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How to Buy a Certified Pre-Owned Car

All new cars are the same. That is to say, every identically equipped car on a dealer's lot has the same mileage, same sticker price and is in the same condition. Then, three years later, they're all different. Consequently, shopping for a new car is different than shopping for a used car.

And shopping for a Certified Pre-Owned car is different still, blending characteristics of both new and used searches. On one hand, no two CPO cars have the exact same mileage or are in the exact same condition, so you could find yourself having to weigh the pros and cons of two otherwise identical models. On the other hand, they all meet certain condition and mileage requirements, and most offer the reassurance of an extended warranty, so they all offer peace of mind.

In a nutshell, buying a Certified Pre-Owned car can require more work than buying a new car, but presents fewer pitfalls than buying used.

Start with a particular model - and a couple of backup choices

According to Autodata, 2009 car sales in the U.S. broke down thusly: 35 million used cars, 10.4 million used cars and just over 1.5 million Certified Pre-Owned cars. CPO cars continue to gain in relative popularity, but it's still the smallest pool of vehicles out there.

So, if your heart is set specifically on CPO, it's a good idea to be flexible on the model. The more choices you have as a buyer, the better.

Study the cars and the programs

Research is essential. After choosing the car(s) you like, check out the maximum age and mileage of cars that are eligible for CPO certification, and other program details. You can use our Certified Pre-Owned program comparison tool to evaluate how multiple programs stack up. Find out how extensive the inspection is, and the exact details of the extended warranty/service contract. Many dealers now include an AutoCheck or similar vehicle history report, which can tell if the car has been damaged, has title problems, or is otherwise questionable.

Go online to find Certified Pre-Owned models

Once you're up to speed on your desired cars and their respective programs, you can find Certified Pre-Owned vehicles for sale right here at kbb.com.

Finally, visit the dealer

When you eventually find the right car and decide it's time to visit the dealer, remember that prices on Certified Pre-Owned cars are negotiable, just as they are for any used car.

Don't expect big bargains on a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle, though. According to CNW Marketing Research, franchised new-car dealers have recently been getting as much as 95 percent of their asking price for used cars.

See if it's possible to lease the certified used car. Is a loaner car available if repairs are needed at some point? Look into the return/exchange policy, and availability of special financing -- ideally, comparable to what's offered on a new car.

As you drive off the lot in your first - or latest - Certified Pre-Owned car, feel good about the money you saved versus a new car, and the added peace of mind you have versus a used car.

CPO Program Details

Not all CPO programs are created equal. How does the one you're considering stack up?