We're starting to think that car dealers employ staff linguists to come up with new euphemisms for "used." One of the latest is "certified." In and of itself, this means absolutely nothing. What is the rust bucket certified to be? Used? We already knew that.

Bottom line is: "certified" means nothing. The only thing that means anything is the sales contract you sign, complete with all the add-ons the nice finance lady tries to shove under your pen.

A smart consumer will scoop up all this material and take it home for a thorough read. Every line means exactly what it says and you will be held to the agreement you sign, so read it carefully.

Oh, and about that shiny "certified" car: Let it sit there while you review the paperwork. As soon as you drive it off the lot, you lose your three-day right to get out of the deal in most states.

Syed of Katy TX writes (6/19/03):
After searching for several months on the Internet for the best deal on new/used car, my wife and I finally purchased a certified used car (2002 Toyota Camry LE) from Don McGill Toyota (11800 Old Katy Rd, Houston, Tx-77079) in Dec. 2002 for $14,995 (the internet-advertised price including 6-yr/100,000 miles limited powertrain warranty certification). As an option, we added leather for an additional $1,000. Including TTL & Fees, total cost came to $17626.51. We financed the car with Mary Li (Finance Manager) of Toyota Financial Services at Don McGill Toyota.

We decided to make a downpayment such that our monthly payment would be $300 (for 5-yr financing at the APR offered). Accordingly, the Finance Manager calculated the downpayment amount with $300 as monthly payments. She then told us that for about $305 per month (i.e. only about $5 and few cents more per month) we could get Lo-jack and 10-yr bumper-to-bumper warranty (to include electronics, electricals, etc.) in addition to the already included 6-yr/100,000 miles certified powertrain warranty. When asked about the total cost for these extra items/service, she said it would be about $600. It seemed to be a good deal so we agreed to purchase this extra option/service at $600.

We requested Mary Li to calculate the downpayment once again so that our monthly payment would still be $300 with the optional service added to the amount financed. She re-calculated the downpayment, which was $6,279.71. We paid $6,279.71 as downpayment. So the amount financed was $17626.51+$600-$6,279.71 = $11,946.80. Finally, Mary Li lead us hastily sign and initial several papers. Having trusted her, we quickly glanced through the papers and signed and intialled all the papers without objecting to her failing to make us aware of the exact/actual charges put on the contract papers. Moreover, she did not hand over copies of these papers to us at that time. She said the contract papers would be mailed.

We waited for about one month for the contract papers to arrive but they did not. However, the monthly payment bill arrived right on time. The bill did not show the balance due or the amount financed. So we decided to check our account online. We were surprised and shocked at what we saw - the financed amount shown was unbelievable - $14,795.77 (not $11,946.80 as expected). We contacted Mary Li at once to request for the contract papers in order to check what might have happened. She said the contract papers could not be mailed because of backlog and would be mailed soon. But the contract papers did not arrive during another one month.

We called her several times again, left messages and sent certified letters indicating the incorrect financed amount. Finally, after about two months, the contract papers arrived. On the contract paper we noticed two (2) mysteriously added false charges: First, supplemental warranty charges were $1,750 - the amount that we never discussed or were told of. Second, this number ($1,750) had been added twice - as supplemental charges (mentioned above) and in the sale price of car as well. Even the Dealer fees ($227.04) were added twice - in the sale price of car and again separately as dealer fees.

It was obvious that in an attempt to show profit on her part, the Finance Manager (Mary Li), had played around with the numbers and had cheated us of about $2,850. By misleading overcharges on optional items/services, she had tactfully added about 20% to the initial car price.

We called her, left messages, and sent certified letters explaining the issue. She never responded for about a month or so. Finally we managed to set up an appointment with her. On the appointment day, she kept us waiting for about three hours pretending she was quite busy. Actually, she simply seemed unwilling to discuss the matter with us. Finally, after three hours of waiting, she was rude enough to tell us that she couldn't help us since our papers were not with her and were with Robert Tabak (her Financial Director; now a Production Manager at DonMcGill Toyota). We had to give up all hopes of resolving the problem with her at that time and, unfortunately, we returned home without any resolution.

