Certified pre-owned Toyota Prado in dealer, with text buying certified pre-owned cars (CPO).
  • Post last modified:December 12, 2023

Certified Pre-Owned Cars: Your Ultimate Guide

Learn about the benefits of buying certified pre-owned cars, and how to make an informed buying decision and get the best deal.

Purchasing a car is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly as it involves an investment. While new cars are appealing, there’s an alternative: pre-owned (CPO) cars. In this guide, we will delve into the realm of pre-owned cars and provide you with valuable insights to help you make an informed choice when buying your next vehicle.

What Are Certified Pre-Owned Cars?

A certified pre-owned car refers to a vehicle that has undergone an inspection, refurbishment, and certification process by either the manufacturer or a dealership. Typically these cars are models with low mileage and often come with an extended warranty. Through the certification process, these vehicles meet quality and condition standards making them trustworthy options for buyers.

Are CPO Programs Brand-Specific?

Certified pre-owned (CPO) programs are not limited to brands. A lot of dealerships have CPO programs that encompass vehicles from different manufacturers which allows them to reach a bigger audience and increase their sales opportunities. This means that if you’re in the market for a certified owned Mazda CX-9 you don’t necessarily have to visit a Mazda dealership exclusively. While Mazda dealerships naturally offer the selection and expertise when it comes to this model other dealerships might also have CPO Mazda CX-9s available for you to consider.

What Is the Difference Between a Certified Pre-Owned Used Car and a Non-Certified Pre-Owned Car?

The main distinction, between a certified pre-owned owned vehicle and a used car is the thorough inspection and certification procedure carried out by the manufacturer. This extensive evaluation ensures that the car meets the criteria for quality, dependability, and safety. Moreover CPO vehicles often include a bumper to bumper warranty backed by the manufacturer offering reassurance and coverage, against repairs. This is more comprehensive than a Powertrain Warranty.

On the other hand, used cars have not undergone inspection or certification from the manufacturer. As a result, buyers of used take greater responsibility in researching to assess their condition and dependability because they typically lack a manufacturer’s warranty.

Here Is a Table That Summarizes the Key Differences Between CPO and Regular Used Cars:

FeatureCertified CarUsed Car
Inspected and certified by the manufacturerYesNo
Warranty from the manufacturerYesNo or limited warranty
Typically in good condition and reliableYesMay or may not be in good condition or reliable
Typically holds its value betterYesMay or may not hold its value as well
Certified Pre-Owned Cars vs Non-Certified Used Cars

In summary, certified cars are a choice for buyers seeking a car in good condition with warranty coverage. Pre-owned cars can be suitable for budget buyers or those seeking vehicles not available as certified pre-owned models.

It is important to note that certified car programs vary among manufacturers. Some have different standards than others. Compare programs and select one that aligns with your requirements.

Certified pre-owned vehicles may have a price tag compared to used cars. This is because they offer the added benefit of a warranty and thorough inspection conducted by the manufacturer. However, for buyers, the peace of mind that comes with owning a certified vehicle could make the additional cost worthwhile.

On the other hand, if you are willing to invest time in research and carefully inspecting a car, it can often be a great deal. You might come across a well-maintained used car at a lower price. Here’s a Free Used Car Inspection Checklist to help you and check our 5 tips for safeguarding against used car fraud.

Ultimately, deciding to buy a certified pre-owned used car or not is to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option and choose based on what suits your needs. Below are some pros and cons.

What Are the Advantages of CPO?

Enhanced Reliability

One of the benefits of CPO cars lies in their enhanced reliability. Manufacturers and dealerships invest time and resources into inspecting and refurbishing these vehicles ensuring they are in excellent condition.

Warranty Coverage

Most CPO cars offer the added advantage of a warranty. This provides peace of mind while safeguarding your investment.
You will be provided with insurance that covers repairs potentially saving you money in the long term.

Lessened Depreciation

Brand-new vehicles tend to lose a portion of their value within a few years. However, certified pre-owned cars have already experienced some depreciation as they are slightly used. This means that when you drive off the lot you won’t face as drastic of a drop, in value.

Thorough Inspection

Certified pre-owned cars undergo an inspection process that carefully evaluates all components. Any issues found during this inspection are resolved before the car is certified ensuring that it is in a roadworthy and good mechanical condition.

Roadside Assistance

It is very common for manufacturers to include roadside assistance in their CPO programs. In fact, according to a recent survey by MarketWatch, 95% of CPO programs include roadside assistance as a standard benefit. This means that if you purchase a CPO vehicle, you will likely have access to 24/7 roadside assistance services, which can include:

  • Towing
  • Tire changes
  • Battery jump starts
  • Fuel delivery
  • Lockout assistance
  • Winching

What Are the Disadvantages of CPO?


CPO programs often have requirements, for selecting vehicles, which results in a smaller pool of available cars compared to the general used car market. This can limit consumer choices especially when it comes to makes, models, and features.

Price Concerns

CPO vehicles typically come at a price compared to their CPO counterparts. While some may find the added benefits like warranties and inspections worth the cost others might consider it a deterrent.

Transparency Issues

with CPO certifications consumers may still encounter problems such as hidden issues or unclear information about the vehicle history. This lack of transparency can lead to a lack of trust. Hinder the buying experience.


Different CPO programs have varying standards and inspection processes making it challenging for consumers to compare vehicles across dealerships or brands. This lack of consistency can create confusion and uncertainty.

Limited Access to Information

Consumers may face difficulties in obtaining information, about the vehicle’s history repair records, and warranty coverage. Consequently assessing the value and condition of the car becomes quite challenging.

Tips on Buying Certified Used Cars

When searching for a certified owned car there are several important factors to take into account. Consumer Reports has a team of experts who review certified pre-owned cars. To view local pre-owned vehicles alongside our trusted car reviews & ratings, visit the Consumer Reports website.

Certification Program

Different manufacturers and dealerships offer their CPO programs, each with its benefits and requirements. It is essential to research and understand the program offered by the seller.

Vehicle History Report

Obtaining a vehicle history report provides information about the car’s past, including its accident history, title status, and maintenance records. Most dealers provide this report to buyers free of charge. Keep in mind that a certified pre-owned car is essentially a used car. Even though they have been inspected and repaired, they have still been driven for years. It is still advisable to have an independent pre-purchase car inspection performed.

Warranty Coverage

Carefully review the details of the warranty coverage such as its duration. Which components are included? Ensure that it aligns with your needs and expectations.

Review Checklist

Make sure to ask for the inspection checklist to understand which components were examined and repaired during the certification process.

Price Comparison

Be sure to compare the price of the certified pre-owned car with similar new or used models. It’s important to ensure the price is comparable to the car’s age, mileage, and overall condition. Luckily, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) now includes CPO values in its Used Car Guide.

Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection

Getting a certified mechanic to check the car before purchasing is always a smart move. It helps uncover any hidden issues that may not be easily noticeable to someone without any mechanical knowledge or experience in buying a used car. If there are any immediate repairs, servicing, or other items requiring attention before purchase you can share the independent report with the dealership to have them rectify them.

Final Thoughts

Certified pre-owned cars provide a ground, between buying brand-new or used vehicles. They offer peace of mind through their inspection process, warranty coverage, and reduced depreciation. However, it’s crucial to conduct research by looking into the certification program reviewing vehicle history reports, and comparing prices. By following these guidelines you’ll be well prepared to decide and drive away in a certified pre-owned car that meets your needs and budget. Enjoy your car shopping experience!