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Certified Pre-Owned Cars Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Whether you're dealing with high-pressure sales tactics, unscrupulous sellers, or confusing marketplace jargon, buying a used car can be stressful. Buying a certified pre-owned vehicle, or CPO, can reduce this headache and help you get reliable transportation. So, what exactly is a CPO car?

What is a CPO Car?

A certified pre-owned vehicle is a car that has been certified according to a specific set of manufacturer standards and resold at a manufacturer-branded dealership. A licensed automotive technician will inspect these vehicles to identify any issues they may have. In addition, these techs will often get a vehicle history report to ensure that the car has not been involved in any accidents; that way, they can identify whether it could have hidden damage. After the inspection, the CPO vehicle is repaired to ensure the car is in excellent condition, after which it is sold.

CPO cars take out much of the guesswork in purchasing your used car. By acquiring that manufacturer certification, you can be far more confident in the vehicle's actual condition. With private sales, you only have the seller's word, though you can also choose to get your own vehicle history report. This process is all handled for you when you decide to go with a CPO through a branded dealership.

A certified pre-owned vehicle can also come with several benefits you won't be able to get through a private sale. For example, a CPO can help you avoid common car scams like odometer rollback and title washing, get a better warranty, provide leasing options, and even give you free maintenance for a specific period of time.

Who Offered the First Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle?

Lexus and Mercedes-Benz first created certified pre-owned vehicles in the 1990s to capitalize on the better condition of lower-mileage trade-in vehicles and cars that customers had returned after the expiration of a lease contract. Though the trend started with luxury vehicles, its success saw these programs expand to almost every major global brand.

Car brands with CPO vehicles:
  • GMC
  • Chevrolet
  • Hyundai
  • Honda
  • Toyota
  • Acura
  • Mazda
  • Mitsubishi
  • Maserati
  • Infiniti
  • Chrysler
  • Jeep
  • Kia
  • Land Rover
  • Cadillac
  • Mini
  • Genesis
  • Ford
  • Porsche
  • Ram
  • Lincoln
  • Jaguar
  • Nissan
  • Subaru
  • Tesla
  • Volkswagen
  • Volvo
  • Fiat
  • BMW
  • Audi

What is the Certification Process for a CPO Car?

While each brand has its own unique certification process, a CPO is usually certified through an inspection according to criteria created by the manufacturer. If the vehicle doesn't meet these criteria but can be reasonably repaired, then it's fixed according to those standards. Manufacturers often choose cars that are already in excellent condition to make this process as cost-effective as possible. So lower mileage cars or those with more recent model years are usually chosen for CPO programs.

How many points a particular brand's inspection includes will also vary. Here are a few examples of different brands' multipoint inspection numbers.

  • Mitsubishi CPO: 123-point inspection
  • Toyota CPO: 160-point inspection
  • Volvo CPO: 170-point inspection
  • Hyundai CPO: 173-point inspection
  • Nissan CPO: 167-point inspection
  • Infiniti CPO: 167-point inspection
  • Jaguar CPO: 165-point inspection
  • Land Rover CPO: 165-point inspection
  • Maserati CPO: 120-point inspection
  • Subaru CPO: 152-point inspection
  • Tesla CPO: 145-point inspection
  • Lexus CPO: 161-point inspection
  • Acura CPO: 182-point inspection
  • BMW CPO: 360-point inspection
  • Audi CPO: 308-point inspection
  • Cadillac CPO: 172-point inspection
  • Chevrolet CPO: 172-point inspection
  • Fiat CPO: 125-point inspection
  • Genesis CPO: 191-point inspection
  • Mazda CPO: 160-point inspection

It's usually advantageous to choose a brand that offers as many points on their inspections as possible when purchasing your CPO car. That being said, you also want to consider the other benefits included with that program, like whether it comes with free maintenance, an extended warranty, or leasing options. If you choose to lease, make sure that the vehicle will fit within your established budget. The best way to do this is with a lease and loan calculator, like the free tool offered by GoodCar.

Certified Pre-Owned Car Frequently Asked Questions

Are Certified Pre-Owned Cars Guaranteed By the Seller for Quality?

Certified pre-owned cars are guaranteed by the manufacturer to meet a certain level of quality. Backed by a factory warranty, these vehicles will almost always be in better condition than a regular used car. The downside to this is that this higher quality often comes at a high price. But if your budget can accommodate it, a CPO can offer a longer usable lifespan than buying a used car from a private seller.

What Does Certified Mean on a Car?

While "certified" may have different definitions depending on what context they are used in, it usually refers to a car being certified pre-owned. This means the vehicle has gone through the inspections and repairs necessary to meet the criteria set out by its original manufacturer. After it's certified, it may also be backed by a manufacturer or dealer warranty; it may also come with extra benefits like free maintenance, roadside assistance, and free trials for services like XM Radio.

Does Pre-Owned Mean Used?

Pre-owned is another way to refer to used vehicles. For a car to qualify as pre-owned or used, it has to have been owned by at least one driver since its original manufacturing date. Because the vehicles are not new, the condition of a used car can vary. With a certified pre-owned car, the vehicle has to meet a set of criteria created by the manufacturer. Because of this, these vehicles are often in better condition than a regular used car.

What is the Difference Between Dealer Certified and Manufacturer CPO?

There are a few key differences between dealer-certified and manufacturer-certified pre-owned vehicles. Dealer-certified cars may have a warranty from the dealership or a third-party issuer and will be inspected by the dealership's service department to meet specific mechanical, safety, and mileage-related standards. On the other hand, a manufacturer-certified pre-owned vehicle has to meet criteria set by the manufacturer, often related to its current condition and overall mileage.