Decode the Meaning of Your CPO Inspection Checklist

One of the primary concerns for most consumers when buying a car is price. The lower sticker price of used and certified pre-owned (CPO) cars can be very attractive to buyers on a budget or for those looking to get a little extra value. However, to the average consumer, the differences between used and CPO may seem confusing. If both labels mean a car has been previously used, why can a CPO car cost thousands more than one labeled “used” and when is it worth it to buy a CPO car?

Now that we know what CPO means, it’s important to understand what is checked during a CPO inspection and why. Seeing that a vehicle has been labeled as CPO should not be enough for consumers. It’s important to ask a dealer for a checklist of what was inspected and who performed the inspection and any service resulting from an inspection.

A CPO inspection checklist can range from roughly 100 to over 300 individual inspection points depending on the manufacturer. The checklist will include items that are straightforward like windshield wipers and engine oil to more complex engine and transmission components. To simplify, let’s break down a CPO checklist into a few main areas and look at various common points of inspection.


The certifying entity will check that all airbags, seats, and seatbelts are in good working order and free of any modifications. Components like the horn, lights, and mirrors will be checked to ensure they are working properly and free from defects.


An emissions test will be performed to help ensure that the vehicle is running properly and not excessively contributing to poor air quality.

Road Test & Operation

These inspection points will verify that the vehicle operates normally under various conditions including a cold start and normal vehicle performance occurs at regular operating temperatures. Additionally, components such as the transmission, A/C, heater, steering, and more will be inspected and tested.

Road Test & Operation

A visual inspection will take place of components under the hood and car body. Signs of excessive wear, leaks, cracking, corrosion, and sludge will be looked for. Filter and battery condition will also be checked.


A visual inspection of the car’s exterior and interior will be performed. Any dents, scratches, tears, rust, and stains will be noted. This part of the inspection may also include checking that all windows, lights, automatic mirrors, and gauges operate as intended.


As can be expected, a hybrid vehicle will have additional inspection points. A certified vehicle should have an inspection performed on the hybrid battery, battery voltage sensor, battery power management system, and coolant levels. Additionally, the operation of any EV/eco/power driving modes should be tested and any hybrid/ev informational displays should be operating normally.

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list and inspection specifics will vary by manufacturer. The abovementioned is intended as a starting point so consumers can be better informed about what CPO means and have a general understanding of what a CPO inspection should include.