While buying a certified pre-owned vehicle is similar to buying any used car, there are significant differences you should be aware of before you go shopping.
First of all, you should know that not all certified used car programs are the same. Edmunds recommends buying a manufacturer-certified vehicle rather than a dealer-certified one. The manufacturer's certified vehicle program is more reliable, can be used across the country, and won't leave you stranded if your dealership shuts its doors. Vehicles that have been certified by the manufacturer go through more rigorous testing, and in many cases, offer similar benefits as those given to new car customers (e.g. roadside assistance, loaner vehicles).
Once you have chosen the make of vehicle you want to buy, you can begin shopping. Many dealerships will have Web sites listing their inventories and the certified used cars that they have for sale. For more information about these cars, you can e-mail the Internet manager or call the dealership to verify basic details about the car.
Once you are on the lot, find out exactly what has been inspected on the vehicle you are considering. Ask to see the actual inspection report for that specific vehicle. Make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the inspection report matches the vehicle you want to buy.
Even though the car has passed inspection by a factory-trained technician, it is important that you test-drive and look over the car thoroughly yourself. Check to make sure that the paint on the different body panels matches. If not, it might have been in an accident. Also, you can open the doors and make sure that each door — and the corresponding body panel — has a sticker listing the VIN number of the car. If the sticker is missing, look more closely to see if there is body damage in that area of the car.
Now it's time to price and negotiate to buy the certified used vehicle. Check the True Market Value (TMV) price of the car. Edmunds.com assigns a specific Certified Used Vehicle price to used cars that qualify for certification. This price will be higher than the dealer retail price. Use the TMV price as a benchmark for negotiations. For more on negotiating for a used car, see 10 Steps to Buying a Used Car.
When you sign a purchase contract for your used car, make sure you receive proof that the car is under warranty. Also, since the car is certified, the cost of this program is included in the purchase price of the vehicle. In other words, there shouldn't be a separate charge for an extended warranty or for certification.