Used Cars vs. Certified Used Cars: What’s the Difference?

July 13th, 2015 by

I’m sure you’ve seen the various terminologies when you’re searching for what you consider a ‘used car.’ There’s, of course, the generic ‘used car’ listing, but you’ll also probably see advertisements for ‘certified pre-owned cars.’

Well there can’t be much of a difference between the two, right? In some cases, you’d be correct, but most of the time, that thinking would be completely off.

The main difference is in the quality of the car, which you’ll read about more after the break. If you’re seeking a non-new car, read the post below to get a better understanding of the differences between ‘used’ and a ‘CPO.’ Then, when it’s time to shop for used cars in Lexington, Kentucky, you’ll understand everything the salesman is talking about!

What’s a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle?

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Often considered a cheaper alternative to new cars, a certified pre-owner vehicle has been completely inspected prior to it’s reselling, assuring that all damaged parts are fixed and everything is working properly. According to Joe Tralongo of AutoTrader.com, a car usually has to meet specific criteria before it can even be considered, including possessing a low mileage (no more than 60,000 to 80,000 miles) and low age (often five to seven years old).

Each automaker relies on a different set of standards when determining whether a used car is qualified, and because of this thorough examination, Tralongo says you’re assured that a CPO is “going to be the highest quality used car to begin with.”

The dealer has to ultimately sign off on the vehicle (relying on the manufacturer’s “specifications and requirements”), and the car is then put through an extensive “multi-point inspection,” assuring that everything is in top-top shape. The manufacturer will then often include an extended warranty, a bumper-to-bumper warranty or a variety of other incentives. As Tralongo notes, these “added incentives” could include roadside assistance, rental car reimbursement (in case of emergency) and free oil changes.

Since your purchased vehicle will be certified, the warranty should be included in the price. If someone attempts to charge you extra, question whether the warranty has already been put on your bill.

How Does This Differ From an Ordinary Used Car?

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If someone wants to sell their car, their car isn’t required to go through this rigorous test. These are often the cars you’ll find on Craigslist or similar online market places.

This means it’s the new buyers responsibility to get it inspected (and pay for any necessary repairs). The used car also won’t come with an extended warranty, and your only bet at getting one is if the remainder of the factory warranty is included in your used purchase (and even then, it may be non-transferable). If the used car doesn’t come with a warranty, it’s a good idea to get one. It’s really incredible how much money you can save by opting for this route.

If you decide to opt for a used car, the least you can do is the car-equivalent of a background check. All you’ll need is the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (otherwise known as the VIN), and a number of helpful websites, including Autocheck.com, will give you all the info you need.

So Used Cars Are Cheaper Than CPOs?

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Usually, and it’s generally estimated that CPOs can cost an average of $1,100 more (of course, take into account the inspection, as well as the assurance that everything will work properly).

However, this isn’t necessarily always true. As Jerry Edgerton of CBSNews.com points out, there are a number of brands that list their CPOs for only $500 more than a non-certified used car, including Chevrolet, Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler. You’ll see a significant jump in price when it comes to luxury brands, as CPOs could cost an additional $1,500.

My CPO is Guaranteed to be in Tip-Top Shape, Right?

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That’s would be an understandable assumption, but it’s unfortunately not always true. Since it’s ultimately the dealer’s call on whether a used car can qualify as “certified,” you may find yourself disappointed with the condition of your CPO. As Phong Ly of iSeeCars.com told Edgerton, these dealerships aren’t held to any “standards in order to be in the certification program,” meaning the standards across the industry could be inconsistent.

The process mentioned above would result in a ‘dealership-certified vehicle,’ but it’s a better idea to opt for the ‘manufacturer-certified vehicle.’ These cars are guaranteed to go through hours of testing and inspection. The alternative route, meanwhile, may result in your car barely being looked at.

Furthermore, the car has previously been on the road, and it’s likely traveled significantly more miles than your ordinary new car. This means an issue may have been brewing, but may have previously been too small to be detected by a mechanic. Additionally, while CPOs are often one to three years old, there’s no reason why an older vehicle can’t be certified.

You can save yourself a headache by making sure the dealership’s certification program is backed by the manufacturer. If it in fact is, they’ll require the dealer to inspect at least 125 features of the car, and they’ll also stick with their warranty. It’s also a good idea to find out exactly what got fixed in the certification process, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for the certification report.

Any Other Tips I Should Keep in Mind?

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Just because you’re in the market for a used car or a certified pre-owned, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t operate with some sense of logic. The process for picking a car shouldn’t change just because the car isn’t new. You’ll still want to test drive the car, making sure it properly fits your needs and desires.

You’ll also want to know the price range of a specific car. Plenty of websites will suggest prices for a specific certified pre-owned car, and some will show the difference between those values and an ordinary used car. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, and don’t be afraid to walk away. Find a website that you trust and stick to their figures. If the dealership is offering a car for a significantly higher price, it’s worth your time to look elsewhere.

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As you can see, the only downside for purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle over a used car would be the price tag. When you consider all the benefits that accompany a CPO (the warrantee, the inspection, the ease you feel knowing you’re not driving in a potential death trap), it’s clear which vehicle has the upper hand. If you are to take away one lesson from the post above, remember to always be vigilant. Do your research before you go car buying, regardless of whether you intend on purchasing a new car or not.

While we mentioned being wary of dealership-certified vehicles, understand that CPOs rarely have serious, underlying issues. At a trusted dealership like Dan Cummins, you can be assured that you’re getting a functional, safe vehicle. If you’re in the market for a non-new car (or even if you’re in the market for a new car… as you’ve read, there are certainly advantages to purchasing a CPO over a new vehicle), head down to the dealership today! Their staff will happily assist you in picking out your “new” vehicle.