Buying a used car has always been a good deal for most car buyers. After all, someone else takes the initial depreciation hit, making your new ride a better deal than it was when it was brand new. But used car shopping has its share of pitfalls, especially when it comes to maintenance and vehicle history. The certified pre-owned shopping experience was designed with these concerns in mind, giving budget-minded shoppers greater peace of mind about their used car purchase.
So what makes a certified pre-owned vehicle? The following goes in-depth about what goes into certifying a CPO car and what you can expect when buying one.
Age and Mileage Matters
Certified pre-owned cars are held to a far higher standard than most other used vehicles. That starts with the age and mileage of the vehicle on offer. While it's not unusual to see an ordinary used car with over 100,000 miles on the odometer, the average certified pre-owned candidate usually sees far less asphalt in its first few years of ownership.
Most CPO programs require their used car candidates to be no more than 6 years old and have fewer than 75,000 miles. These requirements typically vary among manufacturers, with some being far more stringent than others when it comes to age and mileage.
As a result, most manufacturers get their CPO cars from short-term lease turn-ins and trade-ins. Some are sourced from dealer-only auto auctions but never through private sellers.
Maintenance Records Also Matter
Once the right candidates are found, a factory-trained team of CPO specialists set about examining and preparing the vehicle for its new life as a certified pre-owned car. Before doing anything else, the CPO team pores through maintenance documents and other available vehicle documentation to make sure that:
- The vehicle was properly serviced throughout its entire life, and
- The vehicle was not involved in any serious accidents
This level of diligence ensures that the dealer starts off with a high-quality vehicle that won't pose any issues later on.
A Thorough Inspection Process
Certified pre-owned cars undergo a dramatic amount of refurbishment — cosmetic blemishes are repaired to a near-factory standard, certain wear and tear items are replaced, and the vehicle is cleaned and detailed from top to bottom. To make clear the changes a typical CPO vehicle goes through, most manufacturers employ a multi-point checklist that encompasses a wide variety of vehicle items. Each manufacturer has its own number of inspection points a vehicle must pass in order to become "certified" for sale as a certified pre-owned car.
There are a few things to keep in mind about the inspection process when shopping for a CPO vehicle:
- It's not unusual for several components to be combined into a single inspection item. For instance, some dealers may include brake pads and rotors as a single inspection point instead of those components being their own individual inspection point.
- Some parts don't have to be brand-new in order to pass the inspection process. If a non-cosmetic item has a relatively small amount of wear and tear, it may still pass inspection.
- Some manufacturers may not even list a specific number of inspection points, instead alluding to a "comprehensive" or "rigorous" inspection process.
Strong Warranty Coverage
Good warranty coverage is also what separates certified pre-owned cars from their ordinary used counterparts. A typical warranty for a CPO car can range from 12 months/12,000 miles to as much as 72 months/75,000 miles. Some manufacturers may retain the original new-car warranty with a few months of extended coverage after the original warranty ends. Most manufacturers also retain their original powertrain warranties.
A CPO vehicle also comes with extra perks that might not be available to used car buyers. For instance, most manufacturers include 24-hour roadside assistance and a detailed vehicle history report. Buyers may also receive a car rental allowance and trip interruption benefits in case of an unexpected breakdown during long-distance trips.
When you're checking out used vehicles, keep these points in mind and see if a pre-owned car could work for you.