When you’re in the market for a replacement vehicle and decide that buying brand-new just isn’t going to work for your needs and your budget, but you’re leery about getting someone else’s problems in a used vehicle, you may wish to consider a certified pre-owned (CPO) or certified used car. Before you decide to go this route, however, take a look at these tips on buying certified used cars.

1. Certified used cars let you avoid the hassle of mechanical problems. – Probably the biggest reason buyers want to steer clear of used cars is the fear of inheriting someone else’s problems, mostly undisclosed. If you’re buying a used car out of the classifieds or from a guy who’s put a sign in his car window, you never really know what you’re getting—unless you take the car to a professional mechanic and have it thoroughly checked out. But the temptation to skip this expense is all too common. On the other hand, when you buy a certified used car, you can expect that most of the problems have been attended to. Buy a factory certified used car, which is backed by the manufacturer and undergoes a 100-plus multipoint inspection. There are also dealer-certified used vehicles, but these are generally not inspected as rigorously.

2. Certified used cars may cost more, but the peace of mind is worth it. – How much more will a certified used car cost compared with one that doesn’t come with the factory-backed guarantee? While you might pay several hundred dollars more, isn’t the added peace of mind well worth the expense? According to Edmunds.com, sales of certified used vehicles have increased 35 percent since 2002, while during the same period, sales of used cars overall fell by 10 percent. The fact is that one- to five-year old vehicles that have been inspected and warranted may be priced a bit higher than you’d like, but again, if it comes with that factory-backed warranty, it could be a smart choice.

3. Insist on seeing the actual inspection report. – Even though you’ve decided upon a particular certified used car that’s clearly identified as one, make sure you get to see a copy of the actual inspection report. Check to make sure that the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the inspection report matches the one on the car.

4. Do a thorough inspection yourself and test drive the car. – After you’ve seen the actual inspection report, you still should do a complete walk-around the car, inspecting the fit of the body panels, the paint finish, the cleanliness and appearance of the interior, that all the systems and features work. Go on a lengthy test drive so that you are satisfied with how the vehicle handles on a variety of different road surfaces, that it is quiet, with no rattling or squeaking or unusual sounds. In this respect, buying a certified used vehicle isn’t any different than buying one that’s brand-new. You still need to make sure it’s the right one for you and that it passes muster.

5. Get a CarFax report, maybe an independent inspection. – Why bother obtaining a CarFax report on a certified used car? The dealer selling the CPO vehicle may provide this, but if not, it’s a small expense to know the car’s history. But since cars that have been in an accident may have had repairs paid for outside insurance, and this may not show up on a CarFax report, paying $100 for a professional independent inspection of the car may be a good idea.

6. What about financing a certified used car? – It pays to shop around here for an outside loan or financing of any certified used car you’re considering. That’s because the dealer offering the CPO vehicle may not always have the best rate financing available. In much the same way as you should go to the dealership shopping for a new car with pre-approved financing in hand, you can potentially save yourself a bundle of money by getting your own financing before considering the dealer’s rate. Try your local credit union, or the bank where you have a number of your accounts. Never put yourself in the position of having no other options than the dealer’s financing. At the very least, when you come with financing already in hand, ask the dealer to match or beat it. If the dealer really wants the sale, you could wind up the winner here.

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