Then we contacted her supervisor Robert Tabak at Don McGill Toyota. Unlike Mary Li, he dealt with us in a very professional manner. During the discussion, Robert Tabak explained to us that the $1,750 charge was for the additional supplemental comprehensive warranty in addition to the 6-yr/100,000 mile powertrain warranty and that we had signed for it. Of course we had signed! But we were told it was for the 10-yr bumper-to-bumper warranty with Lo-jack and for about $600. We did not recall seeing the charge of $1,750 when we signed the paper. Regarding another charge of $1,750 (that was included in price of the car), he said the charge of about $1,500 was for the Lo-jack and was unable to explain about the rest. The Lo-jack price document seemed to be forged. Charges were written by hand which we never saw during signing. We had never agreed to this high Lo-jack charge with Mary Li.

The Production Manager agreed those were high charges and said there could be a mistake by Mary Li. Therefore, he offered to settle the issue right there by giving us a credit of $1,000 only the supplemental warranty charges if we agreed not to pursue the matter further. However, the credit of $1,000 offered was not acceptable to us. And, unfortunately, once again the matter remained unresolved. And still is.

Michael of Tampa writes (5/13/03):
Bought a certified pre-owned BMW from Fields BMW in Winter Park, FL and it has broken down 5 times in one year. Three times now the #3 cylinder coil has gone out and has been replaced. The service advisor stated BMW has had problems with the coils and are having supply problems with the new and improved coils so they are only replacing each one as they go out.

However, with the same coil going out three times now, I feel there is another problem causing it to fail. In typical arrogant BMW fashion, they blew me off as usual. I contacted the BMW executive line and was promised the world and that they would call me back with a solution. Of course they never called.

Now I know that BMW stands for big money wasted.

Ann of Sherman Oaks CA (5/19/03):
I just purchased my first financed car, a 2001 Toyota Echo from Keyes Toyota in Van Nuys. The car is a Toyota "certified" car, meaning it has undergone a rigorous point-check and comes with an additional warranty. I asked no fewer than 5 times if the warranty was included in the sticker price and the answer I received from my salesman, the manager, and the finance guy was "Yes". As I was signing the forms, the finance guy -- Wolfgang -- quickly pointed to all the places I was to sign and I did.

I noticed that the contract read that I was paying for a warranty-so I said, "Wait, this says I'm paying for the warranty" and Wolfgang replied "no, no, the warranty is included in the purchase price, you are financing more because of the taxes and license fees etc." I had already been reassured that this great warranty was included in the asking price and did not question it further. This is the very first time I have financed a car and I was very nervous. I got home and upon closer inspection of the contract (which, of course I should have done at the dealership) it sure enough says I've agreed to "purchase" a $1500 warranty.

As things stand, they are holding my $2500 down payment check until May 30. I would like to go back and cancel the entire deal. I feel I was deliberately deceived, and I'm very upset.

Michael of Sportsylvania VA (4/10/03):
I traded a perfectly good truck for a bigger truck. I purchased a 1999 Chevy C/K1500 four-wheel-drive two-door Ex with 48,000 thousand miles from Ultimate Pontiac Buick GMC Isuzu. I purchased this vehicle Feb 1, 2003. On Feb. 2, 2003 I heard a knocking in the engine. I took the truck to the service department for them to hear, they proceeded to tell me nothing was wrong with the truck. Since I purchased a power train extended warranty and the dealership also had a 3,000-mile warranty so I figured something like this would be covered.

I decided to take it to a Chevy dealership and let them listen to the engine. The mechanic there said the engine was knocking and the truck needed a new one. Since the dealership where I bought the truck and warranty was just three miles away, I took the truck back to Ultimate for repairs. A mechanic from Ultimate heard the noise right after he got in the truck, he said to turn the truck around and take it back. He proceeded to tell the shop manager that the engine was knocking and the truck needed a new engine.

After the dealership had the truck for three weeks they called to say the extended warranty was not covering the engine because they said it was a preexisting condition. Robin told me as a favor they were going to put a junk-yard engine in the truck, and I would have to pay the $100 extended warranty deductible. I questioned this because the extended warranty was not covering the engine. I also reminded him that the dealership had a 3,000-mile, 30-day warranty on the truck being the truck was GM certified. He then proceeded to tell me that since he was doing me a favor by putting a used engine in my truck I could at least pay the $100. He then threatened to make me pay for the rental car since the extended warranty did not even if I had only had the truck for twenty four hours.

