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How Do Used Cars Become Certified Pre-Owned?

Anyone who’s tried to buy a used car knows that it’s not exactly the easiest of tasks. From trying to negotiate a fair price to getting it checked out to make sure you’re not paying for a lemon, things can get stressful quickly.

So should you be looking for a certified pre-owned vehicle? And what does that even mean? U.S. News has all the details about what it takes for a used vehicle to become a certified pre-owned one.

What’s the difference between used and certified pre-owned?

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your journey to owning a used car is, should you buy a used or a certified pre-owned vehicle. That decision will dictate how much your pay, if you get a warranty, and how many miles your vehicle has on it.

So what is a certified pre-owned, or a CPO as they’re often referred to? According to U. S. News,

“A factory-certified pre-owned car (CPO car) is a gently used vehicle sold by a franchised new car dealer of the same brand. They’re typically gently used, accident-free, low-mileage vehicles that are only a few years old.”

So how does this separate a used vehicle from a CPO? Well, a CPO is still used. There’s no getting around that. You simply get a little more reassurance that your new-to-you used car won’t break down, and if it does, it’s covered.

Only the best are chosen to become certified

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What does a car have to do in order to become a CPO? According to U.S. News, it depends on the dealer, but there are a few things each CPO must go through no matter where the certification comes from.

One of the biggest factors is how old the vehicle is. Each automaker will have a certain number of model years it’s willing to consider. 

The second factor is how many miles the vehicle has. No vehicle, no matter how new, is going to get that stamp of approval if it has 100,000 miles on it.

The other two factors that determine if a vehicle can become certified is whether or not it’s ever been in a wreck, and if the owner has been getting the scheduled maintenance.

Certified cars get a lot of perks

A certified pre-owned Ford car for sale
A certified pre-owned flag is seen on a used car | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If a car passes the test, and becomes a CPO vehicle, then it gets refurbished. This means it will get shined up until it can compete with a new car as far as appearances goes. There won’t be a stale smoke scent when you climb behind the wheel, in other words.

Another perk is the warranty. It won’t be as great as what would be offered on a new car, but it definitely beats what you would get on a vehicle that is merely used.

If the CPO is factory certified, then you can have your vehicle worked on at any dealership that is the same brand, even if it’s in a different city. This could be highly useful if you were to move, or if your vehicle broke down while on vacation.

Certified pre-owned vehicles aren’t perfect

That leads to possibly the biggest factor to remember when buying a CPO. Yes, there are a lot of great perks that top buying a used vehicle. But a CPO is still used, and there will still be issues from time to time. Some may prove to be very expensive, and may not be covered by your warranty.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid buying a CPO. There is no vehicle that has ever been built that is totally perfect, so there’s no point in setting your standards too high. Used vehicles, whether or not it’s certified, tend to have a track record.

If it’s a bad car, you’ll be able to figure it out far quicker than you would by buying new. So if you’re in the market for a car, you can do much worse than a CPO vehicle.