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Used Car or Certified Pre-Owned?

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Everyone knows about used cars. By now, most buyers know about Certified Pre-Owned, or CPO. Right up front, Certified Pre-Owned cars and trucks represent the best deals in the car business. Period.

Part of the reason has to do with depreciation, which follows a curve and is steepest when the car is new, but, as time passes, the curve begins to level out. A new-car buyer pays a huge penalty for the initial depreciation, but subsequent buyers of that car have much smaller losses. Careful used-car buyers take advantage of the first buyer paying off that initial large depreciation and save themselves lots of money.

The downside is that it's no longer a new car. Who knows what abuses it has suffered, what maintenance was ignored, how it was driven? With any used-car deal there is always a certain level of trepidation about its past and, therefore, its future.

Certified Pre-Owned programs bring peace of mind to the used-car market. Just about all manufacturers offer CPO programs, which are backed by the factory. Basically, here's how they work:

It starts with an exceptionally clean used car which must meet certain standards of age and mileage - too old or too many miles and it's not considered. It must meet certain standards for condition -- if it shows major damage, or has mechanical issues or other problems, it's not considered. Then, it goes through a major re-conditioning process, which will include any necessary repairs to the paint and body, mechanical components and interior. It may get a brake job, perhaps it needs all new tires - what it needs, it gets. Finally, it has to pass a comprehensive inspection process which, typically, will cover as many as 150 or more points. Let there be no doubt: A CPO is a cream puff.

But there's more. CPO vehicles are covered by warranties that, typically, either go on top of -- or extend -- whatever warranty the vehicle has remaining. For example, there may be 12 months/12,000 miles of additional warranty that begins either at the end of the original new-car warranty or from the certified purchase date. Some plans give warranty coverage of up to 72 months and 100,000 miles from the original in-service date. There may be an additional powertrain warranty. Most CPO plans include 24-hour roadside assistance and a vehicle history report. All of this is peace of mind that does not exist with typical used-car deals.

Here's a personal CPO experience from an acquaintance: He knew what he wanted, searched that manufacturer's website for likely CPO candidates and found one at a dealership within a couple hours of where he lived. The car was exactly what he wanted, even to the color, was about one year old, had slightly over 6,000 miles on the odometer and was almost unimaginably clean. The original warranty, which was still on the car, was for 36 months/36,000 miles, but the CPO program extended that by 12 months/12,000 miles, meaning that it now had about three years and 42,000 miles of remaining warranty - more than when it was new. He went to the dealership, closed the deal in about 20 minutes and drove home with a terrific (almost) new car. Tax and license included, the total was over 30 percent less than its original price. He considered it a far better deal than would have been available with either a new car or a typical used car, and we agree.

Another benefit of CPO vehicles is that, generally, they can be financed and even leased through the dealership. Basically, except that they are not brand new, they are offered with all the usual benefits of buying a new car.

The only downside of any significance to Certified Pre-Owned vehicles is that they cost more than non-certified used cars. But, they are better cars that have been given substantial service and reconditioning, carry far superior warranties and deliver a vast improvement in peace of mind.

So, if CPO vehicles are so great, why buy a typical used car? Easy; if keeping the expenditure as low as possible is of primary importance, then a used car is, obviously, the way to go. The used-car market has something in a price range for just about anybody. Some of the choices are certainly ok, but some are just as certainly questionable and you are on your own. If you lack expertise it's a good idea to bring along somebody who does know how to spot the dangers, but there's always a risk. Still, if absolute low cost is mandatory, you're in the used-car market.

But CPO remains the best deal available. And the buyers agree. Numerous surveys show that wide ranges of customers view peace of mind as an important purchase consideration and they find it with CPO vehicles. The CPO selection and reconditioning processes, the extensive check lists, the extended warranty coverages, the vehicle history reports, the exceptional condition of the vehicles and all the other attendant benefits combine to deliver very high levels of peace of mind and high degrees of buyer satisfaction that lead to large numbers of owners returning to CPO purchases. We're not the only ones who remain convinced that you can't make a better car deal than with a CPO. Those who have sampled the CPO market are the best advocates you'll find.