Certified Pre-Owned Cars vs. Used Cars

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If you’re in the market for a car, now may be the time to buy. Since the start of 2024, both new and used car prices have been dropping. Of course, buying a vehicle is no small decision and any buyer will want to make sure they get the most for their money. 

So what’s the smartest option when it comes to a big purchase like a car? Spend big and get a new one that’s never been driven? Or save some cash and buy used, potentially opening yourself up to the risk of questionable maintenance and miles of wear and tear?

Some car buyers might not know there’s a third option. The happy medium between a brand-new vehicle and a used one is certified pre-owned (CPO). CPO cars cost a bit more than used cars, but they come with a quality guarantee directly from the dealership, plus benefits like extended warranties and roadside assistance. 

Recently, brands like Honda and Toyota have expanded their CPO offerings with more varied and flexible options. This means a bigger selection of high-quality, reliable vehicles are available at an affordable price. Read on to learn more about certified pre-owned vehicles, the advantages they offer and why a CPO car could be right for you. 

What is a certified pre-owned car?

A certified pre-owned car is a used vehicle that meets inspection criteria set by the manufacturer that made the car. These vehicles are sold only by franchised dealers. Almost every car brand in the U.S. has a CPO program. 

To get the CPO designation, a car must meet quality standards and pass an inspection by certified technicians. These inspections cover various aspects of the vehicle, including its mechanical components, structural integrity and overall condition. 

The advantage of a CPO car is a quality guarantee. Used cars may come with questionable histories and be sold by less reputable private sellers. Certified pre-owned cars come from name-brand dealerships with specific regulations and protections for the customer. As a bonus, they may include services like roadside assistance, vehicle history reports and warranties. 

How do cars get certified?

The first step to becoming a certified pre-owned vehicle is inspection. Typically, CPO  vehicles have been returned after a lease, traded into the dealership or bought at an auction. The car will be considered for CPO certification if it also looks to be in good condition. 

Certification requirements will be different depending on the manufacturer or dealer. They usually consider the car’s age, mileage and condition. Generally, the inspection confirms that the vehicle meets the following criteria:

  • Low mileage: Manufacturers and automakers exclude vehicles with high mileage. Each car company has a different definition of “high mileage,” but CPO cars generally have lower mileage than used cars. For example, Audi limits CPO vehicles to 5 years old or newer with no more than 60,000 miles. 
  • Good condition: Certified pre-owned vehicles will have a collision-free history and appear like new. Inspectors often grade different aspects of the vehicle’s condition as “meets”, “does not meet” or “repaired” based on inspection results. 
  • Proper maintenance: CPO vehicles will often have documentation of their maintenance and service records from all previous owners. In applicable states, the CPO inspection will often note if the car includes a vehicle emissions sticker. 

CPO car vs. used car: What’s the difference?

Certified pre-owned cars differ from regular used cars primarily in their condition, certification process and benefits. CPO cars go through a thorough inspection and refurbishment process to ensure they meet quality standards set by the automaker. On the other hand, regular used cars vary widely in their condition, maintenance history and reliability.

It’s important to note that certified pre-owned cars are different from non-CPO refurbished cars. CPO vehicles undergo refurbishment, but they also meet the manufacturer’s specific requirements for certification as pre-owned. Not all refurbished used cars meet those same requirements.  

That’s not to say non-certified pre-owned cars aren’t worth exploring. Standard used vehicles come at an even lower price than CPO cars and may be convenient to purchase. Used car dealerships, online marketplaces and other local sources are all fast and easy ways to find an affordable ride. You’ll also have a much wider range of options since used cars have no limit on mileage, condition or age.

If you’re buying a non-certified used car, just be sure to get it thoroughly inspected to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Pre-purchase inspections and used car appraisals will go a long way to ensure you make a quality purchase. 

Are certified pre-owned cars worth it?

For many car buyers, a certified pre-owned car offers several compelling benefits over a used or new vehicle. CPO cars provide a balance between cost savings and peace of mind. Compared to traditional used cars, certified pre-owned cars have consistently been found to be more reliable. According to Consumer Reports, “CPO cars have just 11 percent more problems during members’ ownership than cars bought new, compared with traditional used cars having 31 percent more problems…”

While they may be more expensive than traditional used cars, CPO vehicles meet precise requirements set by the manufacturers. They also often come with extended warranties, roadside assistance and other perks typically associated with new cars.

Additionally, CPO cars are only sold by franchised dealerships. Buying from a name-brand dealership adds an extra layer of authenticity and trustworthiness to the sale. It may also come with services like leasing, financing and trade-in options for your current vehicle.

Buy a CPO car online

More automakers have expanded their CPO offerings for 2024. From accessible daily drivers to premium and luxury vehicles, find out which brands are offering the best CPO programs

If you’re looking for a certified pre-owned car but don’t know where to start, online auto marketplaces like cars.com, Kelley Blue Book and AutoTrader have a wide selection of CPO cars for sale. 

Top 13 Best Used Car Websites

Don’t limit your search to local dealerships—discover the best websites to buy cars online. Many used car websites include certified pre-owned vehicles and large databases of available vehicles. Shopping online makes it easy to find the perfect car for your needs, even if the seller is located in another state.

7 Mistakes to Avoid when Buying a Car Online

Online car buying is convenient but has its risks. It’s smart to know about potential mistakes you could make along the way. Keep these tips in mind during your car-buying journey.

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FAQs about certified pre-owned cars

What does CPO mean?

Certified pre-owned means that a vehicle has been used but was refurbished to meet quality standards set by the manufacturer. CPO cars will typically have low mileage, be only a few years old and operate like new with very minor (if any) cosmetic damage.

How does CPO work?

Automakers and dealerships will identify used vehicles that fit the criteria for their certified pre-owned programs. Once the vehicle has been inspected and refurbished, it will get the status of certified pre-owned and be listed for sale at a franchised dealership. 

Are CPO warranties worth it?

Certified pre-owned warranties are very comprehensive and fully cover the vehicle, similar to if you bought it new from the dealership. Repairs and maintenance will typically be performed at the dealership using original parts specified by the manufacturer. 

Why are CPO cars more expensive than used cars?

Certified pre-owned vehicles factor in the cost of refurbishment, maintenance, warranties and extended support. The extra price you pay for a CPO car can quickly pay for itself with money saved on repairs.

Can you haggle CPO cars?

While it will depend on the dealership selling the car, you can almost always negotiate the price of a certified pre-owned car. CPO car sales are usually no different from standard new and used car sales. 

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Ship your CPO car safely with Montway

Montway Auto Transport makes it easy to get your certified pre-owned car safely to its new home. With nearly 20 years of experience, Montway has earned its reputation as one of the nation’s top-rated auto transport companies. Thanks to a nationwide of over 30,000 carriers servicing customers in all 50 states, Montway has facilitated over one million vehicle shipments.

Need more information? Learn all about how car shipping works and what to expect when you transport your car with Montway. For all things pricing, read our comprehensive guide on car shipping costs. Our dedicated customer service team is available 365 days a year to answer your questions and arrange transport—just call 888-666-8929 or click to start a live chat.

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