A certified pre-owned vehicle is exactly what it sounds like: a used vehicle that's certified to be in top condition by the manufacturer, who will stand behind it with a factory warranty. If that seems like the makings of a good deal, you're right. There are many advantages to purchasing a certified pre-owned (CPO) car, crossover, SUV, or truck—and very few downsides. But is a CPO vehicle right for you? Read on to learn:
- What Certified Pre-Owned Programs Include
- Costs Savings
- All About Warranties
- Vehicle Choice and Eligibility
- Special CPO Services and Offerings
- Program Requirements
- Reasons You Might Not Want a CPO Vehicle
WHAT DOES A CPO PROGRAM INCLUDE?
It Starts with Franchised Dealers
Most of the 44 brands selling vehicles in America offer a CPO program, and buying a CPO vehicle is a lot like buying a new one from a dealer. That's because only franchised dealers sell CPO vehicles, and only their own brand—Toyota dealers sell only Toyotas, Acura dealers sell only Acuras. You're working with an established, brand-name dealer rather than a used-car dealer you might know little or nothing about, let alone a private seller, where you're basically on your own.
You Choose From Current Vehicles
CPO vehicles tend to be newer, lower-mileage examples that the dealer has taken back at the end of their lease or as a trade-in. Many CPO vehicles are just several years old or less and have fewer than 50,000 original miles on them—sometimes a lot fewer. Often, a two- or three-year-old CPO vehicle will be of the same generation as those currently on sale, as most vehicle makers keep their products in production for at least five or six years. So, there's a good chance your CPO vehicle will be similar if not nearly identical to the latest models on the road. Every CPO program has different eligibility rules for the vehicles it offers in terms of age and mileage but, as in buying a new car, you get to choose exactly the one you want.
All CPO vehicles undergo a comprehensive inspection, with technicians usually looking at some 100 or more maintenance areas. (Audi's CPO program requires checking more than 300 points, for instance.) Any problems discovered are repaired. Many CPO programs also provide third-party reports like Carfax to back up the history of the vehicle and confirm it has led a good life. Thus researched and prepped, your new vehicle will have many years and miles to give.
CPO vehicles come with factory warranties. Virtually all CPO vehicles are covered by two: what's called a limited powertrain warranty on the engine, transmission, and other expensive major mechanical components; and a second, limited bumper-to-bumper warranty, which covers most other issues like the air conditioning and infotainment systems. In virtually all cases, the powertrain warranty is for multiple years and thousands more miles, while the bumper-to-bumper warranty covers you for a shorter period of time. While CPO warranties extend factory coverage, they are often not item-for-item identical to the original factory warranty. Some CPO warranties use the vehicle's original purchase date as a starting point, other CPO warranties only kick in when the factory warranty ends. Every brand's CPO program differs in the details, so be sure to do your homework and cross-shop.
Special CPO Features
Depending on the brand, a CPO deal might also include free roadside assistance that can come to your aid when you have a flat, a mechanical problem, or just run out of gas. Some come with complimentary scheduled maintenance. Others offer special deals on satellite radio subscriptions. Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC even allow you to exchange the CPO vehicle you've purchased for another if for any reason you find you don't want to keep it—as long as you do so within three days or 150 miles of taking delivery.
ADVANTAGES OF A CPO PROGRAM
It Will Save You Money
Buying any pre-owned (a.k.a. "used") vehicle will always save you money up front compared to purchasing a new vehicle. A lot of money, potentially. But a CPO vehicle isn't any ordinary used car or truck; it's guaranteed to be in top shape, with plenty of life left in it—and it's backed by a factory warranty.
Current estimates are that a two-year old CPO vehicle will run you about 25 percent less than a new, similar model; a four-year old car will average around 40 percent less expensive than a new one. If the mileage is low enough on that four-year-old vehicle, you'll be getting a like-new car for a little more than half the price. Imagine, a CPO vehicle that originally listed for about $40,000 could now be yours for around $24,000. Of course, as they say, your savings will vary. Some deals will be better than others, but the potential for getting a lot of car for the money is very real.
Peace of Mind
The warranty that comes with your new CPO ride can help you sleep easier. As with a new vehicle, you've got comprehensive protection in case something goes wrong—and you're covered for a long time. Some limited powertrain warranties extend as far as six or seven years from the date the first owner purchased the car and continue on up to 100,000 miles. The limited bumper-to-bumper warranties that are also part of CPO programs generally cover almost everything else on the vehicle for the first 12 months and 12,000 miles.
Case in point: You could buy a three-year-old CPO vehicle with about 35,000 miles on the odometer and, in some programs at least, still have four years and 65,000 miles of coverage. If you're not a high-mileage driver, that equals a big slice of peace of mind. But you must scrutinize the fine print to be sure of exactly what each particular CPO offers.
Ease of Purchase
Because you are dealing with a dealer that sells hundreds of new cars every year, factory financing and leasing options are often available. You might well be able to trade in your current vehicle as part of the deal. You don't have to worry about who you are doing business with. Well, not any more than you usually do at a dealership. As always, it's best to study all aspects of the deal you're making; financing through your bank might be less costly, for instance. But those dealer-provided services are there for your consideration.
As noted earlier, many programs offer a variety of special features and trial offers that enable you to sample the brand's services. Some CPO programs provide a year or two of roadside assistance. Others include complimentary maintenance for a given period of time. More than a few offer rental-car reimbursement if your vehicle suffers a breakdown. There are offers for trial subscriptions to satellite radio and to safety-reporting systems like OnStar.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Electric Vehicle CPO Programs are Different
Electric vehicles are often covered by different new-vehicle warranties than gasoline-powered cars and trucks because their powertrains—batteries, electric motors, and associated hardware—are different. But the coverage basics are the same: you get a specific powertrain warranty and a limited bumper-to-bumper warranty that extends coverage for more years and more mileage.
Limitations on Vehicle Choice
Say you know exactly the car you want: a three-year old Exemplar GTX Triple-Turbo Super-Snorter four-door in Stratospheric Blue. Be prepared: there's always a chance that that exact car may not be available as a CPO vehicle. CPO programs have age and eligibility requirements for the vehicles they offer. A dealer somewhere might actually have the model and color you desire on the lot, but it might be too old, have too many miles on it, or simply be in too rough a state to qualify for a CPO program. There will most likely be other, similar, Exemplar GTX CPOs to choose from, so you might have to settle and take one in Aurora Borealis Green instead. Don't be overly picky about the small stuff and you should do just fine.
Cost of CPO
CPO cars generally cost more than similar non-CPO models, though there's no hard-and-fast rule as to how much more. But the difference is, generally, not many thousands of dollars. Remember, you're paying for the comprehensive dealer inspection, any required repairs or maintenance work, and the security of a much longer warranty than if you simply bought it as a standard used car. And then you have to negotiate the final deal with the dealer, as you would with any new car purchase.
CPO programs specify that you follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. Failure to do so could void your warranty. And you will need to have that routine maintenance work performed at a franchised dealer—just as you would with a new vehicle covered under the standard new-car warranty.
We see no issues with that; today's vehicles require very little maintenance beyond oil changes. And if any repairs do need to be made, dealers are well-equipped to handle them and process the paperwork associated with your CPO warranty. Some CPO programs do include a deductible for some services so, once again, be aware of the particulars of the certified pre-owned plan you're interested in before you sign on the dotted line.
You Could Spend Less
Older, higher-mileage vehicles that don't qualify for CPO status will almost always be cheaper to purchase. And for some buyers that may be the right choice. But spend less and you'll get less: minimal to no warranty coverage and a car that reaches the end of its useful life sooner. The cost of that might be higher than you think.