Buying a Certified Pre-Owned Car: What You Should Know

By Renee Valdes 05/17/2021 2:56pm

Buying a certified pre-owned carCertified Pre-Owned program comparison tool

All new cars come in brand new condition and smell the same. Then, three years later, those same vehicles stack up differently. As a result, shopping for a new car is different than shopping for a used car.

Shopping for a Certified Pre-Owned car is different still. Shopping for one blends the characteristics of both new and used searches. Here’s how to go about buying a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle.

Benefits of Certified Pre-Owned Cars

Since no two pre-owned cars offer the same mileage or condition, you could find yourself weighing the pros and cons of two otherwise similar models. A big benefit is that CPO cars must meet certain conditions and mileage requirements to be called Certified Pre-Owned. And, most offer the reassurance of an extended warranty, giving peace of mind.

In addition, before dealers call cars pre-owned and certified, the vehicles must also go through rigorous inspections and cleaning.

But the biggest benefit to buying a CPO vehicle is paying less money than a brand new car, which depreciates significantly once it leaves the dealership.

In a nutshell, buying a Certified Pre-Owned car may require more research than buying a new car. But taking this route presents fewer pitfalls than buying a used car, and you’ll pay less money than a new car.

Make a Shopping List

To get your search underway, start with a particular model — and a couple of backup choices. And know that inventories remain tight for used cars.

According to Cox Automotive data, a total of 2.6 million Certified Pre-Owned vehicles were sold in 2020, and the CPO sales forecast projects that 2.7 million cars will sell in 2021. (Cox Automotive is the parent of Kelley Blue Book.)

If your heart is set on a certified vehicle, it’s a good idea to be flexible on the model and color. The more choices you have as a buyer, the better.

Study the Cars and the CPO Programs

Research is essential. After choosing the cars you like, check out the maximum age and mileage of eligible vehicles for CPO certification and other program details.

You can use our Certified Pre-Owned program comparison tool to evaluate how multiple programs stack up. Find out how extensive the inspection is and the exact details of the extended warranty and service contract.

Many dealers now include a vehicle history report like AutoCheck or CarFax. These reports can tell you if the car was in an accident or damaged, faces title problems, or is otherwise questionable.

Go Online and Find Models for Sale

Once you’re up to speed on your desired cars and their respective programs, you can find Certified Pre-Owned vehicles for sale, including right here at Kelley Blue Book. Comparing prices and features helps set your expectations for what you will be realistically paying for a CPO vehicle.

What to Look for and Ask When Visiting a Car Dealer

When you find the right car and decide it’s time to visit the dealer, remember that prices on Certified Pre-Owned cars will be negotiable, just as they are for any used car.

Don’t expect big bargains, though. According to Kelley Blue Book data, car dealers report getting as much as 97 percent of their asking price for Certified Pre-Owned cars in 2021 through April. That compares with 94 percent in April 2020.

What to Ask About During Negotiations

  • Loaners. Before closing on any deal, ask the dealer if a loaner car would be available to you as part of the program if any repairs become needed.
  • Financing. Check for the availability of special financing — ideally, comparable to what’s offered on a new car.
  • Budgeting. If the price for the CPO vehicle is outside your budget, check if it’s possible to lease the car instead.
  • Policies. Investigate the dealer’s CPO return and exchange policy.
  • Warranty. Find out all details of the warranty and weigh it against the total miles and age of the car. Gather details of the vehicle’s condition and request any available service records.

As you drive off the lot in your first — or latest — Certified Pre-Owned car, feel good about the money you saved versus a new car. There’s also the added peace of mind you have buying a CPO car versus a non-certified used car.