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CPO 101

CPO 101
The Maserati GranTurismo

They're nearly new and hardly used — as close to pristine as pre-owned can get. No surprise that certified pre-owned vehicles are an increasingly popular option for car shoppers, offering peace of mind and dependability with sticker prices that don't shock.

We’re talking refurbished rides for far less than the latest models. All that’s missing is that sweet new-car smell — and even that might linger in some late-model CPO rides (many are only a year or two old with scant ticks on the odometer).

“The certified pre-owned segment of the market continues to be very important to manufacturers and dealers alike,” said Tyler Schulze, vice president and general manager of IntelliChoice, a leading automotive research and evaluation firm. “The ability for dealers to certify their best used cars and trucks under a compelling program sponsored by the manufacturer is a clear win for both the consumer and the dealer.”

New to the concept? Welcome to CPO 101. It’s deliciously simple and straightforward: First, dealers choose the cream of their new crop of trade-ins, many of them recently terminated leased vehicles with very low mileage (all qualified rides must fall within strict age and mileage limitations in order to be accepted into a manufacturer’s CPO program).

Then comes a rigorous bumper-to-bumper inspection and reconditioning process — following an exacting list of more than 100 inspection points that brings the vehicles like-new condition.

Once the mechanical and cosmetic renovations are complete, these newly “certified” used vehicles are backed with warranties that are comparable to new-car coverage. Often, any remaining new-car comprehensive coverage carries over, and extra coverage is tacked on when it runs out. Powertrain warranties can last up to several years or 100,000 miles.

The goal behind every CPO program is the same — ensuring that buyers get peace of mind from their new used car. But each program varies. Some have longer and more comprehensive warranties; others might focus on more extensive reconditioning inspections or have stricter parameters regarding age and mileage.

A few manufacturers offer return and exchange policies. Others, especially luxury brands, offer trip planning and concierge services, roadside and lockout services and more. Virtually all of them include Carfax reports to document the vehicle’s history.

Of course, it’s essential for consumers to do a bit of homework before kicking tires on potential CPO rides. A good place to start comparison shopping is a third-party site such as, which has an extensive section on CPO vehicles that allows consumers to compare the features of each program, including the latest special financing deals.

Be advised that certified pre-owned vehicles come with a premium attached to their sticker price, usually from 2% to 8% of what a comparable non-certified used model would cost.

But the key to CPO’s popularity is that the extra cost is generally considered to be well worth the enhanced warranty protection and reconditioning inspection, which covers, well, just about everything. 

“Even in this tough economy CPO sales have been very strong with many manufacturers expected to reach record sales levels,” said Eric Anderson, senior IntelliChoice analyst.

Bob Young, Brand Publishing Writer