” is used in any manner that is untrue or misleading.

In addition to these requirements, the dealer has an affirmative duty to disclosure material facts about the vehicle’s history. The dealer must give you this information, even if you do not ask. If the dealer does not disclose important facts about substantive prior accidents, repairs, damage and status as a rental vehicle, it is a misrepresentation. Moreover, if the dealer conceals any information about the case in response to a direct question, such as “has the vehicle been in an accident before?”, you may be able to pursue a fraud claim against the dealership.

If you have purchased a certified used vehicle with a warranty and the vehicle experiences defects that are covered under that warranty, you have all of the protections afforded consumers under the California lemon law.

Protect Yourself Before You Buy

If you plan to purchase a certified used vehicle, there are some important steps to take to protect yourself from auto dealership fraud:

  • Ask for a full maintenance history including the inspection and repair list. Ask about the experience of the person who inspected your vehicle – what experience do they have finding damage to vehicles?
  • Run a vehicle history report – this will give you title history and may notify you of any major repairs, accidents or recalls. A vehicle history report, however, is not complete as it only reports information that it is provided to that vendor. If an accident is never reported to the state or insurance company, it may not show up on a vehicle history report.
  • Because of this, it is important that you always take any used vehicle you are going to purchase to a mechanic and/or body shop for inspection. You have the right to ask to do this. If the dealership will not allow you to do this, we recommend against purchasing the CPO. While you may have to pay your mechanic $100 or so to provide this inspection, it could save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if the dealer won’t let you take the vehicle for an inspection, ask yourself what the dealer is hiding.
  • Request an inspection sheet – this will allow you to see what went into the certification of the vehicle you hope to buy. Do they check for prior accident damage? Do they check for frame or structural damage? Do they tell you if the vehicle has had paint or body work? If not, why not?
  • Research the certification program – look for nationally recognized programs that will certify every make, model and year of vehicle.

If you think you have been the victim of auto dealer fraud, contact the San Diego lemon law lawyers at the Auto Fraud Legal Center for a free consultation.