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The Fine Print

The Fine Print
The Cadillac ATS interior is seen. In its CPO programs, Cadillac extends its new car warranty to 72 months or 70,000 miles from the original in-service date.

Nearly every automaker offers certified pre-owned cars through its dealer network, but these programs vary widely and can be tough to compare. Here are four tips to help you navigate the myriad CPO programs and determine which one best suits your needs.

Take a close look at the age and mileage of the CPO car you're considering.
In order to be certified, cars must generally be 5 or 6 years old or newer and have racked up fewer than 60,000 to 80,000 miles on the odometer — but keep in mind that cars that meet the requirements may have accumulated more miles than average. Look for a car with average mileage (12,000 miles annually) or less and note the date it was first sold — the so-called in-service date.

Assess the CPO warranty carefully.
Many automakers offer the remainder of the original new-car warranty, plus an additional warranty, but this can vary widely. For example, Cadillac, which ranked in the top five of premium brands for its CPO program in automotive research firm IntelliChoice's recent study of CPO vehicles, extends the new car warranty to 72 months or 70,000 miles from the original in-service date, while Volkswagen extends the bumper-to-bumper new car warranty an additional 24 months or 24,000 miles. Keep in mind that the warranty period ends when the mileage limit or time limit is reached (whichever comes first), so depending on when the car was placed in service (i.e., its age) and how many miles it has, certain cars may get more coverage than others.

Pay attention to the warranty deductible and maintenance offerings.
While all cars have zero deductible for warranty claims during the original new car warranty, some automakers include a deductible on their CPO warranties. Some automakers may also offer the added perk of free maintenance for a CPO car for a short period of time, such as one year. Be sure you understand all the costs and benefits associated with the CPO warranty before you buy.

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Be aware of the inspection and certification process.
All automaker-certified cars go through a reconditioning and inspection process, but each manufacturer has a somewhat different approach. Read about it on the automaker's website, or ask for the brochure at the dealership that outlines the process in detail. Lincoln, for example, provides a 200-point inspection, while Mini assesses only 98 points on the car. It's typical for an automaker to pull a vehicle history report that will reveal if the car has been involved in an accident or suffered other issues, such as flood damage. Ask for a copy of both the inspection checklist and the history report to help provide peace of mind before you sign.

Tara Baukus Mello, Brand Publishing Writer