You’re a savvy used-car shopper. You’ve checked AutoTrader.com and Cars.com, and found the best price for a pre-owned Ford Explorer. It’s in Maine and you live in New York. The savings outweigh the cost of the trip.

Then you check CARFAX. A giant exclamation point appears in the accident history line. You call the dealership for the story. The vehicle has been repaired, the salesman assures you, but you’re uncomfortable hearing that a school bus once backed into the hood of your intended vehicle.

If the car had been a certified pre-owned vehicle (CPO), you’d have the comfort of Ford’s guarantee after a 169-point inspection. Plus 24-hour roadside assistance, a warranty on parts, and a powertrain limited warranty for six years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Participating dealers honor the coverage, so it doesn’t matter if you buy it far from home.

CPO certification began in the 1990s as a way for automakers to sell low-mileage off-lease cars. It has since boomed in sales thanks to the perception of new-car dependability at used-car prices. According to a recent study by J.D. Power and Associates, sales of certified pre-owned cars have increased by nearly 50% since 2000.

The price of a CPO vehicle is $1,000-$2,000 higher than a pre-owned vehicle. Dealers build the markup into the price of the car. For many buyers, the markup is worth the peace of mind the certification provides.

Unlike a third-party warranty, customers do not have to lay out the money for repairs, wait for a reimbursement check, be subject to a deductible, or worry about the third-party insurer going belly up. Most CPO vehicles were leased, meaning they have been used by customers cognizant of wear and tear and extra charges at the end of their lease. It’s a comfort to know that if you’re stuck, the CPO certification provides loan cars, shuttle pick up, roadside assistance, and low-rate loans. A CPO certification makes buy-back or exchange much easier, too.

Be sure to read the agreement line by line, however. CPO warranties vary between automakers. Ford and Chrysler’s warranty is limited powertrain, while Lexus offers a more comprehensive plan. If you’re buying an older vehicle, paying extra for the certification may not be worth it. There’s another downside to CPO vehicles: you may have to be patient to find one at the right price.

CPO certification enables consumers to avail themselves of the benefits of buying a new car at a used-car price, provided the buyer is willing to pay extra up front.

Pari Chang is an attorney and freelance essayist. She is the lead writer for Denver car accident lawyer Daniel R. Rosen. She blogs about safe driving and auto technology on the Colorado Accident Law Blog. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, SELF, and Glamour.

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