When Certified Pre-Owned Isn’t

In October my fiancee, Elana, bought a Certified Pre-Owned 2012 Ford Flex. Recently the front brakes were grinding, worn down to the backing plates on one side and almost to that point on the other. In my review of her Flex, I wrote, “I’ll strongly consider the CPO route myself once it’s time to buy a new daily driver for myself.” Now I have second thoughts.

“Ford […] promises that their CPO cars have passed a 172-point inspection.”

What is Certified Pre-Owned, anyway? It depends on who you ask. Nearly all manufacturers have some kind of CPO program these days. It is a manufacturer’s assertion that even though it’s not a new car, it has been thoroughly inspected and is essentially as good as new, minus a few years and miles. Is this a good thing? According to Jalopnik contributor Tom McParland, yes, it is. “I try to steer people into ‘Certified Pre-Owned’ vehicles whenever possible,” he writes. But another Jalopnik contributor, Steve Lehto, says otherwise. “The CPO designation is a marketing tool and little more,” he writes. “Ford […] promises that their CPO cars have passed a 172-point inspection.” This is absolutely true, as you can see if you follow the link. And right there, point 164, is “Brake Pads and Shoes.”

Immediately below that, point 165, is “Rotors and Drums.” On our first test drive of this particular Flex, I noticed a vibration under braking that indicated warped rotors. While not a showstopper in itself, we mentioned this several times through the sales process. Each time, our concerns were dismissed. We were simply told that the brakes had passed the CPO inspection.

What I have not been able to find, however, is to precisely what standard these parts are held. Ford’s checklist specifies only the vague categories of “Passed,” “Repaired,” “Replaced,” and “N/A.” So what qualifies as “Passed?” Half of the pad life? Pad visible above the wear groove? Any visible pad whatsoever? Just looking through the 20″ wheel on the driver’s front, without jacking up the car or removing the wheel, I could see the backing plate right next to the rotor with virtually no space between them.

It may take a technician with a micrometer to measure the width of the rotors to determine if they are within spec or not, but anyone with a basic understanding of a braking system could see how worn the pads were. I do admit to not looking for myself until the metal on metal grinding started. That’s because I trusted that no CPO car, or any car sold by a dealer with liability on the line, would ever be sold with nearly dead brakes.

Though pads and rotors are part of Ford’s 172-point CPO inspection, they are not covered under the CPO warranty. So Elana ordered the Power Stop Z23 Brake Kit from Auto Anything, and despite dropping the car off the jack, I installed it successfully. The brakes work better than ever (you can read the full review here). It’s a nice upgrade, but she shouldn’t have had to replace the brakes at all just two months after buying a CPO car.

Unhappy with the situation, she took to the internet. She contacted Sunnyside Ford to express her discontent. In return she got a rather condescending phone call repeating that the car had passed CPO inspection before it was sold. She took to Twitter to gripe about her experience. We all know that complaining to the internet never does any good, and that nobody listens.

Until they do.

Wow. Does shouting into cyberspace actually get you results? Elana and @FordService exchanged a number of tweets, gathering information, who she had contacted, and whether she planned to bring the car back to the dealer (due to their attitude toward her and their failure to address this problem in the first place, no). In the end:

Privately she provided this information. And then we waited. If crickets could be heard across the internet, we’d be hearing them. I have no doubt that Ford Service documented the complaint as they said they would, but as far as we know, no further action has been taken. We’re not really expecting any at this point. There’s nothing for the dealer to do since we’ve already repaired the brakes ourselves. In a perfect world we’d be reimbursed for the cost of replacement brakes we shouldn’t have had to buy for a car that allegedly passed its CPO inspection, but I’d be willing to settle for a simple “Oops, we’re sorry we missed that.” To date they’ve denied having made any mistakes whatsoever when the evidence clearly says otherwise.

We’re extremely happy with the rest of the car. It’s been a life saver during our recent move, especially since Project MJ is suddenly down for the count. But no car, CPO or otherwise, should have worn out brakes so soon after the sale. And thanks to the dealer’s complete dismissal of our concerns, we’ll be going somewhere else for any service, warranty or otherwise. I’ll be taking the CPO designation with a truckload of salt the next time I’m in the market for a new car.

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