A ‘certified used car’ or ‘certified previously own’ (CPO) vehicle is a refurbished automobile that has undergone and passed a lengthy inspection checklist of items or ‘points’. However, there are perils and pitfalls to be watchful for when buying a ‘certified’ vehicle:

  • Checklist items vary from brand to brand – there is no defined, industry standard system.
  • Some cars described as certified haven’t been looked over closely, or even at all.
  • CPO is a system that depends solely on the honesty of the seller.

Certified pre-owned programs keep score.

In general, CPO tests and evaluates certain mechanical, operational and cosmetic aspects of the car, both inside and out. Although there is no set industry standard inspection, checklist examples may include the engine, cooling, transmission, brakes, exhaust system, tires and wheels, fluid levels, and cosmetic features such as paint. Some inspections check the vehicle history and take the car on road tests. If the car, truck, or SUV passes, the vehicle receives ‘certification’ from a manufacturer or dealer.

What’s the deal with certified pre-owned?

In the 1990’s, luxury manufacturers created Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicle programs as a way to charge more for used cars. Consumers paid more, profit margins got higher. Economics did the rest: other manufacturers caught on and started their own CPO programs. To date, used-car dealers and consumers alike still seem to agree: a used certified pre-owned vehicle is the next best thing to buying new. Even though certified pre-owned cars typically cost $2,000 – $3,000 more than an identical non-certified car, the extra cost often wins out as worth it. Drivers want new-car dependability and peace-of-mind without paying the full new-car price tag. After all, certified vehicles also usually come with some type of extended manufacturer’s warranty – what could go wrong?

When your certified pre-owned car doesn’t add up.

Buyers want a certified pre-owned vehicle that has low mileage, is in like-new condition, has never been in an accident, and holds a clean vehicle history report. But buyers might actually be getting a substandard vehicle with previous damage, bought on the cheap at auction, and slipped through a basic inspection or reconditioning process.

For the crafty and crooked, CPO programs open the door to auto fraud. Unethical dealers see an opportunity to make more money by simply adding the ‘certified’ label. They purchase used cars at auctions on the cheap (these vehicles may have been repaired or rebuilt from flood, fire or frame damage – or even labeled a ‘lemon’ in the past), do a quick refurbish, and try to hide that previous history by labeling the vehicle as certified. Or, dealerships will only perform part of the full manufacturer’s review, and bad vehicles end up on the lot as ‘certified’.  Never assume that there is nothing wrong with your vehicle simply because it’s CPO.

Pennsylvania protects against CPO auto fraud.

Dealerships selling Certified Pre-Owned vehicles must follow Pennsylvania disclosure laws.  If the vehicle has frame or transmission damage, that must be disclosed. In addition to basic auto fraud claims, CPO vehicle fraud qualifies for a claim under the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act. PA prohibits a sale of good or services from certifying products when the good or service does not meet that particular standard.

Many of auto fraud claims include a request for three times the damages, and recovery of attorney fees. In many cases, we are able to represent clients without any upfront retainer – meaning clients only pay us when we win. Give us a call today for a free telephone consultation.