The Federal Trade Commission recently investigated General Motors for selling vehicles with open safety recalls as “certified preowned.” Unfortunately, this problem is not limited just to General Motors or open recalls. While car manufacturers advertise that certified preowned vehicles give you peace of mind and have been thoroughly inspected, I have seen far too many instances from all car manufacturers of certified preowned vehicles sold with serious safety, mechanical or title problems. Some problems with my clients’ manufacturer certified preowned vehicles have included transmission and engine failures, engine shutting off while driving, water leaks and odometer rollback.
All the major manufacturers have certified preowned vehicle programs. Most manufacturer’s certified preowned programs require the vehicle to be fairly new, usually less than five years old, have a clean Carfax or other vehicle history report and pass an inspection checklist with normally over 100 items to certify. Car buyers pay a premium of several thousand dollars for a manufacturer’s certified preowned vehicle over the price of a similar vehicle that is not certified preowned.
Too many times, car buyers end up with a vehicle that should have never passed the certification process. Car dealership employees simply check off all the boxes on the checklist, without actually verifying that the vehicle meets the standards.
This is not just an issue with rogue or careless dealership employees. The car manufacturers create the certification process and allow dealerships to advertise that the vehicle has met exacting standards. Yet, car manufacturers across the board do almost nothing to see that dealerships are complying with the certified preowned standards. Even worse, when something goes wrong, the manufacturers almost always blame the dealerships even though the manufacturers advertise that they will stand behind a certified vehicle.
Even if the vehicle does meet the certification standards, consumers often do not know what the certification actually covers. Many car buyers believe that certified preowned means that the car has never been in an accident, but find out only after they buy a car with an accident history that most manufacturers allow certification of vehicles with accident damage that does not exceed a certain level.
Even though buying certified preowned is not a guarantee that a vehicle is accident free, has had all recalls performed, has no major mechanical issues and has a clean Carfax report, I am not saying that you should never buy a certified preowned vehicle. Car buyers just need to be aware of exactly what they are getting. In exchange for paying more for a certified preowned vehicle, a buyer will in most cases get extended warranty coverage from the manufacturer and a vehicle that will probably have a higher resale when it is traded. While dealerships sell a aftermarket service contracts or extended warranties on just about any vehicle, the warranty extension or manufacturer’s brand service contract that comes with a certified preowned vehicle provides much better coverage and fewer hassles about getting repair bills paid than an aftermarket service contract.
Another benefit of a certified preowned vehicle is that there is more bargaining power if things go wrong once an attorney steps in. I have not seen much of a difference in how manufacturers treat consumers without an attorney with a problematic certified preowned vehicle, but I often see my clients get a somewhat better recovery on a certified preowned vehicle than they would on a used vehicle that is not certified. Another difference is that I have been able to obtain for some certified preowned clients a full repurchase or swap into another comparable vehicle even though the case did not actually qualify under the Lemon Law. This happens only in very rare cases with a used vehicle that is not certified and does not meet the Lemon Law requirements.
There are some steps to take to protect yourself against a bad certified preowned vehicle. If the salesperson tells you that the Carfax or Autocheck report is clean but will not put a copy of the report in your hand before purchase, walk away from the deal. They are hiding something on that report. If they say they are giving you the report but put it in a stack of papers or in an envelope before you can look at it, pull it out or open the envelope and go over the report. You should also ask what the standards are for accident damage and should not assume that because a car certified, that it is accident free. Tell the dealership to check for any outstanding recalls, and if there are any, ask to have them performed immediately. You can also go tohttps://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ if you have the Vehicle Identification Number to look on your own for unperformed recalls.
Ask the dealership for a copy of the certified preowned checklist showing what was checked on the vehicle, and keep that in case something goes wrong. Tell the dealership to give you the prior maintenance and repair records. If it is a certified preowned vehicle from that manufacturer’s franchise, most likely any repairs were performed at the manufacturer’s dealership and your salesperson should be able to pull up those. Finally, keep all the paperwork that you receive at the time the sale, including stickers on the windows. Many people will keep their purchase and finance agreement but get rid of the window stickers. Window stickers often have representations about the certification that can make a critical difference between winning and losing a case.
By taking these steps instead of just assuming that a certified preowned vehicle will automatically be safe and mechanically sound, you can greatly reduce the chances of buying a bad vehicle. If you do unfortunately end up with an unreliable or unsafe certified preowned vehicle, you should contact Attorney Christina Gill Roseman at www.helpforlemoncars.com or 800-745-5259 to get the legal help you need to stand up to the car manufacturer and dealership responsible for selling a vehicle that should have never been certified.