Are Certified Pre-Owned Cars Better?

Release Date: 
February 22, 2012
| Filed under: 

Are Certified Pre-Owned Cars Better?

Consumer groups are seeing growing complaints about the used vehicles.

By Chris Coffey

|  Friday, Feb 17, 2012  |  Updated 3:16 AM EST

Some of the certified pre-owned cars might not be up to the standards you think.

What's in a name? "Certified pre-owned" may have a nicer ring to it than "used." But NBC Connecticut has uncovered a growing trend of complaints against the auto industry's certified pre-owned programs.

Roberto Cumento recently purchased a certified pre-owned sport utility vehicle from a North Haven auto dealership. His 2007 Acura MDX passed a 150 point inspection, and its car history report came back clean.

"A few weeks later, I started having problems with the transmission," Cumento said.

Cumento said those transmission troubles led to other discoveries about his MDX, which is now sitting unused in a garage. The vehicle is the focus of Cumento's lawsuit against Acura by Executive.

According to the lawsuit, an independent body shop found signs Cumento's vehicle had been through an overhaul.

"They showed me the repaired panels and there's some significant body work done to it," Cumento said.

The lawsuit claims the independent shop said it would cost between $5000 and $7000 to get Cumento's vehicle to industry standards.

"That 150 point inspection should have picked that out and that vehicle should not have passed those requirements and it shouldn't have been certified," Cumento said.

The lawyer representing the dealership acknowledges the vehicle had been repainted but said Acura by Executive's examination of the MDX revealed no structural or residual damage and that it had a clean Carfax report. The lawyer said the dealership even offered Cumento a chance to trade in his car for another vehicle.

However, Cumento did not want to purchase another car from the dealer.

Cumento is not the only consumer feeling duped by the auto industry's certified pre-owned programs. The National Association of Consumer Advocates calls it a growing a trend.

"In many cases, we're finding people with cars that were certified that have very significant prior wreck damage; in many cases, not properly repaired," attorney Dan Blinn said.

Blinn serves as the Connecticut chairperson of The National Association of Consumer Advocates.  He is also representing Cumento in his lawsuit against the dealership and American Honda Motor Company, Inc.

"When I talk to people, they believe when they're buying a certified used car that this car is an excellent vehicle, that it has a pristine history, that it's been properly maintained and certainly that it hasn't had prior wreck damage," Blinn said. is one of the leading automotive information resources for consumers. The website said certified pre-owned cars often sell at higher prices than normal used cars.

"Used cars will have wear and tear on them. There's no way not to have it. But the certified pre-owned program guarantees that those condition levels are as good as they can be," said senior consumer advice editor Philip Reed.

Ford and GM certified pre-owned (CPO) programs advertise 172 point inspections, which include comprehensive checks of engines, brakes, and vehicle history reports. Toyota offers 160 point inspections on its CPOs. Honda (parent company of Acura) and Hyundai CPOs offer 150 point inspections. Chrysler CPOs come with 125 point inspections and Volkswagen CPOs must pass 112 point inspections. All of the previously mentioned CPO programs include vehicle history reports.

But every auto manufacturer's program has slightly different rules. The programs are not without controversy.

"We get emails and we hear stories about cars that had significant problems and wound up anyways in these CPO programs," Reed said.

Consumers who are considering a certified pre-owned vehicle are encouraged to ask for an inspection report. Also, if you want another mechanic's opinion of a vehicle in addition to the dealer's, don't hesitate to ask.

Cumento is suing for a refund of the amount he paid for his MDX. The dealer said its trade-in offer still stands.