I picked my truck back up on a Friday and on that Saturday I noticed the check engine light was back on and antifreeze was leaking along with transmission fluid. I returned the truck on that Monday only for them to tell me the engine was bad and they could not give me another rental car and they would have to get another junk yard motor. They told me it was okay to drive the truck until they found another engine. They called a few days later with another engine. When I asked how many miles was on this one they were unable to tell me. They also said the mechanic working on my truck would not be able to put the engine in for a week.

They called back a couple of days later to tell me that the motor had 80,000 miles on it and they were glad I had asked because they would have put that motor in my truck. Instead they returned that motor and after many calls to GM and Better Business Bureau they put a new GM certified engine in my truck.

Bharat of Baldwin NY writes (4/15/03):
I purchased a certified 2000 Honda Civic from Memet Nissan of Queens. The initial cost of the car was $9000. It was the last day of May and they rushed me through the sale so they can tend to other customers. I told the finance person that I did not want any extra on the car except for the extended warranty. Not knowing that he slipped a paper in the contract for an replacement program which enrolls me into a VIP program that will allow certain maintenance done on the car at discount prices and in case the car gets stolen they will give me $7500 to put towards a new car purchase.

After leaving the dealer I realized that the salesperson did not give me my receipts for my car so I called and asked that I come back and get my paperwork. They told not to worry about anything that I can come back in the morning and pick it up. When I went back in the morning I was told that the salesman was not in and that I should come back tomorrow. I finally got the paperwork after three days. After sitting down and reading through the paperwork I realized that I was charged for the replacement program. I immediately called the dealer and told the finance person that I was not interested in that program which is going to cost me another $3600 and that he take it off of my contract, he then told me that it was too late for him to do anything about it.

They intentionally kept my paperwork away from me so that the three days that I had to change or reverse the deal passes by. Now a car that I originally purchased for $9000 is going to cast me $19,800 and they refused to take off the extra charges for things that I did not want in the first place.

Anika of Trenton NJ (3/27/03):
I purchased a 2000 Ford Contour from Capital City Ford in March of 2001. I purchased it as a certified car. I asked was the car ever in an accident and I was told no. A certified car as I was told is as good as a new car.

The trunk of the car has a bad leak. The first time I took the car back, I had it for about a week. I let them know what the problem was. I got the car back and they said it was fixed. It wasn't. Two weeks after the first time I returned it for repairs I had to take it back for the same problem, the trunk. I asked again was the car in an accident because my trunk shouldn't leak like that. The bottom line is, March 11, 2003 was my 4th time sending the car back for the trunk and the 3rd time for my fuel pump. I was told by an appraiser from my insurance company that my car was in a rear end collision and he could tell. He showed me where the trunk was attached back.

I tried contacting the dealership and the sales manager at the time was very rude to me. I did contact Ford and I spoke to a customer service manager named Eric and someone was supposed to get back to me and they haven't. That was March 12, 2003. I purchased the car in good faith believing a certified car will not give me any problems besides the normal problems cars have. I feel that a leaking trunk is a lifetime of problems as long as I have the car and Capital City knew that I was sold a car that should not have been certified.

Ron of Saddle Brook NJ (3/16/03):
On 1/04/2003 I purchased a vehicle from Rockland Toyota, Nyack, NY. The sales person was very quick to close the deal and was not the best at explaining the contracts to me or even what he was doing. I was told I would have to purchase a warranty in order to make my car certified. The warranty cost me about $1300.00.

I was able to take the car home that day but was missing some things (extra keys, all owners manuals and warranty books, floor mats), that I was told I would have to come back for them the following week. While driving home I realized that something was odd about the car, the airbag light would not go off. I returned on the next Monday to get the rest of the things that were promised to me and they did not have them. I told them about the airbag light and the sales guy seemed unconcerned about it. He told me to come back in a day or so to pick up the keys and such.

When I returned they did have everything and once again I complained about the airbag light. I was told I would have to make an appointment to have it looked at. That night I read the owners manual and discovered that the airbag light staying on all the time meant a possible malfunction in the airbag. I went to the dealer again to stress my concerns and asked how a 128-point inspected, certified car got sold to me with a faulty airbag.

