Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles: Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask
A used car that comes with the manufacturer's seal of approval usually comes with added cost, too.
[Article updated on February 6, 2019]
Way, way back in the 1990s, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and a handful of other luxury brands began offering Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) programs as a response to an increasing number of vehicles returned to dealerships at the end of leases. Since then, CPO has spread from a boutique program to an industry-wide synonym for a better class of used vehicle.
A CPO vehicle is still fundamentally a used car, but as a general rule, it represents the cream of the used car crop. A CPO vehicle is relatively new, has low mileage, has been inspected, usually has some sort of extended warranty, and offers more peace of mind than older used vehicles. Of course, it’s also more expensive.
Think of it as a used car for people who are wary of buying used cars.
Most manufacturers now have their own CPO programs, with their own set of standards and benefits.
There is no standard set of CPO criteria
A non-CPO vehicle can be just as good as its CPO counterpart
There is no specific reason a non-CPO car would be mechanically inferior, but you’d be wise to vet the quality for yourself by having an independent mechanic give it a thorough inspection. Both the extended warranty and certification process imply a certain amount of confidence about the mechanical and cosmetic excellence of the car. That confidence—and the peace of mind that comes with a warranty—is reflected in a price premium, which is often $1,000-$3,000 above a non-CPO car.
CPO programs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer
For example, Hondas are eligible for certification until they reach six years of age or 80,000 miles. Hyundai restricts vehicles to five years or 60,000 miles, but includes 24-hour roadside assistance on its CPO vehicles. Chevrolet, Buick and GMC each include up to two years’ or 24,000 miles’ worth of scheduled maintenance. Roughly a third of all manufacturers require a deductible with every visit, just like your doctor’s office.
It’s also important to know that, under a manufacturer-backed program, only a dealer of that brand can perform the certification. In other words, a Ford dealer cannot certify a Chevy Tahoe under the Chevrolet Certified Pre-Owned program.
There’s also a difference between manufacturer-backed and independent Certified Pre-Owned programs
Some dealers offer their own CPO program, independent of any manufacturer. In other words, they inspect a vehicle and sell it with an aftermarket warranty as “Certified Pre-Owned.” In this scenario, the dealer sets the standards for certification, and they may not be consistent with the manufacturer’s CPO program.
You’re the only one that can determine if CPO is worth the added cost
Generally, it’s easier to find a used vehicle in very good condition when you buy CPO. In some ways, it has the benefits of buying a new car, minus a few years of depreciation. As long as you know the cost, and the terms of the CPO program in question—whether it’s a manufacturer’s CPO program or from somewhere else—you’ll be well-equipped to weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself.