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All You Need To Know About Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles

You’ve seen the signs, read the advertisements, heard the claims. But what exactly does “Certified Pre-Owned” (CPO) mean when it comes to shopping for the vehicle of your dreams? Read on to get the lowdown on CPO and how it can add – or detract – from your car buying experience.

Photo: Zeremski

CPO Defined

The start of the CPO boom can be traced back to Lexus. Typically, a vehicle lease today lasts anywhere from 24 to 36 months; after those two or three years, the vehicle is returned to the dealership that initiated the lease. Recognizing that most leased cars are returned in good condition, Lexus formed the first CPO vehicle program in 1993.

The premise was simple: A previously used car arrives at the dealership in good condition and, assuming it meets certain age and mileage restrictions, it undergoes a multi-point inspection before being sold on the used car market as a “certified” car.

CPO refers to used cars that are sold after having undergone extensive inspection and preparation. In most cases, cars sold via a manufacturer’s CPO program come with a warranty, a vehicle history report, and additional services such as roadside recovery.

Contrary to what you may think, the CPO label isn’t just a gimmick designed to get you to buy, buy, buy. Oftentimes, these lightly used models offer significant value. If you’re interested in a CPO vehicle, you’ll need to visit a dealership, but most likely you’ll be availing yourself of a reliable vehicle that comes with trustworthy backing.

CPO vehicles generally cost more than their non-CPO counterparts, which may not seem worth it if you’re looking for just a reliable, inexpensive used car. If you have your heart set on a luxury model, however, a CPO vehicle may offer you an affordable alternative.

Luxury cars, especially foreign models, usually are expensive to repair. If you’re shopping upmarket, CPO may offer you the middle ground you’ve been looking for between the higher price of a new vehicle and the possibility of expensive repairs that can come with a used car.


CPO Vehicle Benefits

To qualify for CPO status, vehicles typically must be less than five or six years old, and have mileage maximums that range from 50,000 to 80,000 miles. In addition, every car manufacturer includes a vehicle history report in the certification.

In general, CPO vehicles:

  • Undergo a multi-point inspection
  • Are less expensive than buying a new car
  • Come with a warranty, including a limited powertrain or a 1- to 2-year comprehensive warranty
  • Include provisions for a complimentary loaner vehicle if your car needs to be taken to the shop for repairs
  • Includes 24-hour roadside assistance
Photo: Shutterstock/LightField Studios

CPO Vehicle Drawbacks

It’s important to note the distinction between manufacturer CPO programs and dealer CPO programs. Only franchise dealerships can sell manufacturer CPO cars; automakers back the warranties and services associated with manufacturer CPO programs.

If you’re planning to purchase a CPO vehicle, consider:

  • Having an independent mechanic conduct a PPI to reveal any potential faults or defects
  • Inspecting the car visually to detect any significant dents or scratches
  • Listening for any unusual sounds that could indicate a problem
  • Reporting any unusual smells or odors
  • Reading all of the fine print on the CPO contract
  • Noting when your CPO warranty begins, its duration, and what it covers