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Best Certified Pre-Owned Programs of 2021

For some, buying a used car is like walking a tightrope without a net. Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) is that net. Buying CPO removes some of the angst and suspense from the used-car ownership experience.

Very little in life is 100-percent certain. Buying a used car sure isn’t, but then neither is buying a new one. Things can and do go wrong with new cars, too. There are, however, safeguards in the form of manufacturer warranties to minimize the pain of a new car gone bad. With Certified Pre-Owned comes some of that same protection.

With the exception of Tesla, every volume carmaker has a CPO program. Although the warranties and other CPO perks vary from brand to brand, the idea is the same: Provide some peace of mind. CPO costs a little more, but for many used-car buyers, it’s money well spent.

Beyond extra factory-backed warranty coverage, CPO vehicles come with various added-value perks. These extras might include special factory-backed financing, 24-hour roadside assistance, free scheduled-maintenance visits, free loaner cars during repairs, trip-interruption reimbursement, and a free 90-day satellite-radio subscription.

Different carmakers have different standards, but models in their CPO programs are lower-mileage and newer model-year vehicles. They have passed an intense inspection performed by a factory-trained technician according to factory specifications. Any issues discovered during that inspection have been fixed with or replaced with factory parts. Any warranty repairs can be completed anywhere in the country at any franchised dealership of the issuing brand.

Not all CPO programs are created equal. Some are better than others. To provide you with a place to begin your CPO hunt, the editors at Autotrader evaluated each available CPO program currently on the market. Here are our picks for the top CPO programs for 2021 in the luxury and non-luxury categories.

The Best Certified Pre-Owned Luxury Program of 2021: Lexus L/Certified

Once again, the Autotrader pick for the best CPO program among luxury brands in 2021, is Lexus L/Certified. Hitting all the high notes, the Lexus CPO program represents almost everything a CPO program should be. We say “almost” because it isn’t perfect. Read on.

There are other very good luxury CPO programs out there. Against Lexus, we carefully considered Acura, Maserati, Porsche, and Jaguar/Land Rover. But, at the end of the day, our pick was Lexus.

The key to the Lexus pick is the absence of a mileage cap for its added CPO warranty. Porsche and Maserati share this feature, but CPO Maserati models are few and far between. Although including cars up to 13 years old, Porsche’s CPO program has fewer added benefits. So, yes, the L/Certified unlimited mileage CPO warranty carried the day for Lexus.

What Are the Features of Lexus CPO?

To qualify for L/Certified, a Lexus car or SUV must be no more than six years old with no more than 70,000 miles on the odometer. Moreover, it must pass a 161-point inspection and have a clean vehicle-history report. When new, each Lexus vehicle comes with a 4-year or 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited new-car warranty. Powertrain coverage is included. Every CPO Lexus is covered by a factory-backed 2-year bumper-to-bumper limited warranty with unlimited miles. It kicks in after the original warranty expires, or on the CPO purchase date if the original warranty has already expired. There is no deductible for covered repairs.

Other L/Certified benefits include 24-hour roadside assistance, loaner car during covered repairs, and trip-interruption allowance providing reimbursement for meals, a rental car ($50 per day for up to five days), and lodging (up to $200 a night for up to three nights). Rounding out the perks is four scheduled-maintenance visits.

The one check in the negative column is the CPO coverage isn’t transferable to another owner. Otherwise, Lexus L/Certified leads the luxury field. Find a CPO Lexus for sale

The Best Certified Pre-Owned Non-Luxury Program of 2021: Kia Certified Pre-Owned

Kia got the nod from Autotrader editors this year as the top CPO program among non-luxury brands. After weighing all aspects of Kia’s Certified Pre-Owned program, it rose to the top of the heap.

It wasn’t an easy call. In many ways, Hyundai mirrors Kia’s CPO program. The devil is in the details, however. Both provide the same powertrain coverage. Hyundai doesn’t have any additional CPO bumper-to-bumper limited coverage beyond whatever might be left of the original 5-year or 60,000-mile new-car warranty. Kia’s bumper-to-bumper CPO coverage is 1-year or 12,000-miles from the CPO sale date. However, any coverage remaining on the original new-car warranty is lost. In the end, what put Kia over the top is it’s CPO coverage is transferable and Hyundai’s isn’t.

The other non-luxury CPO programs among the finalists were Buick, Mazda, and Toyota. None of those match Kia’s powertrain coverage.

What Are the Features of Kia CPO?

Most people attracted to certified pre-owned are interested in the extra warranty coverage. Kia (and Hyundai) stand out in this regard because when Kia accepts a used model as CPO, it re-instates its original 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty measured from the new-car purchase date. At best, competitors offer 7-year or 100,000-mile powertrain coverage. As already mentioned, Kia also backs its CPO vehicles with a 1-year or 12,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty. As do many non-luxury brands, Kia does require a $50 deductible for each covered repair. Coverage is transferable to another private owner for a $40 fee.

For Kia to accept one of its used cars or SUVs as CPO, it must be no more than five years old with fewer than 60,000 miles on the odometer. In addition to having a clean vehicle-history report, it must pass a 173-point inspection.

Kia sweetens the pot with benefits like 24-hour roadside assistance, $35 per day car-rental allowance for up to 10 days during covered repairs, limited trip-interruption reimbursement, and a free 90-day satellite-radio subscription. Find a CPO Kia for sale

Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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