For many people, the thought of owning their "dream car" remains exactly that-an elusive dream. These days, however, dreamers and value-conscious car shoppers are discovering that they can get more car for their money through certified, pre-owned vehicle programs.
These programs-offered by several mid-size and luxury car manufacturers-give consumers the opportunity to drive low-mileage, late-model, higher-end vehicles with the latest safety and technology features at affordable prices. Plus, some programs offer protection plans with limited warranty coverage, as well as roadside assistance.
What's fueling the new trend in used-car buying? One reason is the growth in leasing. According to Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, nearly 33 percent of the vehicles to roll out of showrooms in 1999 were leased, not purchased. When the leases end-usually after a two- or three-year contract-many relatively new, well-cared-for models come back into the market, often with their prices showing more wear and tear than their tires.
So how can you get behind the wheel of the certified pre-owned car of your dreams?
1. Turn on your computer. Some manufacturers make online shopping for certified pre-owned automobiles easy with an inventory database. For example, BMW's enhanced "Virtual Center" website (www.bmwusa.com) lets consumers find the most accurate information about Certified Pre-Owned BMWs, and search for cars simply by entering their zip codes and basic information about the car they want (body style, price range, etc.).
2. Compare programs. Find out about the certification and inspection process, the buyer protection plan, and finance and lease options. Asking questions is the best way to protect your investment and make sure you're getting the car you want.
3. Visit dealerships and compare certified pre-owned vehicles:
Interior-Check the condition of the seats, upholstery, brake and accelerator pedals, carpeting, odometer and instrument panel, dashboard, glove compartment, trunk, sunroof, windows, lights, stereo and alarm.
Exterior-Check under the car for oil or fluid leaks. Examine the body and bumpers for rust, scratches or dents, as well as irregularities in the paint color, sheen or texture.
Ask to see maintenance records.
Take a test drive-Are the seats comfortable? Do the seats work? During the test drive, evaluate visibility, braking, cornering, handling, shifting and accelerating, unusual noises, directional and brake lights, windshield wipers, heating and air conditioning.
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