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Knowledge protects buyers from scams on the used car lot: Ask right questions

March 16, 2005 - More than 45 million used vehicles will be changing hands in 2005 — about three times the number of new vehicles sold — and consumers are increasingly turning to manufacturers' certification programs when making a used car purchase.

More than 1.5 million certified preowned vehicles, or CPOs, were bought in 2004, up about 121 percent since 2001, according to national statistics.

Unlike other used cars, manufacturer-certified preowned vehicles come with comprehensive warranties that offer consumers additional peace of mind.

Consumers, in effect, have a better opportunity to thwart used-car scams and buy a used car that may last longer than the drive home from the salesman's lot.

Nearly all major automakers now have certified preowned vehicle programs but they are not all the same.

"Certified" is an unregulated term; there is no one standard to which certified used vehicles must adhere nor is there any one watchdog group that ensures certain qualifications are met.

Savvy consumers, however, know what to look for in a used vehicle by asking the right questions, such as these:

What are the dealers' criteria for selecting and certifying a vehicle?

CPO vehicles should be late-model years, have low mileage and be in excellent condition with no history of major damage. They also should pass a comprehensive inspection process of electrical, mechanical and cosmetic items and all necessary repairs and scheduled maintenance should be completed.

What is covered under the warranty?

Once a vehicle is certified, it should be covered by a warranty that extends beyond the original factory warranty.

It should typically include some of the same features as a new-vehicle warranty — everything except those items related to upkeep, normal wear and tear, the body and interior and accessories, things the owner should take care of himself.

How long is the warranty period?

The length and terms of CPO warranties vary greatly among manufacturers.

Some warranties, for example, adds an additional two years or 50,000 miles to a new car warranty of four years or 50,000 miles for a total of six years and 100,000 miles.

Is the warranty transferable?

Be certain the warranty can be transferred to a new owner if the vehicle is resold. Only with a transferable warranty can it still retain coverage.

Who provides service if it is required?

Make sure that service work covered under the CPO warranty will be performed at any of the manufacturer's retail outlets, by trained technicians using genuine parts. The CPO warranty also should cover roadside assistance, such as flat-tire repair and lockout service.

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