The internet has revolutionized the car buying experience. For consumers, it can greatly streamline the process, provide quick price comparisons, and eliminate the often-unpleasant experience of haggling the price in person. Online services, such as CarFax, supply car buyers with vehicle history reports that provide additional consumer protection. Certified pre-owned vehicles are also rising in popularity. This designation is a way for auto dealers to give consumers peace of mind about their potential purchase.

What is a certified pre-owned vehicle?

Also referred to as a certified used vehicle, a certified pre-owned vehicle is a used automobile that the dealer has inspected, made adjustments or repairs, and obtained the manufacturer’s permission to “certify” that the vehicle meets certain standards. The items inspected and the standards which a vehicle must meet to become certified varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

What’s in it for the manufacturer? Certification is a way to instill trust in customers and pave the way for an easier sales process. With extra behind-the-scenes work being done on certified vehicles, it also enables dealerships to charge a premium over vehicles that are not certified.

Can all vehicles be certified?

Absolutely not! California law protects consumers by prohibiting certain cars from receiving this designation. In fact, the California Vehicle Code outlines some circumstances where a vehicle cannot be certified:

  1. The vehicle has been part of a lemon law buyback.
  2. The vehicle was purchased as a salvaged, junked, flooded, or non-repairable vehicle.
  3. The vehicle has frame damage, usually due to being in an accident.
  4. The vehicle was sold “as-is.”
  5. The dealer does not provide the consumer with a completed inspection report that identifies the results of the inspection.
  6. The odometer was tampered with (called “rolled back”) to show fewer miles than the vehicle actually has.
  7. The vehicle sustained damage in an impact, fire or flood and after repair, it still substantially compromises use or safety.
  8. The dealer disclaims warranties on merchantability.

Does certification guarantee the car won’t be a lemon?

The good news is certified used vehicles are almost always new enough to be covered by the manufacturer’s original warranty. Warranties vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but certified vehicles are usually under seven years old and have fewer than 80,000 miles. However, just because the vehicle has had an inspection performed doesn’t mean that problems won’t occur. The bottom line is, warrantied cars, including certified pre-owned vehicles, can indeed be lemons.

Why are there no guarantees?

That’s a decidedly frustrating answer. And the reason there are no guarantees is because, well, it is an imperfect system:

  • The manufacturer’s “standards” for certification are often visual If a car has a chronic oil leak, for example, but is not leaking at the time of inspection, it might pass the inspection.
  • The vehicle could have been part of a lemon law lawsuit, but the consumer settled for cash instead of a buyback and traded the car in. When this happens, the title is not branded a lemon.
  • Perhaps a customer was experiencing recurring issues but chose to trade in the vehicle rather than going through the lemon law process.
  • And sometimes defects have been developing but don’t appear until after a car has been traded in.

Whether you buy a certified pre-owned car, an automobile under warranty or brand new, you are still protected by the California Lemon Law. Understanding your rights and how to exercise them is key to righting a wrong when you bring home a lemon.


Think you have a claim? Get a free, no-obligation case evaluation from Sotera L. Anderson, California Lemon Law Attorney, here or call  1-855-96-LEMON, or (858) 247-0050. Visit our website for more information here.