What is a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle?

Jerry Baker
March 17 2023

When it comes to buying a used car, there are a lot of angles to consider. How long will you be able to use the car before you need to buy another one? Is the initial price going to offset the cost of maintenance over time? And how do you know what the condition of the car really is? 


When seeking the perfect balance between quality and affordability, a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle could be the answer you need. In this post, we’ll explore what a certified pre-owned car is and why it may be the right choice for savvy car buyers.

The Definition of ‘Certified Pre-Owned’:

A certified pre-owned car is a late-model used vehicle that is backed by either the manufacturer or the dealer through their specific CPO program. These programs were developed starting in the early 1990s to provide buyers with peace of mind by offering detailed inspections, reconditioning, extended warranties, and additional perks. 


While each automaker's CPO program has its own criteria, the overall goal is to ensure the quality and reliability of the vehicle. For this reason, most cars have to have a clean history, be only a few years old, and have a limited amount of miles, among other criteria.

What’s the Difference Between ‘Certified Pre-Owned’ and ‘Used?’

At face value, any pre-owned vehicle is the same as a used car. However, if that car has been “certified” as part of a certain manufacturer or dealer’s program, it comes with added perks and guarantees.

What are the Benefits of Buying a Certified Pre-Owned Car?

While used cars may offer more affordability in some cases, certified pre-owned cars typically come with many benefits. Here are some of the top perks of choosing CPO:


Thorough Inspection and Reconditioning

One of the key advantages of buying a CPO car is the rigorous multi-point inspection process it undergoes. Qualified mechanics carefully examine the vehicle, assessing its mechanical components, electrical systems, interior, and exterior. If repairs or maintenance are needed, the car either doesn’t reach certification, or the fixes are made to bring the car up to a high standard of quality. This attention to detail minimizes the buyer’s risk of purchasing a vehicle with hidden issues.


Manufacturer-Backed Warranty

A big reason why CPO is a great option for anxious buyers is the guarantee of a manufacturer-backed warranty. Unlike regular used cars, which often have limited or no warranty coverage, CPO vehicles come with an extended warranty provided by the manufacturer. This warranty can offer protection against unforeseen mechanical failures and provide peace of mind to the buyer.


Higher Quality Assurance

While non-certified used cars can still be in great condition, CPO cars offer an extra layer of quality assurance. The stringent requirements and thorough inspection processes associated with CPO programs mean that certified vehicles are typically in better condition than their non-certified counterparts.


Competitive Pricing

While certified pre-owned cars may have a higher price tag compared to non-certified used vehicles, they still offer competitive pricing when compared to brand-new cars. 


The cost of depreciation that starts as soon as a new car is driven off the lot has already been absorbed by the previous owner, making CPO cars a cost-effective alternative for buyers who want a newer model without the hefty price tag. Additionally, dealerships often provide financing options and special deals for CPO vehicles, making them more accessible to a wider range of buyers.


Extensive Vehicle History Reports

Certified pre-owned cars also come with comprehensive vehicle history documents, such as CarFax reports. These provide valuable information about the car's past, including its accident history, maintenance records, previous ownership details, and more details that grant transparency about the vehicle's true condition and reliability.


Wide Selection and Brand Variety

The great news is that CPO programs are very common – almost every major automaker now offers one. This means that buyers have access to a wide selection of certified pre-owned cars from various brands. Whether you're interested in a luxury vehicle or a reliable mainstream brand, chances are there will be a CPO option available to suit your preferences. 


This availability of options allows buyers to find the perfect combination of features, style, and price within the certified pre-owned market.


Additional Program Perks

Depending on the program, you may also find attractive extras that further enhance the ownership experience with a certified pre-owned vehicle. These commonly include benefits such as complimentary maintenance services, roadside assistance, and even loaner vehicles during repairs. 


Peace of Mind

Each of these benefits points to one overarching reason to buy a certified pre-owned car: peace of mind. Knowing that the vehicle has undergone a thorough inspection, received necessary repairs, and is backed by a warranty instills confidence in the purchase. CPO programs are designed to prioritize customer satisfaction by ensuring that buyers receive a reliable and well-maintained vehicle that meets high standards of quality.

What are the Cons of Buying Certified Pre-Owned?

While there aren’t many, going “CPO” does have some drawbacks. When compared to non-certified used cars, CPO vehicles generally come with a higher price tag, due to the additional costs associated with inspections, warranties, and program perks. The selection of vehicles may also be more limited, as they are typically available for newer models with lower mileage. 


And even though CPO cars undergo thorough inspections, there is still a possibility of encountering mechanical issues or repairs after purchase – something much less likely to happen when you drive a new car off the lot. 


It's also important to note that program terms and coverage can vary significantly between manufacturers and dealers, so it's crucial to review the specific details of each. Lastly, like any used car, certified pre-owned vehicles continue to depreciate over time, which may affect their resale value. 

How Much Does a CPO Vehicle Cost?

The cost of a certified pre-owned (CPO) car can vary depending on various factors, including the make and model of the vehicle, its age, mileage, condition, and the specific CPO program offered by the manufacturer or dealer. 


While the cost of a CPO car may be higher upfront than a non-certified vehicle of the same type, this cost can be offset by peace of mind and potential savings on repairs or maintenance in the long run. As with any other vehicle purchase, researching and comparing prices of CPO vehicles within your desired market can help you determine the specific cost range you can expect.


Choose Your Next CPO Vehicle With Help From AllCreditAutos.com

Next time you're in the market for a used car, going certified pre-owned could be the way to a smarter, more affordable, and more satisfying car-buying experience. If you’re ready to get started, let us help you get matched with the right lender for your situation. Click here to fill out our convenient application.

Jerry Baker