auto

3 tips on buying a certified pre-owned car

Tara Baukus MelloAny quick look at car advertisements or browsing on a dealer's lot will yield numerous cars promoted as "certified pre-owned," or CPO, as if this makes them more desirable than used cars that have not been certified. In truth, while you will pay more for a CPO car than a car that is not certified, there can be some terrific benefits to buying a used CPO car, but those benefits can vary widely. Follow these three tips when buying a CPO car to help you get the most value for your dollar.

Look for a car that is manufacturer certified. A certified pre-owned car is a used car that has been inspected and reconditioned by the original manufacturer, a dealer or an independent third party. Used cars having a certification that the manufacturer stands behind provide the most benefits. Don't assume a CPO car sold at a franchised dealer is manufacturer certified, since the car could be certified in any of the three ways mentioned earlier. Instead, ask if the car is manufacturer or factory certified, and be sure the CPO paperwork you receive states as much before you complete your purchase.

Learn the details of the benefits of certification. The biggest benefit of buying a certified pre-owned car is an additional warranty that goes beyond the original warranty that came with the car when it was new. All manufacturer CPO cars come with an additional warranty that can be used at any dealership carrying that brand. Cars certified by the dealer or an independent party usually carry a lesser warranty that requires claims at just one or a few specific locations. Review a copy of the warranty -- and not the sales brochure -- to be sure you understand what is covered, for how long it's covered and whether there is a deductible. Other benefits that may be offered on certified cars include free scheduled maintenance, roadside assistance and complimentary loaner cars. Review the detailed information on each of these offerings if these services are important to you.

Research the price premium for the certified pre-owned car. While certified used cars cost more than cars that are not certified, due to the inspection and reconditioning process as well as the additional benefits of certification, it's still important to weigh the value of what you are getting in exchange for paying a higher price. Compare the prices of cars of the same year, make, model, and similar mileage and condition that are certified and not certified to determine if you are getting your money's worth for the additional cost.

Keep in mind that, while factory certified pre-owned cars do provide car buyers additional peace of mind, there's no guarantee that it will be a trouble-free used car.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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