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How Much Does Certification Cost?

Certified pre-owned vehicles, vehicles checked and approved for resale by manufacturer programs, offer consumers peace of mind when they're deciding on a used car. But just like anything else, buyers often pay a price for that added confidence.

Auto manufacturers tack on anywhere from 2 to 8 percent of the original used-car price for that certification sticker, experts say. Typically, the higher-end the model or brand, the higher the percentage.

You can do your own certification on any used car, if you want. Have a mechanic inspect it, get an extended warranty and you're just about there, experts say.

Although no current data suggest that certified used cars are vastly more reliable than their noncertified brethren, they do come with the suggestion of better roadworthiness.

Manufacturers place restrictions on what cars can be certified and offer multipoint inspection processes that vary from program to program. (See the Cars.com Certified Pre-Owned Program Guide for details).

The number and location of certification points differ by program. Some automakers say they have a 100-plus-point certification system, while others tout 200-point programs. Don't let the numbers fool you. Programs may simply break out the certification measures more granularly in an attempt to look more thorough.

Don't put too much stock in certification itself. Inspection checklists should not be relied on as precise indicators of the car's condition, experts say. They are more likely to give you an overall picture of the car's health today, but not for tomorrow.

One bonus of certification is that it gives car shoppers the opportunity to buy up in a category, a purchasing experience they might otherwise be unable to attain. For example, it might allow a consumer to move into a certified pre-owned luxury car, rather than a decked-out economy car. That helps manufacturers too, as they see these shoppers as potential longtime fans of their brand.

Gillis cautions against putting too much stock in certification itself. Inspection checklists "should not be relied on as precise indicators of the car's condition," he said. "They are best used as a barometer to point you to a better used car."

One bonus of certification is that it gives car shoppers a purchasing experience they would otherwise be unable to attain.

Consumers can benefit too: CPO programs create vehicles with higher resale values, providing increased bargaining power when it's time to trade the car in.

Often, reduced-rate financing options are available for CPO purchasers. While you may not find the zero-percent deals occasionally offered on new vehicles, you will find low interest rates on many certified models.

By Cars.com Staff

Updated on 6/18/13

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