Defining a Certified Pre-Owned Car (CPO)

A certified pre-owned (CPO) car is a used vehicle that has undergone a rigorous inspection and refurbishment process to meet specific quality standards set by the automaker. These cars are usually in better condition and come with additional warranties compared to regular used cars. CPO vehicles are generally priced higher than non-CPO cars due to these added assurances and benefits.

CPO vehicles

Certification Process

To garner a CPO label, used vehicles must undergo a stringent review process.

1. Inspection: The CPO process starts with a detailed inspection of the vehicle’s key components, including the engine, transmission, exhaust, steering, braking, suspension, electrical, and infotainment systems. Manufacturers and dealerships routinely tout a 100-plus item checklist to demonstrate their commitment to the program.

2. Repairs and Refurbishment: Any issues found during the inspection are repaired to meet the automaker’s standards. The car is also cleaned, and any cosmetic damages are addressed. Typically, this means that scratches are removed and small dents repaired. Cars with larger amounts of damage usually aren’t eligible for CPO consideration.

3. Documentation: The dealership provides all relevant documentation, including the original owner’s manual and keys, along with a detailed inspection report.

4. Certification: Once the car meets the set standards, it is granted CPO status and is often backed by the automaker, which means it adheres to manufacturer-specific criteria and warranties.

Benefits of Buying CPO

1. Quality Assurance: CPO vehicles are among the best-condition used cars available, having undergone thorough inspections and repairs.

2. Warranty Coverage: Many certified cars come with the remainder of the original factory warranty, and often include extended warranties or CPO-specific warranties covering specific issues.


3. Vehicle History Report: Dealerships provide a vehicle history report, giving buyers insight into the car’s past. CARFAX is the most used with AutoCheck also noteworthy according to J.D. Power.

4. Additional Perks: Some CPO programs offer additional benefits like roadside assistance, loaner cars, and special financing options.

Cost Comparison: CPO vs. Regular Used Cars

CPO cars typically cost marginally more than non-certified used cars, up to 2 percent higher. This premium can vary based on the car’s make, model, and local market conditions. Despite the higher upfront cost, certified cars can be a good deal due to their reduced likelihood of immediate expensive repairs and the added warranties and assurances provided.

Are CPO Cars a Good Deal?

Experts generally agree that CPO cars are a worthwhile investment for many buyers reports U.S. News. They tend to have about 15-percent fewer problems than non-certified used cars, providing peace of mind and potential cost savings over time. However, it’s still crucial for buyers to research the specific make and model they’re interested in, as a car’s reliability isn’t solely determined by its CPO status.

Tips for Purchasing a CPO Car

1. Research: Spend time researching the right model for your needs and budget.

2. Inspect Documentation: Review the vehicle history report and certification program details carefully. Verify any warranties and understand their coverage.

mechanic inspection

3. Negotiate: Don’t hesitate to negotiate the price, just as you would with any other car purchase. You may not save big, but you may save something.

4. Verify Information: Cross-check the vehicle history report with an independent service to ensure accuracy and check for any potential red flags. A mechanic friend can prove helpful here.

Parting Thoughts

Buying a certified pre-owned car can be a smart choice if you’re looking for a reliable used vehicle with added peace of mind. Understanding what CPO means, the certification process, and the benefits involved is crucial. While CPO cars come with added costs, the long-term savings and reduced stress may justify the investment. Always conduct thorough research and verify all provided information before making a purchase.


Hawley, D. (2023, May 31). Which Vehicle History Report Is Right For You?. J.D. Power.

Threewitt, C. (2024, April 23). What Does Certified Pre-Owned Mean?. U.S. News.

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Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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