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New Driver? Used Vehicle.

Parents purchasing a first car for their teen face a dilemma. While they might not be able to afford a brand-new vehicle, they also don’t want their child driving an unreliable and perhaps unsafe used car bought blind from a lot or private seller. A certified pre-owned car might be the perfect compromise: more affordable than a new vehicle but with the peace of mind offered by a manufacturer inspection and warranty.

Here’s why parents should seriously consider a CPO as their kid’s first ride.


A brand-new car plummets in value the moment it’s driven off the lot, but certified pre-owned vehicles — though usually late-model and low-mileage — can offer substantial purchase price savings.

A 2-year-old certified pre-owned car can cost 40% to 60% less than the same model new. And because a fickle, fashion-conscious teen is probably going to want a different model within a year or two, a CPO (which has already taken its big depreciation hit) can also protect parents from a hefty loss when it comes time to sell it or trade it in.

Plus, for the price of a new car, parents might be able to afford a CPO that’s more luxurious, larger or better equipped — a fact sure to be appreciated by teenagers. Automotive valuation websites like kbb.com can provide comparisons between new and used prices.

Safety and Reliability

A certified pre-owned car offers parents considerable safety and reliability reassurance.

First off, CPOs are late-model cars that usually offer up-to-date safety technologies. Any car that’s had a significant accident in the past would be ineligible for certification (and the dealer should be happy to offer to a Carfax report to confirm that the CPO you’re eyeing was never in a serious accident).

The low miles on a CPO generally mean less wear and tear, and any degraded components would have been repaired or replaced prior to certification.

Then there are the much-vaunted multipoint inspections performed by manufacturers. Parents could pay an independent mechanic to carry out similar checks on noncertified used cars, but this could be costly and cumbersome. The manufacturers’ CPO inspections are thorough — after all, if they’re going to warranty a car, it’s in their interest that it’s not in the shop every few weeks.

“Don’t get too picky about going with one program instead of the other because this one has 144 check points and the other only has 138,” said Charlie Vogelheim, executive editor at Intellichoice.com. “The reality is that they check all the key components and … they’re doing the work to repair any problems.”


One of the huge advantages of a CPO is its factory-backed warranty. These vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but often stack up very favorably next to new-car warranties. And they commonly include any remaining portion of the original coverage.

For example, a BMW CPO comes with a two-year/50,000-mile warranty that kicks in when the original four-year/50,000-mile new-vehicle warranty expires — basically, it’s a six-year/100,000-mile warranty from the date of original purchase. And while the pre-owned coverage may not be quite as comprehensive as the original warranty, repairs are still performed by manufacturer-trained technicians using only original parts.

Coolness and Connectivity

While the most sensible choice for your teen’s first car might be something like a 1970s diesel Mercedes-Benz (cheap, economical, safe and slow), most kids don’t want to be seen driving such a car. The “coolness quotient” needs to be considered if you’re to avoid a sulky youngster. The savings on a CPO versus a new car can make it affordable for parents to buy a hip late-model car while side-stepping those dizzying new-car payments.

Connectivity — Bluetooth, sat-nav, MP3 compatibility, etc. — is central to a car’s perceived coolness among most contemporary teens, who view these features as more necessity than luxury. Technology moves so fast that even a 2- or 3-year-old CPO might not satisfy your teen’s high-tech desires.

Not to worry, said Vogelheim. “This can easily be solved with an upgraded radio system, so don’t discount a vehicle just because it doesn’t have the latest electronics. As important as they are to the teenagers, they’re a small part of the entire engineered product that you’re looking at.”

Finally, keep in mind one other bonus of buying a used first vehicle for your teen.

“Kids don’t always take great care of things and anything could happen to it,” Vogelheim said. “It’s not quite so painful if it isn’t a brand-new vehicle!”

—Paul Rogers, Brand Publishing Writer

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