Buying a Certified Pre-owned Vehicle? 5 Questions to Ask

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Shaking hands in front of a car illustration/Image Credit: Pixabay

Dealers are pulling out all the stops to get more trade-ins to fill their lagging inventory. Because of this, there has never been a better time to consider a certified pre-owned vehicle, or CPO, for your next purchase.

While a CPO price is higher than a traditional used car, there are several benefits to buying a car with that certified pre-owned designation vs. used, said Anne Fleming, the CEO and founder of, a website that connects women and families to certified car dealers.

“CPOs go through a proper, rigorous inspection so you can feel confident as a buyer,” Fleming said. “Certified pre-owned vehicles are also newer, lower-mileage vehicles. Most original warranties are transferrable, and many certified vehicles have 24-hour roadside service right now, which is huge for our peace of mind.”

Anne Fleming, CEO & founder, Credit: Anne Fleming

Chip shortages impacting electronics on new vehicle inventory and rising new car purchases averaging $40,000 have many car shoppers looking for a less expensive alternative.

Are certified pre-owned cars worth it? Yes, Fleming said. However, just like any other used purchase, you’ll still need to do your due diligence and research.

Here are five questions to ask when buying a certified pre-owned vehicle:

  1. Who has certified the car? This is important because there is the insurance-backed certification that the dealership can offer, and then there’s the manufacturer certification, Fleming said.
    “The manufacturer is the most critical. It costs a few dollars more, but it is worth it,” she said. “Manufacturer certification means that the OEM had their trained service people do the multi-point inspection. When a manufacturer certifies the vehicle, a Kia manufacturer can only certify a Kia. The manufacturer is the expert in that particular vehicle. To get the highest level of expertise, be sure to ask for the manufacturer’s CPO because their expert service people have worked on the vehicle.”
  2. Is the warranty transferrable? In most cases, a CPO is covered by a manufacturer-backed extended warranty that is transferrable to the new buyer, Fleming said.
    “This can save the buyer a lot of money,” she said. “Depending on age or mileage, while this isn’t the same as a new vehicle ‘bumper-to-bumper’ coverage, the warranty will likely still be available. The dealer will also offer incremental extended warranties that you can add on. The certified pre-owned warranty is one of the best things about buying the vehicle.”
  3. What’s the return policy? Fleming said that dealers do offer return policies on a CPO, sometimes the same return policies they may have on new vehicles. It’s essential to ask if you decide the car is just not right for you after all.
    “It could be a 3-day or weeklong return policy dealers are offering to compete with the online used-car retailers,” she said. “It’s incumbent on the buyer to do that research. Dealers now are looking to engage more with those policies to be more competitive in the industry. They don’t always advertise this, so you have to ask.”
  4. What repairs have been performed on the vehicle? Has the vehicle been in a flood or an accident? What work has been done on the car? What reconditioning has been done? The report should clearly state the history of the vehicle, Fleming said.
    “As a buyer, it’s buyer beware,” she said. “Even though it is a CPO, it is a used vehicle, so you have to know the history. I recommend taking the car to an independent mechanic, and for around $250, you can get it checked out to make sure. Have an appointment set up ahead of time. That way, you get an independent report, and it should match up with what the dealer is providing.”
  5. How can I get a good deal on this vehicle? Know what your trade-in price is for your used car. Right now, you’ll get pretty much top dollar since dealerships are looking for inventory, Fleming said.
    “You need to know the money part of your used car. The interest right now is low with low rates on both new and used cars,” she said. “Buyers need to keep in mind interest rates are based on credit scores. You’ll get a lower interest rate if you have a higher credit score and vice versa. It’s important to come into the dealership knowing what your credit score is.”

“The certified pre-owned warranty is one of the best things about buying the vehicle.”

Anne Fleming

Buying a car is the second-highest purchase consumers will make in their life. Doing your research, asking the right questions, and knowing what to expect will make all the difference in your car-buying journey.

“When buying a new car, also make sure you find out beforehand what your auto insurance will be. Insurance fees make up 10% of the total ownership cost over 5 years,” Fleming said. “Repair and maintenance fees of a used vehicle add up to 4-5% of ownership over the first five years, including oil changes, repairs, and maintenance fees. A new buyer needs to keep that in mind and be prepared with a savings account for this.”

Happy shopping for your new, used car!

Hayley Ringle

Hayley Ringle

Hayley Ringle has been an automobile enthusiast since her first motorcar love, a no-frills, air-cooled, orange 1976 VW Super Beetle. Hayley now enjoys driving her limited-edition Release Series 9 ride, an orange 2012 Scion XB, with vanity license plate HOTLAVA. Hayley’s fondness for cars stems from her dad’s love of British sports cars and her years working at an auto parts store while in college. She has written professionally for Phoenix-area newspapers for over 20 years, covering every subject imaginable, including Scottsdale’s car auctions and the Valley’s vehicle proving grounds. Her dream car is a Jaguar E-type roadster featured in the 1971 cult classic film “Harold and Maude.”