Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles

If you can't decide between buying a new or used vehicle, a certified pre-owned car might be a viable option.

Certified Pre-Owned Cars Defined

A certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle is a used vehicle that has gone through an inspection, refurbishment, and certification process authorized by the manufacturer (or “factory") or another authority (such as a dealership).

General CPO Program Details

Although they share many similarities, generally no two certified used car programs are the same.

Manufacturers vs. Dealerships

It is important to distinguish between manufacturer certified pre-owned vehicles and dealership CPO vehicles.

Manufacturer certified pre-owned vehicles are used cars that go through and pass an inspection process outlined by the manufacturer of that car. Only a manufacturer's franchised dealership has the authority to sell that manufacturer's certified pre-owned vehicles.

On the other hand, dealership CPO vehicles are used cars that are not being sold by a manufacturer's licensed dealership. Dealerships will tag the CPO label on a used car by placing a third-party service agreement (often referred to as a warranty) on it. This can be tricky, as these cars will typically not be scrutinized the way manufacturer certified pre-owned vehicles are.

CPO Car Inspections

A CPO car inspection process varies depending on which entity performs the inspection. Each manufacturer has its own set of standards when it comes to certified pre-owned vehicles.

Certified pre-owned vehicle inspections can get even trickier to understand when you start running into terms like “112-point," “150-point," or “300-point" inspections. What are these “points," exactly? What was inspected, and why? What was the repair process, and how does that coincide with your warranty (see Certified Pre-Owned Car Warranties below)?

These are good questions, and ones you absolutely should ask your salesperson; in fact, ask to see the inspection checklist and have the salesperson go through every component, or “point," with you. Find out exactly:

  • What was inspected.
  • Why the inspection was important.
  • How the inspection benefits you.

Certified Pre-Owned Car Warranties

As has become the theme, certified pre-owned car warranties vary depending on who sold or certified the vehicle.

Basic elements to look for (and ask about) within your CPO warranty include:

  • Coverage.
    • Does it offer bumper-to-bumper coverage, or are certain elements only covered?
  • Mileage.
    • How many miles can your CPO vehicle hit before your warranty expires?
  • Deductibles.
    • Do you have to pay a deductible to have your CPO car repaired?

Also, be sure to ask the salesperson where the car can be serviced, should your vehicle ever need any work covered under the warranty.

Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle Benefits

Sure, you'll probably pay a little more for a certified pre-owned car than you would a basic used vehicle, but they do come with a few benefits you can't normally find with traditional used cars, including but not limited to:

  • Fresh repairs and replacements in order to meet the manufacturer's or dealership's CPO program requirements.
  • Finding late-model, low-mileage vehicles generally with clean vehicle history reports, i.e. “newer" used cars than your average trip to the used car sales lot.
  • Getting additional coverage (an extended warranty) that lasts beyond the original new-car warranty expiration date.

While you might be able to find these benefits in a used car that is not certified pre-owned, it'll take some serious shopping around (and possibly some extra out-of-pocket expenses).

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