Demystifying Certified Pre-Owned Cars

April 29th, 2017 by
certified pre-owned cars

The concepts of certified pre-owned cars offers the next best alternative to buying a brand new car. Because certified pre-owned cars should meet a rigorous set of standards, they’re as close to new as you’re going to get in the used car world, but at prices significantly below their new counterparts.


These days it seems just about every dealership offers what they call “Certified Pre-Owned” vehicles, or CPOs for short. But have you ever wondered what that really means? And why CPO cars may be more expensive? It’s time to demystify the whole CPO concept so you can understand whether or not a CPO car is right for you.

As the name implies, a CPO car means someone is “certifying” it, which in turn means it meets a set of standards or criteria to be able to carry the CPO label. This is the crux of the whole CPO concept – the standards being used. At brand-name dealerships, it is the manufacturer who decides what the CPO standards will be, so each make of vehicle has its own criteria.

Ford, for example, has a 172-point inspection list for its CPO criteria you can view online here. When a used Ford comes into a Ford dealership, their service department is going to run it through this inspection list. For each item on the that doesn’t pass for the vehicle being inspected, the dealership has to decide if it’s worth repairing or refurbishing that item so it can meet the criteria and carry the CPO label.

For a vehicle to meet these criteria, it’s typically going to be late-model with fewer miles. Sometimes a mileage threshold will be specified. For example, Chrysler says up front that for any vehicle to even be considered for the CPO label, it has be less than five years old and have fewer than 75,000 miles. Chrysler’s program involves a 125-point checklist you can see here.

It’s important to understand that although these brand-name dealership CPO programs are often calling these vehicles “OEM” or “manufacturer” or “factory” CPO cars, it is not the manufacturer who is actually applying the standards by inspecting and refurbishing the vehicles – it’s the service department employees at that specific dealership who are actually doing the work and certification. The CPO vehicles typically carry significantly extended warranties and/or service contracts and other benefits for added consumer protection.

Independent used car dealerships have also developed their own certified vehicle programs by coming up with a set of standards that can be applied across all makes of vehicles. It is important not to confuse such certification programs with any manufacturer’s CPO programs as the standards and process applied are different. And, as with any certification program, it’s only as good as the standards being applied. An independent car dealership should be willing to share its set of standards with you so you can determine if their CPO vehicles are good enough to justify the higher prices they typically carry.

The good news about CPO vehicles is that they offer the next best alternative to buying a brand new car if the standards and process dealership uses are solid. Because they meet a rigorous set of standards, they’re as close to new as you’re going to get, but at prices significantly below their new counterparts. The catch is, again, in the standards. So make sure to examine the standards used to certify a car carefully before making a decision of buying a CPA car. Unfortunately some dealers do not have good standards developed or a process that insures that each car meets the standards and still offer cars as certified.

Where does Auto City stand on certification? We believe that quality should not cost more and that all used cars we sell should be on par with those one can call certified. It starts with selection. We only choose the best cars to put on our lot. Superior reconditioning and quality control follow next to make sure that every car that we sell meets a rigorous set of standards. We do not label our cars as certified as traditionally the CPO term is associated with a manufacturer certified vehicle.  We did not want to confuse our customers, instead we focus on quality and process to deliver the best used cars in San Diego!