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 ask whether one is right for you.

PART 3: HOW MUCH DOES A CERTIFIED CAR COST?

Why do certified cars cost more than other used cars?

Certified cars cost more than used cars because they undergo a multi-point inspection. If a problem is discovered, the dealer repairs or replaces the defective part before the car goes on sale. You don't get that with a used car. The additional warranty and perks that come with a certified car are also built into the price.

How much more do certified cars cost?

This is a tough question to answer, as prices vary widely across regions and by make and model. Generally, CPO cars add anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500 to the vehicle price. On luxury models, certification generally adds a bit more. In a survey done by CNW Marketing Research, the price increase for CPO cars ranged from a low of about three percent for full-size vans to as much as nine percent for upper midsize sedans.

Can you negotiate the cost of certifying a car?

As a general rule, the cost of certifying a car is built into the price and is nonnegotiable; however, you can negotiate the overall cost of the vehicle just like any new or used car transaction.

Can you certify the car you already have?

We are not aware of any program that allows you to buy a certification for an existing car. But you can purchase a service contract underwritten by an independent insurer. Your dealer will have details on what vehicles qualify and how to go about getting started.

What's the return policy for a certified car?

As with any new car, once you buy it, you own it. Some GM brands (Chevy, Buick and GMC) have a 3-day/150-mile satisfaction guarantee where you can return and exchange the vehicle for another that better fits your needs. Of course, if there is a major defect, the dealer should fix it under warranty. Lemon laws, which allow consumers to return a defective vehicle for a full refund, do not apply to CPO or used cars in general.

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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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