When shopping for a used car, you'll often see listings for CPO, or certified pre-owned vehicles. While that looks good in ads, its meaning can vary greatly.
Generally speaking, CPO certification means that a vehicle has been through some sort of pre-sale inspection, typically involving more than 100 items from the engine and transmission to tires, battery, cosmetic appearance and more. In theory, issues with these are addressed. If they cannot be, the vehicle doesn't make the cut.
Depending on the manufacturer and/or the dealer, certification also includes limitations on the vehicle's age, how many miles are on it and whether it has been in an accident, flood or otherwise has an undesirable history.
Other benefits of buying a CPO vehicle can include an extended warranty, roadside service, scheduled dealer maintenance and use of a loaner while the vehicle is in the shop. Chevrolet, for example, includes all the above and adds an additional 12 months or 12,000 miles of limited bumper-to-bumper warranty. The powertrain warranty gets a boost to six years or 100,000 miles. Honda offers the same extension for its comprehensive coverage and extends its powertrain warranty to seven years or 100,000 miles.
While limiting your search to CPO vehicles can weed out some turkeys, it is no guarantee of getting a good, reliable car. And CPO vehicles generally carry a price premium over non-CPO examples of the same make and model, from a couple hundred dollars to more than $1,000.
Another thing to watch for is that as CPO has emerged as a buzz phrase in the used-car world, less-than-scrupulous independent dealers can slap CPO signs on just about anything, making "certification" nothing more than another piece of paper.
Always insist on seeing the specifics of what has been inspected and any repairs that have been made. Make sure you understand any additional warranties and other coverage, how that compares to the original warranty and what exactly is included. It's still a good idea to take any vehicle you're considering to an independent mechanic for a second opinion.
Above all, start by choosing a model with good safety and reliability ratings. That way you're already ahead of the game.
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