We’ve all had to buy a used car at one point or another in our automotive misadventures. Apprehension and anxiety always runs high. You don’t know where that car has been before, the things it’s done, the people it’s been with. For many it is a mechanical game of Russian roulette.
A CARFAX is only as reliable as the things reported to it. And let’s not kid ourselves; who turns in their misdealing to the police whenever they step out of line? Not everyone is the Queen of France.
So, what’s a used-car buyer to do? One cannot blindly aim at the plethora of used cars and hope for some clear-coated gem to magically appear.
Thanks to the grace of automotive gods comes the CPO vehicle. No, that’s not a new acronym for the local fuzz—it means, certified pre-owned.
In the 1990s Mercedes-Benz and Lexus began “certifying” used cars on their dealerships lots. This not only gave the vehicle a sense of reliability to potential customers but also commanded a higher selling prices as well—a boon for dealers.
What Does CPO Mean?
When a vehicle is certified pre-owned, it means it has been inspected, refurbished, and certified to a certain standard by a dealer or independent company. This can vary greatly from dealer to dealer and manufacturer to manufacturer and independent company to independent company. In the CPO game, CPO is the greatest variation.
Buying a CPO vehicle does come with its benefits. There is usually special financing available, extended warranties offered, and even pre-paid maintenance schedules could be available.
Now, dealers don’t go tossing CPO on any hunk of metal in the lot. CPO is reserved for the most special of vehicles in their inventory. This usually refers to vehicles that are five-years-old or newer and have less than 80,000 on the clock. This isn’t a rule, but a suggestion—not every dealership is the same.
Not All CPOs Are Equal
This really is understood, but we’ve all seen it. 50- 100- 250-point inspections splayed across windshields hoping to entice would-be buyers are far from comparable.
What points have been inspected? Is four points alone dedicated to making sure all four tires are inflated ? A car has more than 250 parts? These are all great questions that need answered.
Ask to see the inspection list and see how the vehicle faired. See if the dealer will back the vehicle with a warranty if it does not already have one. And always take it for a test drive.
Types of CPOs
Most CPO programs are authorized by the dealership franchise, like Ford, Porsche, or Honda. These are called manufacturer or factory CPOs.
There are third-party authorizers like National Vehicle Certification Program (NVCP) and Carmark. Sometimes, independent inspections do hold the vehicle to a higher standard than a dealer or manufacturer, but this goes back to asking to see the inspection before buying.
Pros and Cons
While most of us are looking for a great deal when buying a used vehicle, CPO programs offer benefits at the cost of price. Factory CPO vehicles will always cost more. This makes independent CPO vehicles a great alternative if you are looking to save money with initial cost and long-term maintenance costs. It’s a give and take.
It’s always good to be realistic as well. A CPO Porsche will always be a better buy than a CPO Ford. Porsche commands higher and more complicated repairs and maintenance and could be significantly harder to fix on a dime, where Fords are simpler and can more easily be fixed with relatively cheap and available parts.
No matter what your situation, CPO is usually a better buy. Look at your budget, compare the pros, cons, and vehicles you are looking at and be sure to buy something you are happy with for the long term and not something you want to enter into a LeMons race in a year.