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Cars are seen at a Chrysler car dealership in Toronto, April 30, 2009. (MARK BLINCH/MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Cars are seen at a Chrysler car dealership in Toronto, April 30, 2009. (MARK BLINCH/MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Ask Joanne

Don't fear the dealer Add to ...

Dear Joanne,

I want to buy a certified pre-owned car - I have my eye on a German crossover - because I would feel much safer than buying an ordinary used car off a lot.

However, I'm still really nervous about dealing with the salespeople in the dealership. As a woman, I feel like I have a target on my head.

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How can I appear confident, and what kinds of questions do I need to ask upfront about CPO cars, so they know they aren't dealing with an idiot?

- Jessica

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Knowledge is power, and even a little will go a long way in this situation. If you do some research, you won't just appear confident when you walk into the dealership - you'll be confident. If you don't want a target on your head, you've got to put something in your head.

Jessica, let's start with the basics of Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles. If you're looking for a bargain with low risk, CPO offers peace of mind, for far less than the price of a new vehicle. To be clear, we're talking about used vehicles certified under a manufacturer's program, and sold through an authorized dealer. Before certification, these vehicles go through a rigorous inspection by a factory-trained technician, and must be refurbished to like-new condition.

It's essential to know that there is no industry standard for CPO programs. The definition of CPO, and the key component - the warranty - varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Though these are typically as comprehensive as with new vehicles, make sure you find out the specifics of what the warranty covers. Also check on the term, whether there are mileage restrictions, and if there is a deductible or handling fee. You'll also want to know if it's transferable to a subsequent owner, in case you decide to sell.

In addition to the warranty, ask about other CPO benefits. These may include useful extras such as roadside assistance or trip interruption protection. You may also want to inquire about financing - the rates for CPO vehicles are usually very good compared to those for regular used, or new, cars.

For increased assurance, request the technician-signed CPO inspection sheet, and ask for a complete service and vehicle history. If you don't fully understand what you're looking at, take it to a friend, relative or mechanic who does.

When it comes to walking into the dealership, arm yourself with a clear idea of what you want, and a basic awareness of competitors' programs and model prices. This will help you to negotiate. Go online to do some research, and perhaps even print a few pages to take with you.

How much does that new car cost?

Use Globe Drive's New Car Search to find car prices, features, specs and more.

Demonstrate your knowledge. If it's clear that you've been shopping around for the best deal, the salesperson will be less inclined to try and drive up his profit margin. You may be facing a smooth and seasoned professional, but he or she wants your business. Remember, you're in the power seat.

If you like what you see, and you're ready to make an offer, don't be in a rush to buy. Be ready to walk away, and you'll be in the best position to negotiate.

It's important to remember that you won't be haggling over the details of the manufacturer's warranty, but rather the price of the vehicle at the dealership. Having said that, be prepared to pay a little bit more for the benefit of a CPO vehicle. Unless you're tight with a rock-star mechanic, you'll be glad you did.

Need advice buying, selling, servicing or with any other painful car-owner problems? Joanne Will welcomes your questions . E-mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com


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