May 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Used-car dealer's pitch was just right

Buying a vehicle from a used car dealer is not an experience many consumers relish. Rightly or wrongly, used-car dealers have acquired a dubious reputation over the years, but is it justified?

My learning experience started, as it does for many other buyers, with a search on Craigslist. I was hunting for a late model full-size pickup and plowed through dozens of candidates, initially focusing on private sellers in the Detroit metro area.

Buying privately, the logic goes, can save you thousands over the mark-up that dealers charge. Of course, there are drawbacks to private sales; the No. 1 issue is that you are relying entirely on the word of the seller as to the condition and history of the vehicle. To counter this, I arranged inspections, typically costing around $100, at local dealerships to discover the real story behind a vehicle described as being in “like new” condition.

In many cases, “perfect” condition was anything but, with a host of suspension, brake and other issues being reported by the inspection. Despite these evident problems, sellers would often refuse to budge from unrealistically high prices.

A complicating factor in these negotiations was the sometimes widely divergent prices listed in used vehicle guides such as Kelley Blue Book and NADA.

Briefly I considered casting the net much further afield and researched trucks in Ohio, Tennessee and other states, where milder winters should be kinder on vehicles than Michigan. But the logistics of inspecting vehicles hundreds of miles away were too daunting.

The next move was to include dealer used sales in the search, a step that led to Heidebreicht Chevrolet, near Romeo.

A call to the used vehicle department elicited the information that the low mileage 2011 Silverado I spotted on Craigslist had been sold. However, a near identical model with higher but still acceptable mileage was available. The courteous salesman promptly emailed me everything he knew about the vehicle, a Carfax vehicle history report, GM build sheet (the actual vehicle specification) and its warranty history.

Though the asking price was about $2,000 more than I had budgeted, the attractions of the deal were significant. The biggest positive was that the truck was a CPO (certified pre-owned) unit and came with a year’s manufacturer bumper-to-bumper warranty, plus two years/24,000 miles worth of maintenance (basically four oil changes and tire rotations).

I followed up with a visit to the dealership and a test drive. The vehicle had undergone a 172-point inspection and had some brake wear and other minor issues, but these had already been fixed by the dealer. Negotiations were straightforward. The salesman agreed to have the stone-chipped paint inside the rear wheel wells sealed with a protective coating and a trailer brake controller installed, and we had a deal. Two pleasing details: the dealer arranged to register the vehicle and have a license plate installed, thus avoiding a time-consuming trip to my local secretary of state office. And the dealership offered to have the vehicle delivered to my Ann Arbor home, saving a lengthy trip back to Romeo to collect the truck.

All in all, it was a relatively painless process and refuted, at least in my case, the common wisdom about used-car dealers. That, plus the peace of mind of the extended manufacturer warranty, which is far superior to third party warranties on the market, made the experience surprisingly satisfying.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at jmccor@aol.com.