• Buying Guides

Is CPO Worth It?

By Autolist Staff | March 1, 2019

Is CPO worth it? Certified pre-owned cars are a popular choice among those looking to buy a used car but not wanting to take the risk of buying one with problems. CPO vehicles usually cost more than the average used car due to extra benefits like a limited warranty covering certain major repairs, plus roadside assistance and a rental or loaner if the car goes to the shop. However, buying a CPO for its higher price also makes buyers expect not to have many problems. But, is that true? Do CPO vehicles really have less problems? Let's find out.

A CPO is Still Not New

It might be hard to remember that CPO stands for "certified pre-owned" and not "car problems out" since advertisements often all but tout CPO cars as basically new and problem-free. Even if it went through a 150-point inspection, it did not have 150 parts replaced. Even if the parts were verified to be working and undamaged at the time, it doesn't mean that a problem won't crop up in the future, maybe even the near future. No matter how carefully inspected or refurbished, a used car will never be brand new again.

How to Avoid Some CPO Problems

Although there's no surefire way to avoid any problems with a CPO, there are a few ways you can minimize the risk. One of the first ways is to make sure that it's a real CPO in the first place. Dealerships may mark some vehicles on their lot as certified, but that doesn't mean that it's been certified by the manufacturer, which is a specific program. If you want to buy a CPO Chevy, you need to go directly to a Chevy branded dealer. Look at the window sticker to check the automaker's CPO logo and if it indicates who's backing the warranty. As long as the companies are the same, you're on the right track. The next step is to find out exactly what the warranty covers. CPO vehicles from the manufacturer always provide at least a limited warranty and sometimes a limited and powertrain warranty. Currently, only Mitsubishi offers just a powertrain warranty on their CPO vehicles. However, it is a 10-year powertrain warranty. Many CPO programs have differences in their coverage that can be confusing. For example, one of the best CPO programs in Lexus offers a 100,000 mile or eight year warranty from when the car was new. So, if you buy a car in this program and it's three years old, you then have five years left. However, there's another part of the warranty that is 20,000 miles or two years from buying the CPO and that includes free maintenance and roadside assistance. Car buyers sometimes get confused on what's covered and for how long. They may think that the remaining five year warranty includes free maintenance and roadside assistance, when in reality that part is over after two years or 20,000 miles. It's very important to fully look over and understand the CPO program of the car that you're looking at, so that there won't be any surprises on coverage after you buy it.

Even a CPO Should Be Fully Checked

Just because a vehicle is a CPO doesn't mean that you shouldn't completely check it out before buying it. Some complaints from CPO buyers have indicated that the car they bought had a range of damage, including on the body and windshield. Even if the dealer repairs the car when the damage is brought to their attention, the question has to be asked why the buyer let the sale go forward in the first place. Had the buyer done a walk-around before the sale closed, the damage would immediately become apparent. The point is that you should not blindly trust that a CPO vehicle will be completely unblemished and free of any issues. You should check the vehicle out fully before closing the sale, or even proceeding with the sale. If you're concerned with mechanical issues that you can't see, then you can also have a mechanic check it out first as well. Just make sure that you understand the information being given to you after a mechanic check.

Always Follow Up

Don't let any issues with a CPO slide, but make sure to follow up on them with the dealership and even with the manufacturer if necessary. In one example from Edmunds, a buyer found out that his CPO vehicle did not have tires that met the automaker's specific standards. The buyer further learned that the particular automaker would not approve a CPO vehicle without tires that met those standards. Concerned that the non-standard tires could compromise the warranty in the future, the buyer followed up with the dealer to resolve it. The dealer was uncooperative at first, but eventually when the automaker got involved, they agreed to replace the tires with brand-new, approved product.

CPO Doesn't Mean Zero Problems

It's important to understand going in that CPO vehicles can still have problems. There are plenty of examples of buyers who have had issues with their CPO vehicles shortly after buying them and most tend to believe that these issues should have been caught before the car was certified. In many cases though, these issues were not because the car was used, but because it was a common issue with the car model period. In other words, it's important to fully research your vehicle of choice before going in. Actual recall work should be completed before the dealer is allowed to sell the car, but some other common issues with certain vehicles never reach the level of an actual recall. In this case, you can either attempt to get it fixed under warranty, repair it yourself or simply live with it.

Is Buying a CPO a Good Idea?

Despite the warnings, it doesn't mean that buying a CPO is a bad idea. It simply means that you need to do your due diligence before buying one just like any other type of a vehicle. Is it possible to find a good used car that rivals any CPO and save money at the same time? Absolutely. However, it might take a lot more time and a lot more effort. Furthermore, if you don't have any deep mechanical knowledge, you could spend a lot of time taking prospective vehicles to mechanics. You also won't get a warranty or emergency perks that a CPO program offers either. In the end, it's important to understand that a CPO program isn't perfect, but it does reduce the usual level of risk involved in buying a used car.