Certified pre-owned vehicles are a great option for anyone looking for a quality car without the new car price tag. These vehicles come with several benefits, including extended warranties and lower overall costs. To find a quality certified pre-owned car, you only need to follow a few steps.

3 steps to buying a certified pre-owned car

Certified pre-owned vehicles are typically sold at less of a markup than new vehicles. They may also come with factory-backed warranties and the peace of mind that a reputable dealership provides.

Step 1: Do your research

You will want to have an idea of what you need in a car before you even begin shopping. Pick out a vehicle that will meet your needs and fits your budget. You can do this by researching prices and important features, like whether the cars have a backup camera, seat temperature controls, their size and more.

Step 2: Shop for it

There are many places to find certified pre-owned cars, though inventory may be low in the current market. After you narrow down your choices, it is time to shop. You can shop online, at brick-and-mortar dealerships or a combination of the two. Check out all the options available and compare what they offer.

Step 3: Check its certification

Certified pre-owned vehicles may come with a vehicle history report. This report will give you a full look into the life of the car, including any previous accidents, damage or mechanical problems.

Where to buy a certified pre-owned car

Certified pre-owned vehicles can be found at a variety of dealerships.

  • Franchise dealerships. If you have a certain brand you wish to drive, check out car dealerships owned by specific auto brands.
  • Rentals. Dealerships specializing in former rental cars, such as Hertz or Enterprise also tend to be a good option to shop for CPO vehicles. But rentals may have been put through more than your average used car.
  • Online dealerships. The internet serves as a great CPO shopping spot. Check sites like Carvana, Vroom, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and TrueCar.
  • Pre-owned car dealerships. Here you’ll also find certified pre-owned vehicles.

The benefits of buying certified pre-owned

There are a number of benefits to buying certified pre-owned vehicles.

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.

Bankrate tip: 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 will generally lower the overall cost of the vehicle. This is because the vehicle has been checked over by the dealership and comes with some kind of warranty. Both of these can lead to a lower total cost of ownership.

You won’t have to worry about potential 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 itself, and less on the 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.

What to watch out for

If you plan on buying a pre-owned vehicle, you should be ready to take your time in order to secure a quality vehicle.

Be patient

Pre-owned vehicles are in hot demand right now. It could take you several months to find the perfect car, so be patient and continue to search for the right vehicle.

Do your research

Check that the vehicle you are considering comes with the features you want and compare prices with similar vehicles in your area. You can also compare vehicles and search local dealerships online.

Get it inspected

Having a vehicle inspected by a mechanic before purchase is one of the best ways you can ensure you are getting a quality vehicle, even if it’s CPO. You can also check the vehicle’s history report using the vehicle identification number (VIN).

Take a test drive

When you take the car for a test drive, notice how it handles and if anything seems out of place, like unusual knocking noises or whining. Ask for a test drive at night, if possible, to get a feel for how the headlights perform. Remember, since you are looking at a used car, you will have more room for negotiation.

Next steps

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