Sometimes buying a used car can feel like stepping into a horror movie. Is that a dangerously unsafe car lurking around the corner? Will that ride break down just a few days after purchase, leaving you on the hook for a costly repair bill? It’s not easy to know who to trust.
Fortunately, there is one avenue available to buyers that offers added peace of mind. Called “Certified Pre-owned” or CPO, this is a car that is being sold with similar warranties and guarantees as a new car.
What does “Certified Pre-owned” Mean?
Think of a CPO car like a refurbished product: Most cars being offered as a CPO have been traded in or are coming off a lease. These vehicles are closely inspected and must meet stringent safety standards before being put on sale.
These inspections are similar to the pre-purchase inspections that you’d ask (or should ask) any mechanic to perform on a used car before you agree to buy it, and include checking that the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) match and that the car has a clean title. They will also inspect and include a vehicle history report, like a CarFax. From there, mechanics will check items for performance and condition, including the air conditioning, transmission, engine, steering, brakes, lights, and locks. Depending on the program and car, other powered features like the seats, audio system, and navigation are inspected, and you can always count on the underbody, interior, and exterior to be checked out as well.
The vehicle often has to fit a certain year or mileage requirement in order to qualify for the CPO program, meaning they’re typically newer cars. This means that the certified cars being offered are usually cherry-picked with nice paint and clean interiors, but it means that they’ll also be more expensive than regular, non-CPO used cars.
What are the Benefits of Buying Certified Pre-owned?
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Typically, the most important reason to buy a CPO vehicle is that it comes with a warranty. This means that if your new-to-you car needs repairs, your costs may be covered. The types of coverage, length of coverage, and specific details of coverage vary for each program, but you can always expect some kind of safety net to prevent you from spending too much on repairs. An extra bit of confidence and added convenience is that the car can be repaired at any of the brand’s service centres, instead of relying on a local mechanic or specific dealership. This is a big benefit of going to a manufacturer dealership for a CPO vehicle instead of a no-name dealer – you can use their whole network of dealerships and service centres.
Certified pre-owned cars not only come with warranties but can also include roadside assistance, loaner cars, a satellite radio subscription, and special financing, making it all the easier to buy them with more confidence than any random vehicle that has been sitting around on a used car lot. Of course, the benefits and coverage differ depending on the automaker, so be sure to check out just how extensive the inspection is, how long the extended warranty is, and if the warranty is transferable to another owner. These features often vary the most between each CPO program. It’s important to note that while most CPO programs are manufacturer-run, some independent dealerships can offer similar programs for their cars as well. Be wary of cars that are dealership-certified rather than manufacturer-certified, since these don’t have to meet the same kind of stricter and more regulated requirements as the manufacturer-backed vehicles.
Is a Certified Pre-owned Vehicle Right for Me?
Buying a CPO vehicle means that you’re buying a car that comes with a few extra goodies to ensure that you have a pleasant ownership experience and fewer headaches. These goodies will also likely extend the life of the vehicle. However, it’s important to understand that CPO cars are usually more expensive than typical used cars, and to know when it makes sense to spring for the extra cost of a CPO vehicle.
In order for a car to be certified, the dealership selling the vehicle must pay a fee to the manufacturer and this cost is passed down to the customer. As a result, it may not always be worth it to buy a certified pre-owned car, especially if it’s a low-cost vehicle on the used car market or a vehicle that’s already known to be reliable.
Alternatively, buying a certified pre-owned luxury car may be a better use of your money, since luxury cars tend to have higher repair costs than mainstream cars. This means that if the vehicle needs repairs, the certified one will likely be covered for the high costs associated with maintaining and fixing such high-end vehicles.
If you find buying a used car more frightening than werewolves, then consider CPO programs to be the silver bullet to erase that fear. Vehicles that are certified are usually in better shape, offer better warranty coverage, and can even come with other bonuses when compared to non-certified used vehicles. They may cost more, but for some buyers, that’s the price of confidence when buying used.
Pros and Cons of Buying CPO
- Added peace of mind when buying a used car
- Includes an extensive pre-purchase inspection
- Warranty to cover repairs
- Better available financing rates
- Save money over buying a brand-new car
- More expensive than most non-certified used cars
- Unnecessary if you have a trusted mechanic to inspect cars
- Not always worth the extra costs on reliable used cars
- “Dealer certified” cars can confuse buyers