Ask TFL: Should I Buy A Government-Owned Car?

Ask TFL: Should I Buy This Government-Owned 2016 Honda CR-V?

Should you buy a used ex-government car? That’s the question TFLcar reader Shafat asked, and more specifically he’s looking into a used 2016 Honda CR-V Touring. The car is currently for sale at a local dealership in the Denver area and he’s wondering whether going for it is something that would be worthwhile, or if ex-government cars are something to avoid.

Here’s his full question:

“I recently came across a 2016 Honda CR-V Touring AWD that is Certified Pre Owned. CarFax report is showing the car is used by the government. I asked the salesman, and he said the car was owned by Colorado State University. Also, the trunk of the car is discolored because of Magnesium Chloride.

I am not sure whether the car was driven by 1 person or multiple people and today salesman said, car radio display is replaced because of scratch. I have never bought a government car before, so can you please share your thoughts based on the provided link what will be the best course of action I should take?”

Ask TFL: Should I Buy This Government-Owned 2016 Honda CR-V?
The Honda CR-V has a solid reputation, but it always pays to practice due diligence with any used purchase.

You’re probably safer than you think

There are several different routes through which you can get your hands on ex-government cars. And the deals are tempting: Some are fairly new models (as fleets change over every 3-4 years), and you may be able to get your hands on them cheap. However, there is a reason some government cars are cheap, and that’s because they’re abused. To my mind, buying a used government vehicle is like buying a used rental car. They’re checked out to people who just need transportation, and most of the time those people don’t really care about keeping it in good shape. You don’t own a rental car, after all, so what incentive do you have to keep it nice?

When it comes to this area, though, there’s a key distinction. This CR-V isn’t a former cop car, so it’s not like it’s been driven from here to the moon. In fact, Shafat ran a Carfax report on the car which shows its mileage at 23,124 as recently as February 2020, when it hit the Honda dealer. So, it’s actually a low mileage example of a 2016 CR-V, since most models of a similar vintage will have at least 40,000 miles on them by now.

Consider also the sort of work it was used for. The people who drove it — and yes, several different people probably drove it — likely used it to commute between campuses, drive to university-sanctioned events like conferences, and to make deliveries and attend meetings. It doesn’t seem like it was driven far, nor would I think it was driven very often. Maybe just a few miles a day, in some cases.

A snapshot of this Honda’s ownership history from its CarFax report.

Maintenance is key

Government cars can see some tough abuse, but there is an up side. These sorts of cars are publicly owned by the state, as Colorado State University is a public institution. That means this car should have been properly maintained, with regular oil changes and tire rotations as needed throughout the first four years of its life. It’s worth noting this specific CR-V sat on the dealer lot for nearly seven months before the school bought it, so it’s only been in use for less than three years.

As for the discolored tailgate, mag chloride unfortunately comes with the territory here in Colorado. It’s not something you can avoid if you drive in winter conditions, and even with frequent car washes the chemicals can take their toll on a car’s finish. If I’m buying used, I can probably live with a discolored tailgate as long as it’s not actually damaged or rusting, if I can get a good deal on the purchase. Same goes with the scratched radio, although it’s good the dealer opted to replace it (so long as that “cost” isn’t passed on to you, the buyer).

Speaking of the Honda CR-V on snow…

This CR-V is also a Certified Pre-Owned model, which does offer some peace of mind. The dealer has gone through it thoroughly enough to at least determine there’s nothing obviously, catastrophically wrong with the car. That’s not something you can guarantee with private buyers, which is why it always makes sense to get a second opinion before purchasing a privately-owned car.

What is it actually worth?

The dealer is currently offering the car for a shade under $24,000. That’s nearly $10,000 less than the car’s new MSRP. However, it’s still worth noting before you jump in that dealers sell on the higher end of the car’s resale value spectrum to make their overhead (and turn a profit).

Before making the deal, it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge and know your circumstances. Sites like Kelley Blue Book and NADA Guides offer a snapshot of a car’s resale value. You may also want to root around on CR-V forums and owner’s groups on social media and ask what sort of deals other owners have gotten on their used purchases.

What do you think about buying ex-government vehicles? Leave a comment below and send your Ask TFL questions to