Pros and Cons of Buying a CPO Vehicle

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Cars.com photo by Kelsey Mays

CARS.COM — Certified pre-owned vehicles are touted as the best used cars late-model vehicles that received plenty of TLC from the previous owner and didn't need major repairs or reconditioning to restore them to showroom condition. But there are pros and cons to buying a CPO vehicle:

Pros:

  • They come with warranty coverage and benefits, such as roadside assistance, that make buying the used car almost like buying a new car and provide greater peace of mind than a non-CPO vehicle.
  • The dealer has certified that a multipoint inspection was performed and repairs were made where needed.
  • They come with free vehicle history reports.
  • Some include buyback protection if the buyer later discovers the car had flood or fire damage or a rolled-back odometer.
  • Still, there are important issues to consider when thinking about a CPO car. Foremost is that they typically cost more than other used cars. At the least, the dealer will want to recover the CPO fee it pays to the manufacturer on such a car which can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 on top of their normal profit on a used car. CPO sales have been running at record levels for a few years, so high demand has allowed dealers to charge much more for these vehicles.
  • Despite their like-new appearance and all the promises, CPO vehicles may be no better than other used cars in some regards.

Cons:

  • Vehicle history reports don't include all accidents, and you may have no clue how a used car was treated by the previous owner or whether they ever changed the oil.
  • As with other used cars, some CPO vehicles previously were road warriors for daily rental fleets (this will show on a history report). That means they had hundreds of different drivers, some of whom did not care how they treated the engine or suspension. Be on the lookout.
  • A 150-point CPO checklist doesn't guarantee the dealer did anything more than look - or that an inspection was performed. Although a vehicle history report may list repairs done by the dealer,  many note only that the car was detailed and given fresh oil.
  • Most late-model used vehicles probably still have their original battery, tires, and brake pads and rotors. This includes CPO vehicles. These typically are classified as "wear items" that aren't covered by the CPO warranty and may be nearing the end of their useful life. Replacing them most likely will come out of your pocket.
  • You don't have to buy CPO to get a well-maintained used car. Most used vehicles fewer than 4 years old are in good shape, not just CPO vehicles. That's because most drivers don't abuse the vehicles they own or lease. Moreover, the only maintenance usually required during the first few years is oil changes, tire rotations and replacing engine and cabin air filters, so few late-model cars are likely to be beaters.
  • Many non-CPO, late-model used cars still have time and mileage remaining on the original basic and powertrain warranties that can be transferred to a second owner. It may even include roadside assistance. Most late-model used vehicles also are eligible for a free satellite radio trial.

Certified Pre Owned Finance

Contributor Rick Popely has covered the auto industry for decades and hosts a weekly online radio show on TalkZone.com.  Email Rick