Stop Calling Used Vehicles Pre-Owned

Martin Romjue
Posted on January 26, 2016


I’m going to address a pet-peeve of mine regarding vehicle lingo. It’s the increasing use of “pre-owned” instead of "used" to describe a vehicle that's, well, used. For the last century, since the masses have bought and sold vehicles, a new vehicle has been defined as one bought by a first-time owner-motorist, whereas a used vehicle has been one sold off or traded-in by a first-time owner to be resold on the “used” vehicle market.

Simple enough. NEW. USED. Everyone always understood what those terms meant, and each category of vehicle has its distinct market.

Now comes the vague (vain?) marketing term of “pre-owned,” as applied to USED vehicles. Why the semantical switch?

A pre-owned vehicle is what, exactly? A previously owned vehicle? Or pre-owned as in, eagerly waiting to be owned (again)? And what if it was never owned, just leased? Whether a vehicle is previously owned or leased, it’s still used.

Technically, all vehicles for sale on every lot are "pre-owned." They’re both previously owned and/or waiting for a new owner. Even new cars were once owned by the dealerships. Otherwise, why would you do a title transfer when buying a new car?

Leave it to marketers to muddle up messages and labels in order to obscure the obvious. That’s why we have so much political correctness in our collective language.

This pre-owned linguistic reflex could be applied to all types of situations:

  • Is a single man or woman pre-married? Or “pre-viously” married, in the event of a divorce or spousal death?
  • Is a young adult a pre-mature adult? Or could an immature older adult be a pre-mature adult, as in he was pre(viously) mature but now plays video games at age 50 and eats pizza out of the box.
  • Is a pre-dated woman one who once dated? Is outdated? Never-dated? Dated out of the market? And if she had a no-good-loser boyfriend, does that make her used?

Oh, how I could sow some wild oats of confusion:

“You see, that goody-two-shoes Hobart is not really a virgin, he’s just a pre-sexual.” OR, “Ever since that filthy, lyin’, cheatin’ Hobart turned celibate, he’s been a pre-sexual adult.”

Alright, enough swirling into the gutter; let’s get back to vehicles. I rest my case: The simplest words for vehicle buying status are best: NEW or USED.

Trying to buff up the image of used vehicles by calling them pre-owned seems silly and misleading. As if it somehow changes the sales potential or the quality of the vehicle. Once it’s been owned and driven, it’s been used.

Don't agree with me? Argue with Edmunds.com: "Certified pre-owned vehicles go through multiple-point inspections, but they are still used cars and things will sometimes break."

If vehicle sellers insist on using "pre-owned," then you should know that every issue of LCT Magazine you get has been pre-read. Sorry, but the alternative would be worse, and I wouldn’t be doing my job.

And here’s a stunning revelation that affects us all: Every one of us is pre-conceived.

I hope that’s a new joke. Otherwise, I’ll just own up to being a pre-user.

Related Topics: dealerships, Editor's Edge Blog, LCT editor, Martin Romjue, new vehicles, used vehicles, vehicle sales

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 2 )
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  • Gary Bennis

     | about 2 years ago

    Martin, you need to take a chill pill and write about something worthwhile. I spent more than 20 years in the automobile industry and there is a good reason we call them "pre-owned". It stems from the notion years ago that a used car was someones problem car they no longer wanted. Back in the day we bought a car and drove it till the wheels fell off or was a problem we no longer wanted. Because of leasing and fueled by consumerism a huge influx of quality used cars came back into the market. This was extremely important for those who could not afford a new car or did not believe in buying new. But how do you overcome the stigma of buying a "used car"? Marketing people came up with a term that seemed less ominous or threatening and would give us the desire to want someones unwanted vehicle. Then dealerships inspected and repaired beyond the required levels and extended the manufactures warranty to build even more confidence and called them "certified". All legitimate and acceptable practices. I suppose next you be upset because they advertise it for sale at $12,999??? Here's $13,000 keep the buck... If it's all the same with you I will continue to call them "pre-owned" and leave the semantics to the politicians.

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