Buying A Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle: Part I

May 17, 2010

My daughter was surprised. She had asked for help in choosing a used SUV and I recommended that she and her husband look at a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle. “But Dad,” she said, “you literally wrote the books on how to buy and sell used cars and you want us to pay a dealer extra for a certified car?”

It’s true that I used to be an Internet manager for a major car dealer and have since written on how to sell cars online, as well as how to avoid making mistakes when buying used vehicles.

Based on that experience, I explained the facts of life to my daughter: I want my two grandchildren (along with my daughter and her husband, of course) in a safe vehicle that’s been fully checked out by a mechanic and carries a warranty for future problems.

You can get these benefits two different ways:

  1. Buy a CPO vehicle from a dealer.
  2. Create your own “virtual” CPO vehicle, purchased privately (or a great deal on a non-CPO vehicle from a dealer), complete a pre-purchase mechanical inspection, and buy an extended service contract (extended warranty).

Choosing the Right Option

When my daughter informed me that their Toyota Matrix was too small for their growing family, I found myself extolling the virtues of CPO vehicles. As much as I would have enjoyed teaching her and her spouse how to create a virtual certified vehicle--and put much-needed cash in their pocket--a formal certified program was their best choice. Here’s why:

  • Time is money. My daughter and her husband have a busy life with little time to spend searching for a private seller who has a gem of a vehicle at a fair price. Buying privately can be time-consuming: a lot of phone calls, test drives, mechanical inspections, and other long-drawn-out tasks.
  • One-stop shopping. You can literally walk onto a dealer’s lot and drive off in your next vehicle a few hours later (this is what my daughter and her husband did). Dealers can take care of the financing and complete all the paperwork, saving you a trip to the DMV. You often pay a premium for this option, but it’s well worth the price to many people.

Benefits of a CPO Program

When you buy a CPO vehicle, you are getting a used vehicle that meets a higher standard. Peace of mind can be priceless. To qualify, a CPO vehicle can only be a few years old with a limited number of miles. It must pass an extensive mechanical inspection with any deficiencies fixed. Then the manufacturer--not the dealer--adds an extended warranty. If something does go wrong, the buyer is protected.

In addition, there are usually other benefits that can include roadside assistance, trip interruption service, a free vehicle history report, and other goodies.

In Part II of this series we take an in-depth look at the three components of every certified pre-owned program: 1) certification/selection 2) warranty 3) extras. Part III teaches you how to create a virtual CPO option where you gain all the benefits of a certified program but get to keep much-needed cash in your pocket.


L. James Johnson's new book, HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online! is available for download at You can also download his FREE report, The 8 Biggest Mistakes Used Car Buyers Make & How to Avoid Them!

The Car Connection
See the winners »
The Car Connection
Commenting is closed for this article
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from the site. I can withdraw my consent at any time by unsubscribing.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.