Almost a week later the car was in the shop getting remote keyless entry installed and having the airbag light fixed. When I got the car back I was told that they were unable to repair the airbag due to not having the parts. It would be almost a month before I would have that problem fixed 1/30/03. In the meantime I started to have other concerns about the car. The brakes and air vents were both acting up and I would be in the dealer at least 4 more times having the car looked at all though they checked them and said they checked out fine. I am still continuing to have problems with them today.

When I had the work done on the airbag the service department failed to set my steering wheel correctly. When I drove the car home the steering wheel was set to the left and the car was driving straight. When I straighten the wheel out the car took of to the right. Once again I was back at the dealer having the car repaired. After taking the car home the next day I discovered that two pieces of the dashboard were messed up. One piece was cracked and the other, a plastic pillar between the window and door, was loose and falling off. It would take another 3 times in the shop before this problem was fixed. I made sure to get the paperwork on all the work that was done to my car but on one occasion the service guy told me paperwork is too complicated and he would have to mail it out to me.

Other problems I have come a cross have not been on the service end but on the sales side of things. On the sales contract it states my car was new and sold at new price when in fact it was a used car. It says that I traded in my old car for $85.00 when in fact it was $7000.00. There was problem with the payoff amount for my old car. The dealer sent my bank a check that did not cover the whole payoff and I had to cover the difference. I never received any certification papers or Carfax report, all of which I should have gotten upon purchase. When I did get a Carfax report from the dealer it was incomplete and it took them 3 times to get the full report.

Afterwards I printed out my own Carfax report off their website and there were differences between the one I got from the dealer and the one I got on my own. The major one being that mine lists my car as a fleet vehicle when theirs does not.

Jeannine of Garden City NY (2/14/03):
I purchased a certified pre-owned BMW 323ci from Endurance Motor Cars of Mt. Kisco, NY, on 6/26/02 with 49,000 miles on it. I have owned the car for seven months and I was informed by Hassel BMW in Freeport, New York on 2/12/02 that I needed a new front suspension which will cost $900.00 and the repair is not covered under the warranty. I contacted the salesman, Peter Whilte, that sold me the car at Endurance Motors and he passed me off to Winston Hylton, the service manager who ignored me. I also spoke with customer relations of BMW North America and told me they couldn't do anything and to call the dealer I bought the car from.

Frank of Old Tappan NJ (2/18/03):
I am writing due to problems I have in getting my daughter's car repaired. She has a 1999 Volkswagen Passat, which is a certified Pre-Owned vehicle. I would like to file a complaint against: East Coast Auto Mall 340 Sylvan Avenue Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 07632. My car has (2) major problems that have not been corrected.

First the transmission seems to slip, happening mostly on cold mornings. When the car is shifted into drive and I am accelerating, the engine revs, but it is not moving. After rolling a couple hundred feet the gears seem to engage and the car finally will move. The second major problem pertains to the braking system, specifically the distance the brake pedal travels in order to stop the car. In stop and go traffic the pedal goes to the same spot in order to stop the car. The problem is evident on highway driving. Traveling on a highway after driving a minimum of 5 or 6 miles and then having to apply the brakes, the brake pedal sinks much farther than normal, to the point of almost reaching the floorboard. Believe me, traveling at highway speeds this is a very nerve wracking experience.

More importantly, are the brakes eventually going to fail, causing a serious accident with injuries or possibly a fatality?

East Coast Auto Mall had my car a total of 4 weeks on three different occasions. In December it was there a week and a half. January they had it for two weeks, and in February they had it for another three days. As I write this letter they have not fixed my car and both problems remain. Back in December they charged me $169.00 to reset codes on my transmission. I paid this, but I feel this should be covered under my warranty. Fred Gates, the service manager refuses to reimburse me, stating that whenever they reset codes this is not covered by the warranty. If my transmission was fixed I would not have complained about this charge, but the problem still persists.

Another time they replaced a brake light switch which they claim was a possible problem with the transmission. Each time they called me and said the car is ready. Obviously it is not!

