Is a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle the Best Choice? We Answer Your Burning Questions


You’ve likely heard the term “certified pre-owned” used at dealerships and in advertising from nearly every major auto brand. “Certified” sounds reassuring as you’re about to make one of the biggest purchases in your life, and “pre-owned” certainly has a better ring to it than “used.” But what does CPO really mean, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of going this route? 

Related: Shopping for a CPO Car? Here’s What You Need to Know

With the average price tag of new vehicles hovering near $38,000, according to J.D. Power, car shoppers are increasingly turning to used cars in hopes of saving a few (or a few thousand) bucks. Although it can be a smart move for your budget, the trade-off with buying a used vehicle is that there’s a lot more risk involved. You could find an excellent bargain on a reliable used car, or you may find a vehicle that was used and abused by its previous owner. Unfortunately, the latter comes with many headaches and repair bills instead of the savings you were searching for.

A CPO designation means that a used vehicle has passed a pre-sale inspection and any mechanical or cosmetic concerns have been addressed before it is resold. A CPO car usually comes with a bundle of extras to give you peace of mind, such as an extended warranty, vehicle history report and roadside assistance.

Buying a CPO vehicle helps to mitigate the risks of buying a used car, offers the reward of a lower average price, helps reduce depreciation and adds the confidence of a thorough inspection and warranty. Choosing a vehicle that’s labeled “certified” isn’t a foolproof plan, however. The CPO designation has become a widely used marketing term in the used-car market, and it’s important to carefully evaluate the details of the program before you buy (i.e., always read the fine print).

To help you make the best choice for your next vehicle purchase, we answer the most common questions shoppers have about buying a CPO vehicle. Learn what CPO programs offer, their pros and cons, and how to purchase a CPO vehicle to get the most bang for your buck below. 

What does “CPO” mean? 

The meaning of “CPO” can vary greatly across manufacturers and dealers. Typically, a CPO vehicle has passed a pre-sale inspection of the engine, transmission, tires, battery and more. A CPO label can also include an extended warranty, roadside service and scheduled dealer maintenance. See the full definition of CPO.

What are the pros and cons of buying a CPO vehicle?

As with any decision in the car-buying process, it’s wise to weigh the pros and cons of buying a CPO vehicle before heading to the dealership. CPO vehicles often come with a warranty, multipoint inspection and free vehicle history report, but they also come with significantly higher price tags. Learn all the pros and cons.

Are CPO cars worth it?

There are four key benefits to buying a CPO vehicle, which include a better car to start with, an extended warranty, better financing options, and additional perks like roadside assistance and free maintenance. See if the benefits are worth the extra cost.

Can you negotiate the price on a CPO car?

A recent analysis of more than 200,000 late-model used vehicles found the listing price, on average, was 4.5% higher for CPO cars versus non-certified ones. Luckily, you have power to negotiate the price on a CPO car just like with a new or non-certified used car. Here’s how to negotiate the best price.

How does a factory CPO program differ from other “certified” vehicles?

You’ll hear the term “certified” used by vehicle manufacturers, individual used-car dealerships and chains like CarMax. It’s important to understand the distinction between a factory-backed CPO program and the other used-vehicle certifications you’ll encounter. Learn the difference.

How can I compare CPO programs?

Not all CPO programs are created equal. Automaker-backed CPO programs are best, but you’ll want to read the fine print to compare details like inspection points, finance rates, warranty terms, deductibles and your options to return a vehicle. See how to compare CPO programs.

Should you go with a CPO car as a first-time buyer?

If you’re a first-time car buyer and you want to balance the benefits of a new vehicle and a used one, CPO cars are worth a look. All major automakers offer certified pre-owned programs that involve significant reconditioning, multipoint inspections and warranty plans. If you’re watching your budget, however, note that the CPO label can often add more than $1,000 to the price of a comparable used car. Is new, used or CPO best?

How do I find a CPO vehicle?

Use to search for CPO vehicles by a specific make and model, or compare CPO programs across brands. You’ll also be able to see the details about each automaker’s warranty terms, maximum vehicle age and mileage, required certifications and more. Use our CPO research tool to find the right CPO vehicle.

Related Video: Warning Signs on a Used Car

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Former News Editor Jane Ulitskaya joined the team in 2021, and her areas of focus included researching and reporting on vehicle pricing, inventory and auto finance trends. Email Jane Ulitskaya

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