What is a Program Car?

What is a program car? That’s a good question and it is a term that is unfamiliar to most consumers. In brief, a program car is a used vehicle, one that was used by a car dealer for an executive or other employee.

Most consumers have heard of a “demo car,” which is a vehicle offered by dealerships for consumers test driving a car. For instance, if someone is interested in a Toyota Camry, a particular version of that sedan is set aside exclusively for consumer use. Demo cars are eventually sold by the dealer as a used vehicle as are program cars.


program car
A program car can supply a solid deal.

Program Car Overview

As for program cars, they are typically owned by the manufacturer but offered to a dealership employee to drive for a certain length of time, usually up to a year. Unlike demo cars that are sold by the dealership, the program car is taken back by the manufacturer and sold at a car auction. It is an arrangement that is like what manufacturers have with press vehicles that go from journalist to journalist before they are pulled from the market.

Thus, demo cars and program cars have one important matter in common. Consumers can buy them, although in the latter case you may be required to hold an auction license to purchase one directly. Otherwise, a program car would eventually find its way to a dealer lot for consumer purchase.

Program Car Facts

There are certain matters about program cars that are nearly the same across the industry. Keep these points in mind when shopping for one.

Low Miles

Program cars spend a brief time with the dealership executive or other employee. Most are offered for a few months with mileage restrictions in place. Thus, if you shop for a used vehicle that is also a program car, it should have a few thousand miles on the odometer.

Available Warranties

Bumper-to-bumper and other new vehicle warranties remain in place with a program car. In effect, the remaining months and miles on any warranty stay put as the warranties transfer to the new owner. Therefore, it is important to research all applicable warranties for the make/model/model year of the vehicle you want to ensure that the coverage transfers.

Better Than a Rental Car

Rental car companies typically perform regular maintenance on fleet cars. That said, these vehicles are routinely driven by a wide variety of drivers, including some who push them to their limits. Even if a rental car looks great, it has gone through more wear and tear than a program car. Figure that rental cars have quite a few miles too, with 50,000 to 90,000 on the odometer. Even most demo cars have much less mileage.

Other Considerations

A program car may sound like the ideal used car with its one driver usage and low miles. In most cases it is.

Then again, you do not know the driving habits of that person, nor will you necessarily know whether it was properly maintained within that timeframe. You can avoid a potential problem by asking for the vehicle history report, such as CARFAX, and maintenance records. Further, visit the federal recall site to determine if there are outstanding recalls. You’ll want to have those accomplished before you make your purchase.

Buyer Beware

As with any used vehicle purchase, buyers should always do their research. Obtain records, run the vehicle history report, and compare prices on Kelley Blue Book or another reputable site.

Bring a second set of eyes with you to evaluate the car. If still in doubt, a mechanic’s inspection can prove helpful and reveal potential problems you might face.


See AlsoHow to Avoid Overpaying on a Used Car

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Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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