Back in December 2002 they said they didn't notice a problem with the distance the brake pedal traveled, and told me to pick up the car after having it 1 1/2 weeks. Still not happy with the brake pedal, I brought the car back to them in mid January and asked them to please re-check the car. After the car was there for a week a service advisor called me and said they still can't find any problems. At that point I got furious and asked to speak with their service manager. I spoke to Fred Gates and he agreed to drive my car. He determined there was air in the brake line and decided to change the brake fluid. A few days later when I picked up my car upon driving home I noticed the car was not repaired. I called Fred as soon as I got home that night and asked him a second time to take a ride with me so he knows what I am talking about. Again he refused to go with me and claims he knows what I am talking about. He commented to me that solving this problem is "like finding a needle in a haystack."

I took the car back for a third time on February 3rd. I was told that they replaced the master cylinder, and that three different people drove it, and they all believe that would solve the problem. When I drove the car home that evening and the next day, the brake pedal did seem fine. Thinking the problem was corrected, I drove the car to Boston on Saturday February 8th. Prior to reaching the N.Y. Thurway I was driving a short distance and applying the brake, and the pedal distance was good. I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge and nearing the toll plaza I applied the brake and to my dismay (and near panic) the brake pedal didn't stop at the higher point, but rather sank down to again almost reaching the floorboard. I drove to Boston and back with this condition, always worrying that the brakes will fail.

Anat of Beverly Hills CA (2/10/03):
The salesperson at South Bay Volvo in Orange, CA, misrepresented that the warranty on the certified pre-owned vehicle is the same as that on new Volvos, when in fact it is much more limited.

Kelli of Garden Grove CA (1/12/03):
We purchased a 1999 323I in Feb. of 2002. After 3 days of negotiations and 9500.00 down, we bought the car. I originally wanted a black one with a bit less features, but they told me this one had more features, was "mint" and all Certified BMW's are like new! My payments are 547.00 per month. I have problems with the window rattle, total computer went out on me ... had to be towed, etc. Nothing compared to what I soon found out!

This last Nov. I took my daughter to buy a Dodge through some friends that I have worked with. I asked the used car manager to " appraise" my car as well. He proceeded to ask me if I had been in an accident? When I said no, he showed me where the car had been repainted about 3/4 of the way. He showed me where there were "bondo" bubbles in one of the fenders. The car is silver and it is hard to match. He showed me where there was "over-spray" ... and told me my car was worth about $13,000, then take $2,000 away for smog and safety and then however much to paint the whole car, making my car worth about $8-10,000.

I paid almost $30,000, and still owe 26,000. I called the dealership immediately and went there by myself to meet with the manager in sales. After I got there, I was met by "Sam Chaalan, Service Director" who led me into his office after checking the car. He said he understood how upset I was, please wait til Monday and come back and he will "get me out of the car". I asked for this in writing and he refused so, I refused to leave with the car, so he called the sales manager. He basically told me, he could do nothing but sell me a NEW car.

I then asked to speak with the General Manager and was met with Mr. Chip Irwin. He and Mr. Chaalan left the office to once again look at the car. They came back to the office I was in and Mr. Irwin shrugged his shoulders and said it was "not that bad".

Aimee of Richmond VA (1/16/03):
I own a certified used '99 Volkswagen Passat that I bought from West Broad VW/Audi in Richmond. Two months ago, my oil pump failed. My family (husband, 2 young children) and I were stuck on the side of the highway. The car was towed into our neighborhood mechanic who said he was probably not the person to fix the problem. The car was then towed to West Broad Volkswagen & Audi where the engine was replaced at a cost of approximately $5400. Since then my car has gone back to them 3 times.

The first time I was driving home from work and the driver side air bag came on and the brake light came on and made continual beeping noises. I pulled over, stopped the car and called my husband. The car would not start again. He came, jumped the car and we drove it back to the dealership. They told us the 6-month-old battery was bad. We went back to the battery vendor and they replaced the battery that was still under warranty. A few days later, the same thing happened on my drive from work. Rather than pulling over, I drove it home, which wasn't far. The car would not start again once it had been stopped.

