Key takeaways

  • Certified pre-owned vehicles come with the added assurance of a trusted history, at a cost slightly higher than a basic used option.
  • Having a vehicle inspected by a mechanic before purchase is one of the best ways to ensure you get a quality vehicle, even if it's CPO.
  • Finding perfect financing for your CPO requires the same care you would take when buying a new or used option.

Certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles are a great option for anyone looking for a quality car without the new car price tag. But are certified pre-owned cars worth it? Yes. These used vehicles have to meet additional standards from manufacturers or dealers. Buying a certified pre-owned car offers several benefits, including extended warranties and lower overall costs.

Certified pre-owned cars are worth it — here’s why

Certified pre-owned vehicles are returned leased vehicles or newer trade-ins. They are typically sold at less of a markup than new vehicles, though they tend to cost more than the average used option. But they may come with factory-backed warranties and the peace of mind that a reputable dealership provides.

Extended warranty

A certified pre-owned vehicle may come with a warranty that offers protection for an extended period. The warranty will likely include a limited powertrain warranty covering the engine, transmission and drivetrain components and a limited bumper-to-bumper warranty covering components of the body and interior.

Check to see how long the vehicle warranty is good for and ask for warranty exclusions. Look for a list of components that aren’t covered — like tires — under the CPO warranty. If the vehicle has electrical components that require a lot of maintenance, like brake and tire wear sensors, ask the dealer if the warranty will cover replacements.

Better value

Another benefit of buying certified pre-owned is that it generally lowers the vehicle’s overall cost over time. This is because the dealership has checked the vehicle, and it comes with a warranty. Both of these can lead to a lower total cost of ownership.

You won’t have to worry about future mechanical issues or repair costs as much as you would with a used car that isn’t certified. This will allow you to focus more on the vehicle and less on potential hidden problems.

Exchange programs

Depending on the manufacturer and dealer, you may be able to return the car within a certain amount of time if it doesn’t meet your expectations. This isn’t available for all CPO vehicles, though, so check with the dealer before signing on if you want this feature.

5 steps to buying a certified pre-owned car

To find a quality certified pre-owned car, you only need to follow a few steps.

Step 1: Do your research

Start by considering what you truly need in a car: competitive gas mileage, lots of space or just something simple to get from point A to point B. Once you know your needs, start looking for models that both meet those needs and fit your budget.

Research prices for different vehicle options and check sites like Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and Edmunds to see current prices. Pay close attention to any features you value, like backup cameras, seat temperature controls or towing ability.

Once you know what vehicle you might want, check out the CPO programs offered by the manufacturer or dealership you choose. Consider the following factors.

  • Vehicle age and mileage: Programs set a maximum age and mileage for vehicles they’re willing to certify.
  • Vehicle warranty: Do vehicles in the CPO program come with a free factory-backed extended warranty?
  • Inspection process: What does the CPO inspection include?
  • Vehicle history: Is it made available to potential buyers?
  • Available discounts: Does the manufacturer offer special incentives, like 0 percent APR?

Step 2: Shop for it

There are many places to find certified pre-owned cars, such as franchise dealerships, rental companies, online dealers or CPO-specific dealerships. After you narrow down your choices, it is time to shop. If you have a solid idea of the type of vehicle you want, heading directly to the franchised dealerships is your best bet. Otherwise, shopping online allows you time to compare options with tools offered by Edmunds and KBB.

Globe World
In the news
Although fewer drivers are returning their leased vehicles, thus shifting the market, many manufacturers are increasing their CPO program’s maximum age and mileage to give drivers more inventory.

Step 3: Check the inspection report

One of the main perks of buying a CPO car is knowing they’ve been thoroughly inspected. Requesting and reading the inspection report before purchase can give you extra confidence. The report should detail any previous accidents, damage or mechanical problems. Trusted dealers perform inspections that should cover the following:

  • Road testing
  • Interior/exterior damage and overall wear and tear
  • Vehicle tires, rims and wheels
  • Under-the-hood components
  • Brake fluid and coolant
Auto Car Guides
Bankrate tip
While an outside inspection with a third-party mechanic isn’t strictly necessary, it’s still smart to have an unbiased professional inspect any used vehicle. If the seller pushes back at this request, consider shopping elsewhere.

Step 4: Take a test drive

Get behind the wheel for a test drive. Take the time to see if you can picture yourself driving this vehicle for years. How does the seat feel? Does accelerating make any strange noises? Will your furry friend fit comfortably in the back? Make sure your purchase will fit into your life.

Step 5: Complete the purchase

It’s time to sign the paperwork and make it yours. Come equipped with any information you learned from the inspection and use it as leverage to get the best deal on your used car. And look out for dealer options they might try and add on that aren’t always worth it.

Next steps

Purchasing a certified pre-owned car involves research and planning, but you can get a solid car at a great price with patience. Once you find the right fit, qualify for financing before you sit down to finalize the purchase. Coming in with an auto loan lined up will give you even more room to negotiate price.