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Balloons at a Car Lot

We just bought a used 2010 Honda Pilot. There were a half-dozen for sale that met our needs for price, features and kilometres, but we ended up narrowing our selection down to certified used vehicles for sale at Honda dealerships, primarily because they appeared to offer a 6-year warranty.

The dealer's online ad for ours said, "This local, no accident Pilot is part of the Honda Certified program which gives you complete peace of mind. We include a 6-year/120,000 km powertrain warranty, 7-day exchange, CarProof history report, available service history, and preferred financing." There was no "balance of" before the warranty description. I discovered this when, late into the purchase, they tried to up-sell us an extended warranty. Does this violate any consumer protection laws? -- David, Vancouver

When is an advertised six-year warranty not really a 6-year warranty? When that warranty for a certified used vehicle, Honda Canada says.

"The Honda Certified Used Vehicle (HCUV) warranty is a powertrain warranty for up to 6 years or 120,000 km, whichever comes first, from the vehicle's original in-service date," Honda Canada spokesperson Laura Heasman said in an email. "No auto manufacturer with a certified pre-owned program offers a certified pre-owned warranty with an additional 6 years and 120,000 km of coverage."

Like the ad from your dealership, the certified used vehicle page on Honda's website says, at press time, their peace of mind warranty covers six years. It doesn't say you are getting what's left of the original warranty.

Ads for used cars that mention a specific warranty really should be clear on how much of the warranty is left, says BC's car sales regulator.

"If three years is what's left over, then it should say that's what's left over," says Doug Longhurst, director of learning and communications with the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia (VSA). "We obviously are concerned, yes – the advertising is misleading."

The claims might be misleading, but they might not break the law, Longhurst says.

Dealer advertising is under provincial jurisdiction. The VSA enforces B.C.'s Motor Dealer Act and the Business Practises and Consumer Protection Act.

"It's very general and talks about not misleading," Broadhurst said, adding it's tough for the VSA to demand changes to advertising. Instead, they'll sit down with Honda to see if ads can be made clearer.

"It seems like a Honda-wide issue, not just a dealership issue," he says. "We'll look at other manufacturer's CUV programs."

This sort of warranty wording isn't unique to Honda or a specific dealer, says the pro-consumer Automobile Protection Association (APA)

"The ad should have, 'We include the balance of the 6-year/120,000km powertrain warranty,'" says APA president George Iny. "It is misleading, but I'm not aware of any regulatory authority in Canada that is conducting enforcement around this sort of misrepresentation."

We asked a few dealers why an ad wouldn't state that the six-year warranty doesn't start when you buy a used car.

"If it says 120,000 km or 6 years, that is exactly what it says, so if the car has 30,000 km on it, you have 90,000 km left on the warranty," said one salesperson, who asked not to be named.

We asked the federal Competition Bureau if they have ever had complaints about manufacturer's warranty descriptions. A spokesperson said all their investigations are confidential and so they can't say.

Companies tend to raise the price on a certified used car, often officially called certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles. But the certification doesn't guarantee that a car is more reliable than a used car that's not certified, writes (U.S. based) consumer advice editor Ronald Montoya. He says potential buyers should be clear on what they're actually getting from a certified car program, such as specific inspections or an extended warranty.

"Every advertisement would have you believe that a CPO vehicle is just like new," Montoya writes. "Ultimately, though, a CPO car is still a used car."

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