Should You Go CPO? Buying Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles

Many dealerships today sell certified pre-owned or "CPO" vehicles. These vehicles claim higher reliability and to be a better value than an ordinary used car. Let’s go over what CPO vehicles are, and whether or not these vehicles live up to the promise.

What Makes a CPO Different?

Certified pre-owned vehicles are used cars and trucks that have been inspected to a set of high standards by either a dealership or the manufacturer itself. To qualify as CPO, the car also has to come in under a prescribed mileage limit. If the car qualifies on both counts, it will receive the CPO designation and will be offered with a warranty that surpasses the ones usually reserved for used cars.

Manufacturer or Dealer Certified

There are both manufacturer and dealer certified pre-owned vehicles and both should be considered. The certification process of a manufacturer CPO is generally more vigorous than the process at a dealership. These vehicles are only offered at certified dealerships of the manufacturer. A dealer inspection is often less rigorous and will only be backed by a third-party warranty or service agreement. It stands to reason that a manufacturer CPO will be a little higher in price, but may be well worth it.

The Inspection Process

Each manufacturer or dealership has a different set of inspection items examined in the certification process. It’s important to know the items inspected on the particular vehicle you are considering for purchase. A 200 point inspection is not necessarily better than a 150 point one. Many times, the higher score on a 200 point inspection comes from marks added by inspecting areas of the vehicle that don't have much bearing on the value or operation of the car. On the other hand, the 150 point inspection might examine more crucial components making it a more valuable tool.

To determine the supposed value add of the "certified" designation for yourself, request a copy of the inspection checklist. The dealership should be able to provide such a list to look over, making it a lot easier to decide if the inspection is comprehensive enough or not.

The Warranty

Many CPO vehicles come with an extended warranty, pitched as another value add. Just as with the inspection, the terms of the warranty have the most influence on the veracity of this claim. Be sure to check warranty details carefully and compare the ones offered from several dealerships. It is you who should have the final say as to what is actually a value.

Focus on these main points when looking over a warranty:

  • Presence and minimums of any deductibles
  • Covered parts and components
  • Time length of warranty
  • Mileage length of warranty

The Benefits

At the end of the day, what benefits are realized from the premium price of a CPO? The certification process should yield all of the following perks:

  • Improved reliability
  • Lower mileage
  • Fewer repair issues
  • Warranty backed
  • Higher resale value

While not necessarily a slam dunk idea, purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle can take a lot of worry out of the used car buying experience. With the proper amount of due diligence on your part, a CPO could potentially put you in a car that will serve you well for years to come.