With new car prices reaching all-time highs, the allure of a late-model used car can be rather tempting. But how do you know what you're getting? Sure, you might save a few thousand dollars on the deal, but will you end up paying it all back in repairs? This scenario has long been the fly in the ointment for used car buyers, but there is a solution that can bring you peace of mind and still save you money in the long run. It's called a certified car, and you can buy one from just about any dealer who also sells new cars. In this four-part series, we answer a few questions about CPO cars and whether one is right for you.


What's included in a certified inspection?

Although the inspection process varies by manufacturer, most cars are put through a rigorous inspection covering at least 100 different checkpoints, with many plans covering even more. Primary inspection areas include brakes, engine, transmission, suspension, body panels, glass, wheel bearings, exhaust and electrical. The technician then performs a road test to check steering, ride and additional electrical components, such as cruise control, climate system, audio and power accessories. Finally, the vehicle history is checked, usually through a service such as CARFAX. If any of the prescribed inspection points fail to pass, the dealer will either fix the problem or remove the car from the certified program.

What's covered by the certified car warranty?

The certified warranty acts primarily like a new car warranty. Again, each manufacturer's coverage is slightly different, so be sure to thoroughly read through your warranty packet. For the most part, the certified warranty covers engine and drive train components, as well as some suspension and steering components. Electrical items like power windows, climate control and power sunroof are also covered. Items not covered include typical wear and tear components such as brake pads, shocks, wiper blades and headlights. The warranty also omits damage due to driver negligence or improper maintenance.

How long is a certified car warranty?

Plans vary between brands. For most plans there is a 12-month/12,000 mile full-coverage warranty (bumper-to-bumper), followed by an extended powertrain (engine and transmission) anywhere from five to seven years and 100,000 miles. Note: The powertrain warranty doesn't start from the day you buy the car, but from the time the car entered service. So, if you buy a four-year-old car with 50,000 miles, your service plan will add two years or 50,000 miles (whichever comes first) to the car's warranty. Some plans can be purchased that extend the original warranty time, while most luxury car brands offer a better package than less expensive makes.

Who does warranty repairs to certified cars?

The dealer performs all work under the certified contract. As with a new car warranty, you can take your car to any dealer who services your make and they will honor the warranty.

Are warranty repairs free for certified cars?

The answer to this question varies widely, so be sure to check your policy. For the most part, the majority of the repair cost is covered by the warranty. However, some plans do have a deductible ranging from $50 to $150.

What other services come with certified cars?

Each manufacturer tailors their CPO programs to entice buyers. Most offer some type of roadside assistance, as well as provide vehicle history reports. Others offer free loaner cars, free trial subscriptions to services such as Sirius/XM satellite radio or OnStar (GM vehicles), trip interruption benefits, free oil changes and tire rotation.

Equifax and CARFAX both provide services to AutoTrader.com customers

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Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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