Tips for Buying A Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicle

Buying a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle can require more work than buying a new vehicle, but presents fewer pitfalls than buying used.

What is a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicle?

A certified pre-owned vehicle is a vehicle offered for sale by your local dealer that has presumably gone through some sort of inspection and/or testing and/or refurbishing and/or background check. It may include an extended warranty and it may not. For some CPO programs it can be a check to make sure nothing is worn out and in need of replacement while others involve a factory caliber reconditioning process with cosmetic blemishes touched up, worn trim pieces replaced, a service conducted, and parts like belts and brake pads replaced. There are MANY variations as to what is termed certified pre-owned, so understanding the certification program that is being offered is critical to making a good decision.

Because warranties, vehicle inspection points, and other program components will vary, consumers need to thoroughly understand what defines CPO BEFORE purchasing a vehicle so they can determine if the additional cost is justifiable and whether it meets their needs and expectations.

Manufacturer (Factory Certified) Programs

Manufacturer (or “factory”) CPO vehicles are only sold at authorized dealers specializing in that particular franchise. Factory CPO cars are generally five years old or newer and have less than 80,000 miles and may include an extended warranty, special financing, and additional benefits. They often cost more than a non-certified used vehicle.

Before purchasing a CPO vehicle, check out the pre-owned certification program for the vehicle brand you would like to purchase. What you will quickly realize is that not all certification programs are the same. Each manufacturer has it’s own certification program for vehicles they warrant and the coverage varies from powertrain only to bumper to bumper. Be sure to compare manufacturer certification programs (Insert link to certified pre-owned cars)

Vehicles that have been certified by the manufacturer typically go through more rigorous testing and background check and may include many new car benefits such as loaner vehicles, roadside assistance, etc. They may also be more expensive. Current sales suggest that CPO sales are on the rise and that new car dealers have been getting as much as 95% of their asking price for CPO vehicles.

Manufacturer pre-owned certification programs can be used across the country versus some dealer certification programs which are only warranted by the dealership issuing the warranty.

Dealer-Certified Programs

Dealer-certified programs are often promoted as Certified Pre-Owned and aim to sound like manufacturer-supported programs. They might use some of the same words and terms to convince you that they provide comparable coverage, but they’re generally not the same. These vehicles generally have not been inspected by anyone outside the dealership, but do typically carry a short term dealer warranty or extended service contract to provide some protection to the consumer.

With any certified pre-owned program, who does the actual inspection and reconditioning repairs may be significant. While both factory-certified and dealer-certified program vehicles are typically inspected by employees of the selling dealer- not by the manufacturer as may be assumed – the inspection standard may be completely different.

Most dealer certified preowned vehicles do not get the same rigorous multipoint inspection, Also, these cars usually don’t have a warranty backed by the factory (unless there is any remainder on the factory warranty). If you want an extended warranty, you will need to purchase a third party warranty from the dealer. Third party warranties vary greatly so be sure to check out the warranty company and read the fine print! Many third party warranties have exclusions and high deductibles, and the warranty company often determines what they will or will not cover.

Before You Purchase a CPO Vehicle:

• Thoroughly investigate the certification program for the vehicle you wish to buy to make sure you know what you are paying for. 

• Make sure the manufacturer and not just the dealer is offering the certification.

• Ask when the CPO coverage starts and ends

• Ask what the CPO warranty covers

• Ask to see the actual inspection report or certification checklist for the vehicle.

• Insist on seeing a vehicle repair and maintenance history

• Purchase vehicle history reports from BOTH Carfax ( AND Autocheck ( as they obtain their information from different sources.

• Read the fine print on the CPO warranty. Some warranties are more extensive than others. Some warranties are transferable while others are not.

• Get every dealer promise in writing. It may not count if it is not in writing, and make sure it is signed by the sales person or car dealer.

• Take the car on a long test drive that includes surface as well as freeway driving.

• Have your mechanic inspect it first because even when a car is certified there’s no guarantee it will be trouble-free!

Remember: not all certified pre-owned vehicle programs are the same. Do NOT rely on the word “certified” as being any sort of guarantee about the quality of the vehicle you are purchasing. Be sure you thoroughly investigate the program, the vehicle and the company making the certified claim before you buy the vehicle.

How to protect yourself and your legal rights: If you live in Ohio or Kentucky and have a problem with a certified pre-owned vehicle that you have purchased, contact the used car lemon law attorneys at Burdge Law Office at 888.331.6422. Burdge Law has extensive experience filing claims and lawsuits against car dealers that have sold certified pre-owned vehicles without doing the certification or doing the certification properly. Don’t wait too long to contact an attorney with experience handling used car laws or some of your legal rights may expire.