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As the cost of an average new car crests $34,000, more buyers are looking to certified used cars to cut their monthly payments while maintaining some warranty coverage. Certified used car sales are up 4 percent over last year, according to an AutoData report, to almost 8,600 cars every day.

Certified used cars are offered by automakers and dealerships as a way to give buyers peace of mind that they're not just inheriting somebody else's problems with a cheap used car.

Certified Pre-Owned Fords

Like other automakers, Ford certified pre-owned cars have to be less than six years old and have less than 80,000 miles on them to be eligible to be certified. Most of these models are former leases that are turned in at the end of their term and sold off to Ford dealerships in closed auctions. Ford dealerships who will take these cars through the certification program get first dibs on them at the auction. Cars such as the Ford Fusion and Mustang, SUVs such as the Escape and Explorer, and trucks such as the F-150 are among the models that land at Ford dealerships as certified used cars.

Once a used car at auction has been identified as eligible to be certified, it gets a 172-point inspection that includes everything from checking the frame and body panels for prior accident damage to making sure the brakes and tires have sufficient life left in them. The full list of items to be inspected is here.

If prior accident damage is found, the car is not eligible to be certified. Be warned, however, that reports abound of rebuilt wrecks being sold as certified cars (from all automakers), when the damage was well hidden or the inspection process went wrong.

Once the car is given a clean bill of health, the inspection continues with replacing wiper blades, engine oil, and some other wearable parts.

All Ford certified pre-owned cars come with a vehicle history report (generally from, which will show the car's ownership history, some maintenance history, and whether the car has ever been written off as a total loss by an insurance company. These reports are worth having, and will usually show if a car that has been well kept. They are not, however, a guarantee that a car has never been in an accident or rebuilt. Ford's 172-point inspection includes checks for evidence of prior damage or bodywork, but inspections are never foolproof.

Vehicle history reports can't always catch cars that have been damaged and rebuilt but never totaled. A whole industry of rebuilders exists to rehabilitate such cars, and some have been shown to still have clean title histories, even after they've been totaled.

Advantages of a Certified Pre-Owned Ford

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To back up Ford's claims of the quality of cars it labels as “Ford certified pre-owned,” the company provides an additional 12-month/12,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that starts from the day you buy it. It also extends the powertrain warranty to seven years and 100,000 miles from when the car was new.

It's great to have a warranty on a pre-owned car, but these warranties don't quite live up to the standard warranty on a new car. If something goes wrong with a brand new car, you take it to any Ford dealership and it gets fixed for free. If something goes wrong with a Ford certified pre-owned car, you'll owe a $100 deductible to get it fixed under the Ford certified pre-owned warranty.

Ford tries to make up for that by adding other support services similar to those you get with a new car: 24-hour roadside assistance, rental-car reimbursement of up to $30 a day for any day your certified used Ford is in the shop for repairs overnight (for up to five days), $50 worth of insurance for a locksmith in case you get locked out, up to $500 a day for three days to reimburse travel expenses lost if your car breaks down, and up to $75 to get you to your destination if your Ford certified pre-owned car doesn't make it there. Ford will also bring you up to two gallons of gas should you run out in your certified pre-owned Ford car or Ford truck.

Like a new-car warranty, Ford's certified pre-owned warranty is transferable to a new owner should you resell your car. Not all certified used-car warranties are.

Used Ford Deals

Maybe the best reason to buy a certified used model is that these Ford cars and trucks are eligible for financing at lower interest rates than other cheap used cars. You won't find zero percent financing on a certified pre-owned car, but you can find deals as low as 1.9 percent on some models. That can offset the higher asking price for a certified pre-owned car.

If you're buying a certified pre-owned Ford from a Ford dealership, it's worth double-checking the paperwork to ensure that the car has passed Ford's certification requirements. Some new and used car dealerships provide their own certifications or sell third-party certification programs. They may be worthwhile, but when something goes wrong, they won't have the backing of the Ford Motor Company as a car that passes Ford's own certification program would.