What Is a Certified Used Car?

“Certified” simply means that a vehicle has gone through a standard inspection and passed. That’s the basic meaning. But here’s what “certified used car” does—and doesn’t—mean for you, the car buyer.

Certified for Safety

All used cars sold in Ontario that will be licensed and driven must pass a safety inspection conducted by a government-approved Motor Vehicle Inspection Station (MVIS). This certification isn’t a guarantee or warranty of the general condition of the vehicle. It just says your vehicle has passed a basic standard safety test. It’s valid only for 36 days, and if a vehicle is sold without this certificate, license plates can’t be attached to it.

Certified by an OEM

OEMs now have their own certification process that they carry out in addition to the safety certification mandated by the government of Ontario. When a used car is certified by an OEM, it means that the OEM dealership has inspected it according to a list of points specific to that manufacturer and/or dealership.

For example, Ford promises a 172-point inspection. If you buy a used Ford, it has passed all 172 points. The inspection lists are available online, so review them as part of your research when shopping for a used car.

Certified by the Dealership

Note that some dealerships—independent and franchisee—may offer their own certification process. This also includes the safety certification but is different from OEM certification.

The Used Car’s Condition

Buying a certified preowned car (another term for certified used car) doesn’t mean the vehicle has been “reset to factory specifications.” This isn’t your smartphone. It simply means the dealership has inspected your vehicle for safety and that everything works. You’re still buying a used car.

For example, the brakes may pass the government-mandated safety inspection but will still be worn from use. Although some dealerships may replace brake pads if they’re too close to not passing safety, others won’t, meaning you’ll have to replace them sooner than later.

Warranty Coverage

OEM and dealer certification can come with extended warranties  for used cars. Research your options carefully. For example, a dealer may offer you a warranty that’s only valid at their dealership, or they may offer you a package that will let you make warranty claims elsewhere.

For OEM dealerships, you can have your warranty repairs conducted at any other dealership run by the same make. If you purchased a warranty at an independent dealership that’s selling warranties through Lubrico, Coast to Coast or similar companies, you will have access to their network of dealerships and garages.

Legal Guarantees

Regardless of the certification process or if you buy a used car that is not a “certified pre-owned” vehicle (these are often cheaper), buying from any Ontario dealer means you still have legal protection in certain cases and certainly rights as a consumer. Visit the OMVIC website to learn more about those rights.

Some websites suggest foregoing the extra expense of buying a certified used car and just saving the money in case extra repairs come sooner than expected. If you choose that route, research vehicle reliability to help you find a car that has a less likely chance of causing you too many issues as it ages.

In the end, certification simply standardizes the used car sales process for dealers. It’s meant to offer car buyers peace of mind, and in the case of safety inspections, a guarantee that the vehicle you’re purchasing is safe to drive. But you are still buying a used car, so remember that these certifications are not meant to return the used vehicle to new condition.

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