The promise of premium used vehicles is an attractive one, but how do these plans work?

Many car companies and their dealers have recognised the merits of offering 'certified' late-model used vehicles, billed as the best-of-the-best in the secondhand market.

Aggregating programs of this type might be especially useful to people who don’t have a mechanically knowledgeable friend to help them look at potential used buys.

These are used cars with good histories, subject to mechanical checks from brand mechanics, backed up by warranties if the transferable new-car coverage has lapsed.

It’s not just premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche offering programs of this sort. The likes of Toyota and Volkswagen also offer ‘certified’ used or pre-owned cars on their homepages, usually ex-company cars and trade-ins.

Buying a late-model Corolla is pretty low-risk, so you may rightly baulk at cutting private sellers from your shortlist. But there's clearly merit in these programs among the premium brands, for car companies and buyers alike.

What is a certified used car program?

Many car companies support and market an inventory of used cars, centralised on their websites, owned by their dealers. They're usually a few years old at most, and have been subjected to extensive mechanical and historical checks.

You’ll usually find inventories on a car-maker’s home page. Car makers don’t put their name to such programs lightly, so you should rightly base an OEM's reputation on the quality of its network's certified used stock.

What are the benefits?

There are a few common denominators in essentially all programs of this sort. You should expect a certified used car to come with:

  • A warranty of 12 months or more, if the transferable new-car warranty is lapsed. Your preference should be a factory warranty rather than a dealer warranty, as a rule.*
  • You should also expect 24/7 roadside assistance to come into play, either complimentary for the term of warranty or as part of an extra-cost package, to assist you with everything from a flat battery or dud key, through to a full vehicle failure.
  • A stringent mechanical and safety health check from a trained company technician, with any replacement parts to be genuine. Most OEMs advertise things such as “111-point checklists’.
  • Full service history from the company's dealer network, done by trained technicians with access to all the right data. We’re not really opposed to specialist aftermarket repairers, but advise buyers to pay for dealer services while their car is in warranty - though legally there’s no obligation.
  • There are services specific to certain companies, such as in-house finance/lease programs with keen interest rates (eg. Volkswagen), or Land Rover-style guarantees that each unit has been extensively road-tested by a technician.

*Any coverage clearly must exceed your region’s mandatory statutory warranty, such as Victoria’s requirement that licensed traders offer coverage for a minimum warranty of three months or 5000km, whichever comes first, on cars aged under 10 years with fewer than 160,000km travelled.

Who offers such programs?

“It’s a significant portion of our business,” said Mercedes-Benz Australia’s communications head David McCarthy, stating that much of its inventory comprised ex-company fleet cars, plus 2-3 year old ex-lease cars with clean histories.

At the other end of the spectrum sits Toyota, with the pitch: "To be thorough, you’ll need to check your potential vehicle’s ownership and service history along with ensuring you have a trained technician to give it a fine-tooth comb check. Alternatively, you can simply select a Toyota Certified Used Vehicle.”

Meantime Land Rover states: "To maintain the high standards we set ourselves and our retailers, an independent inspection of our service, facilities and staff is regularly undertaken. This covers all aspects of the Approved Used Programme from a customer's perspective, including facilities and the cars themselves."


What are the negatives?

Clearly, the main downside is what usually amounts to a requisite price markup over other used cars of similar age. These programs cost money, and this is passed on. The 'halo' of wearing a brand's tick of approval should be hard-earned.

This is why such programs might just make more sense when it comes to luxury brands, because proportionate to the car's cost, the premium is usually smaller.

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