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How to Buy a Certified Pre-Owned Car in 3 Steps

With a wide variety of benefits and higher quality standards, buying a certified pre-owned vehicle is an excellent option for anyone in the market for a used vehicle. Unlike buying a traditional pre-owned vehicle, which can involve endlessly searching through classified ads and dealing with shady sellers, buying a CPO car can be simple. Here are 3 steps you can follow to purchase your own certified pre-owned vehicle.

Step #1: Decide What You Want

Before buying any type of used car, you’ll want to decide what kind of car you are looking for. This decision will likely be based on a few factors, including:

  • What Size Your Budget Is: Calculating how much money you have for your used car purchase will give you a range to search within.
  • What You Will Be Using the Car For: Decide why you need this car. Will it be for commuting? Delivering items for a business? Driving for a ride-share service? Your vehicle’s purpose will likely dictate what kind of CPO you choose.
  • What Features You Want the Car to Have: Some of these features will be based on your answers to the previous question and your personal tastes. For example, suppose safety is a priority for you. In that case, you may want a car with advanced safety features like a backup camera, automotive emergency braking, blind spot detection, and collision warning systems.
  • How You Plan to Pay For the Car: You'll also want to decide whether you plan to purchase a car outright or finance it through a lease or loan. With a lease and loan calculator, you can calculate your loan payments ahead of time to make sure they fit into your budget.

You can also write up a list of specific makes and models you like and narrow down the manufacturers you will search for. Certain manufacturers will offer vehicles more fit for particular uses. If you intend to have a lot of passengers, for example, you’ll want to look for brands that provide CPO vans or SUVs.

From here, you’ll need to see what certified pre-owned vehicles are available from those brands.

Step #2: See What Cars are Available and What Those CPO Programs Offer

Once you have a rough idea of what you are looking for, it’s time to do some research. You can search for certified pre-owned vehicles from your chosen manufacturers through several avenues, including:

  • Online Marketplaces: Many online vehicle dealerships will allow you to peruse their inventory and find the car you want. Sites like Kelley Blue Book, TrueCar, and Carvana all offer certified pre-owned vehicles; by looking online, you can save yourself the trip of heading into a brick-and-mortar dealership.
  • Branded Dealerships: Manufacturers will have franchise dealerships that offer certified pre-owned programs. While it may seem like a pain to visit a store in-person, staff at these locations can help walk you through the purchase process. Check to see if there are any branded dealerships in your area, and head on in to see what offers they are currently running.
  • Purchase a Former Rental: Rental car companies like Enterprise and Hertz will also sometimes offer certified pre-owned vehicles, but this may not be your best option. Rental cars experience a significant amount of wear and tear over their lifetime. Even with the repairs a CPO undergoes, you may still need to take these vehicles to the shop sooner rather than later.

You’ll also want to look into what these CPO programs offer and compare a few to see who offers the most benefits. Some dealerships may not give you any bonuses for purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle, while others can come with additional benefits like free maintenance, extended warranties, and roadside assistance programs.

Step #3: If You Can, Negotiate

If you plan to go into a dealership, you’ll often have the option to negotiate on some of the finer points of your CPO purchase. Certified pre-owned vehicles can be significantly more expensive than a regular used car, so haggling can make that price tag easier to accept.

  • Check for CPO Programs: First, see what they offer with their program before you agree to a purchase. Ask if they have any benefits for taking part in their CPO program. Try to get the most benefits possible, and take advantage of any savings these programs can provide.
    • Do they provide a loaner car if your vehicle is disabled?
    • Do they have a free-maintenance period following purchase?
    • Do they give any free trials for specific services
  • Ask About Financing: Then, you'll want to talk about budget and financing. While some dealers won't be willing to haggle on price, others will. If a CPO car is a bit outside your budget, see what you can do to reduce the cost. Talk to the dealer about financing if you find a perfect vehicle but can't afford the total sales price. Certain CPO programs will give you special financing if you inquire, and you may be able to get better rates or lower premiums. Once everything is set and you've decided on a price, all you must do is drive off the lot!

Where Can I Find More Information about Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles?

The best way to find more information about CPO cars is with a service like GoodCar. GoodCar can give you access to vehicle history reports and other data that will show you valuable data about any available vehicle. While many CPOs will come with a manufacturer’s stamp of approval, it’s still good to learn more about that vehicle’s history of ownership. By doing research ahead of time, you can get a higher-quality car.

You can also avoid falling victim to a car-buying scam, like odometer rollback, lemon cars, and car title washing. Without knowing a car's history, it will be difficult to confirm its actual mileage or whether it's ever been in an accident. Scammers will take advantage of this and lie about a vehicle's actual condition. With a vehicle history report, you can confirm any information a seller provides or challenge any details you find suspicious.