In car lingo, a “cream puff” is a pre-owned vehicle in exceptional condition. Although rare, it’s easy to spot these by the attention given by the previous owner. The inside is well kept, the engine was maintained, the miles are low, and even the price is right.
Dealerships and shoppers alike love these. They generate a lot of inquires for the sales staff and the customer is satisfied, knowing they have a rare gem in a sea of used iron. It takes a little determination and patience to locate a cream puff, but it’s not too terribly hard.
It can be done.
Allow me to share some perspective from top performing dealership representatives plus a 27 point check list, condensed into an easy infographic, courtesy of our friends at Rawhide.
And then, you won’t have to deal with this guy . . .
The best way to clear the clutter of information, when searching for a pre-owned car, is to actively test drive each one you are considering. On paper, there are many “cream puffs,” and while everything I mentioned above applies, the real distinction comes in the test drive.
Justin Welch is a Cadillac Sales Consultant at Luxury Auto Mall of Sioux Falls, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In just two years, Welch established himself as one of the most honest in the business, putting direct emphasis on working for his clients and building relationships with them. He believes, in order to have the best shopping experience, a test drive is vital.
“It is important to test drive any vehicle to make sure it’s right for you,” Welch said. “It’s a purchase that you want to make for you and your family and test driving is a way to inspect the vehicle.”
Welch is a big proponent of having the vehicle you are considering checked out ahead of time.
“I know there are people who don’t know much about cars so I make sure they take it to someone to have them check it out if they need,” Welch said. “If the dealer doesn’t let you take the vehicle to anyone, its a big red flag and that probably answers your question.”
Brandon Grade is a Service Advisor at Findlay Toyota in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the largest Toyota dealerships in the western United States. Grade has a special talent for guiding customers through the maintenance intervals associated with automobile ownership. He has gotten out of the shop on a few occasions, as recently as last year, participating in a major dealer training program for Ford Motor Company.
“I have told my customers to bring me cars they were looking at purchasing so we can inspect them,” Grade said. “Used cars can look good but still have problems that could be expensive to fix.”
Another point to consider when purchasing a pre-owned car – and it might seem obvious, even a little silly – but it was never yours. Ever. All the more reason to make sure the pre-owned vehicle you are considering checks out from a maintenance standpoint.
“You aren’t the one who is putting all the miles on it from new so you don’t really know how it was treated or serviced,” Grade said. “That’s why the pre-purchase inspection is important so have a reputable shop or dealer inspect it.”
Asking for service records is a good idea and an honorable dealership will present those, if they have them. It’s also wise to consider future repairs.
“I have a lot people call and ask what maintenance costs are and what the most common repairs are for the vehicle they are interested in,” Grade said.
A pre-owned car with a certified warranty will lend some peace of mind too and there are always options to extend warranties.
“Personally, I would try and steer customers towards a certified, pre-owned vehicle that comes with a warranty, or have them price an extended warranty out before purchasing the car,” Grade said.
For every good dealership, there are bad apples. I hate to say that as both a believer in and advocate for the automotive industry, but it’s true. As Welch has seen too, it’s hit or miss and it’s important to know that ahead of time.
“Some dealers don’t offer a warranty on used cars or a return policy; some dealers are really great with their inspection process before putting the car on the lot and some don’t care at all,” he said.
And beware the line you sometimes get in high pressure sales zones of, “you can’t afford to pass this car up” or “this is our best deal all month.” Whatever variation, utilize your spidey sense.
“If it seems too good to be true, there’s most likely something wrong so stay away,” Grade said.
However, it’s not all bad and just like it might take a little digging to find that perfect, pre-owned car, so too it might for the right dealership. They do exist.
“Even though it’s used, we want to make the car as new as possible for customers,” Welch said. “There are times where a vehicle will make some noise but we get it back to the shop and fix it because we don’t want to give a customer a bad experience.”