We jumped the car and drove it to West Broad Volkswagen again. The car was scheduled to go in anyway because of an oil leak. The mechanic replaced a seal or tightened something for the oil leak and charged the battery. When we returned to the dealership once more we could tell by the way the car was cranking that the problem had not been solved. There was a slight delay starting. Later that afternoon they said that their "diagnostic" indicated that it was a bad alternator (cost $700). We retrieved the car, purchased an alternator from a salvage yard over an hour away for a '99 Passat. This alternator was taken from a car with 22,000 miles on it. And was checked by the Salvage Yard prior to purchase. This cost $65.

It turned out though, that our car required a '98 alternator. We drove back to the salvage yard. We took the car to a local VW mechanic (not a dealer) where he charged us $61 to charge the battery and put in the alternator. The car started up. We drove across town home. The next day, I drove the car in to work. I drove the car home from work and noticed that it seemed a little weak. My husband tried to drive the car that evening to the grocery store. It would not start.

That evening I contacted Volkswagen via some 1800 number and placed a complaint. They assured me that they would be contacting the dealership to make sure that they are doing what they can to resolve this issue. Today I took the afternoon off to met with the general manager, the service manager and the mechanic to make sure that we are taking the proper route. I initiated this meeting. I had an extremely difficult time getting anyone on the phone. They were "at lunch" for over 2 hours. Finally, I spoke with the general manager and I told him I would be in this afternoon along with a brief synopsis of the past two months. I asked for a meeting to address my concerns.

The receptionist was extremely rude. After waiting a while I asked if the general manager was in the building since he didn't seem to be answering her page on the intercom. She said he was. I asked her to ask him how long he would be. Her response was "You haven't been waiting over an hour have you?" I told her that my time was valuable too and sat down to wait. During the meeting, the general manager, Mark Parham, was also extremely rude. He made comments regarding the "grimace" on my face and my "body language". After a very heated discussion, we came to the conclusion that they would do another diagnostic of the car and we would proceed.

Later this afternoon, the mechanic called with the results of this "new" diagnosis - the alternator was bad. My husband went around with him for a explaining over and over that we had come to the agreement that they would assume that the alternator was good and that they should look elsewhere - fuses, circuitry etc. The service manager called back with the claim that they could not proceed further in the diagnostic until the alternator was fixed ($700 remember?). We did agree that my husband would take the alternator back to the salvage yard (over an hour) and get another one from them. West Broad Volkswagen will put this alternator in for $110.

During the past few months, we made the decision to get rid of this car. This was not an easy decision. We owe over $10,000 on this car. CarMax offered us $5300 for trade in. The car hasn't been in working condition long enough to have another conversation with another dealership regarding trade-in.

Dolores of Hawk Run PA (1/17/03):
On June 10, 2002, I purchased from Rider Auto in State College, PA, a certified pre-owned 2000 Pontiac Sunfire for my daughter as a college graduation gift. At the time it had 36,176 miles on it. Barely 4000 miles later, on Dec. 21, 2002 my daughter and I broke down along Interstate 80.

The car was towed to a local garage. The cause was thought to be water in the cause or a failing fuel pump. One week later, my daughter again broke down. However, the car finally started. On January 6, 2003, the car once again broke down. The PA State Police had the car towed from the side of the road. I called Riders the following day and asked that they pick up the car and fix it. I only had a 90-day or 3000-mile warranty. However, I do not feel that a car barely three years old should need to have a fuel pump replaced. I had the car for 6 months and barely put 4000 miles on it, so obviously the car did not receive a lot of wear and tear from me.

I also bought the car as a certified pre-owned vehicle. During Riders' "110-Point" used car inspection I feel that this should have been detected as a potential problem. I made several calls to the dealership and received the runaround and at one point was told by some saleman "screw it". Finally, my car was towed there, on Jan. 7,2003. Around 5 o'clock the following afternoon, Riders called me to tell me my car still was not examined. The next day, Jan 9, again near closing time, I was called and told it was finally examined and the fuel pump needed replaced.

The part finally arrived on Monday, January 13 and my car was ready for pickup along with a bill close to $600. Unfortuately, I still have yet to pick up the car because I cannot afford this large of a repair bill and towing charges, so the car is at the dealership until I can pay for it, hopefully sometime next week. I believe my car should have been repaired free of charge because the fuel pump should not have gone this quickly.