How to Tell If a Car Is Certified Pre-Owned

Buying a used car is like walking into a minefield. Even if you have a map, you can still get burned and end up paying the price. That’s where certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles come into play. On the surface, they sound like the perfect win-win situation. The dealership or seller gets something that can fetch decent cash and protect their bottom line. Purchasers get some assurance of a wise investment.

You can tell if a car is certified pre-owned with the report that you get from the seller. That tells you that they’ve taken steps to verify its ownership and history. However, they are not the same across the board and vary in the amount of detail and value that they offer to the buyer.

What Does CPO Mean?

The question of whether a vehicle was owned by someone else isn’t the question. The uncertainty rests with the condition and other factors that could affect a car’s lifespan, such as the accident record, repairs, manufacturer, and mileage. There’s a good reason why every state has its own take on lemon laws. Buying a vehicle is typically a substantial purchase no matter what the make and model.

The term, CPO, means that an entity whether it’s a third-part one or an automaker has taken the extra steps to ensure that the vehicle runs and is in good operating condition. Most use some type of standardized testing that covers all the essential components, including the engine, transmission, and brakes as well as aesthetic features like the exterior for every vehicle they review

The premise is valid since all have the same components. It’s also essential to take into account the particular upgrades and parts that some may have to make the results relevant to the specific vehicle.

The overall goal is transparency. You, as the buyer, are getting all the details even if you are not in front of the vehicle. You’ll see pictures of the dings, an explanation of past work on the ride, and depreciation value with all of these factors weighed.

CPO Details

Typically, you’ll get a vehicle history report. That’s your proof that you have a certified pre-owned car or truck. It will include details such as the VIN that identify the ride conclusively. Some may also drill it down to the individual parts, especially for classic ones where you must have the pedigree.

The CPO report includes verifiable details about the vehicle that can let you know that it is legit. You can always confirm the facts with a text or phone call too. It’s also a smart idea to check the recall history with the manufacturer’s website or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle

The primary downside is that you will pay more for a CPO car. The inspection whether it’s 20 points or 200 cost time and money. You’ll likely foot the bill at a higher cost. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think about what unexpected repair costs. It’s never cheap. You’ll likely get some kind of warranty, but it will also drive up the price.

You need to balance what you get from an online ad and something that is certified. They often include some goodies that make them worth a look, such as a warranty and roadside assistance. However, many unscrupulous sellers talk up the report with its hundreds of talking points. That’s the keyword—talk.

The document isn’t a guarantee. There are thousands of parts in the average car. Anything could affect its performance and driveability. Most CPO documents are generalized to cover a broad spectrum of vehicles instead of individual variations with different models. What you’re often getting is the best guess, but it’s an informed one.

You can think of it as a replacement for the mechanic check that many would do in the past. Instead of taking it to your local auto shop, the seller does it instead to save time to make the sale. The rub is whether you trust the source. A dealership doing the pre-owned certification, of course, has skin in the game. If you have concerns, skip them and opt for a third-party source that won’t benefit either way.

Most buyers know that you can take thousands off the value of a new vehicle by driving it off the lot. The nuances that a certified, pre-owned report offer are clear. Many take into account the things that buyers value instead of those of the market. After all, they should speak to the bottom line—literally. That said, some factors are window dressing. The reports often add elements that have little effect on usability.

Instead, stick with the things that will affect the overall performance and longevity of a vehicle. Bumps and scratches don’t matter as much in the long run. A banged-up ride can still get you to work.