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A certified pre-owned car or CPO is a type of used car.
Most often late-model, they differ from other used cars by having been inspected, refurbished, and certified by a manufacturer or other certifying authority. They also typically include an extended warranty, special financing, and additional benefits. Luxury marques Lexus and Mercedes-Benz were among the first to create CPO programs in the 1990s. There are variations as to what is termed certified pre-owned, so the distinctions are important. Manufacturer (or "factory") CPO vehicles are only sold at authorized dealers specializing in that particular franchise. Factory CPO cars are generally five years old or newer and have less than 80,000 miles. They often cost more than vehicles certified by independent authorities, and are higher priced than a non-certified used vehicle. Independent programs can represent good value and an alternative to an OEM program. Independents may hold a vehicle to a higher standard than an OEM, or may be less stringent in their inspections. Independents include brands such as the National Vehicle Certification Program (or "NVCP"), Carmark, and others. Dealer-certified programs represent a third category, as they are often promoted as Certified Pre-Owned. These vehicles generally have not been inspected by anyone outside the dealership, but do typically carry a warranty or extended service contract to provide some protection to the consumer.
With any certified pre-owned program, who does the actual inspection and reconditioning repairs may be significant. Both OEM and dealer-certified program vehicles are typically inspected by employees of the selling dealer- not by the manufacturer as may be assumed. Independents may employ a disinterested third-party inspector to ensure objectivity, or may allow the dealer to inspect their own vehicles.
Because warranties, vehicle inspection points, and other program components will vary, prospective buyers would be wise to decide what defines CPO for themselves, by comparing the programs to determine what best represents their needs and expectations.
- Westways, November/December 2005, p. 48, "Automotive Overdrive" column, "Alphabet Soup", by Peter Bohr