Car Buying

CPO Buying Tips: Do Your Own Inspection, and Make Sure the Dealer Fixes Everything

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author photo by James Riswick July 2016

Buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) car can remove a lot of the anxiety and headaches associated with buying a used car. Each manufacturer's certified program includes a multipoint inspection and some amount of extra warranty coverage, along with occasional extra perks such as satellite-radio trials or dealer loaner cars. Though you definitely pay extra for certified pre-owned versus a nonmanufacturer-certified used car, you should not only be gaining peace of mind but a better, closer-to-new vehicle, as well.

Indeed, certain dealers do such a great job of reconditioning their CPO cars that it can be tough to tell the difference between used and new. Sure, the new-car smell might have worn off a bit, but the leather is in great condition, the steering wheel isn't grimy, and the wheels aren't blighted with road rash. Plus, considering that certified cars tend to be from more recent model years, there's a good chance the differences between it and a new car are minimal.

However, there's no guarantee that a CPO car will be perfect. Far from it -- it's still a used car with miles on the odometer and any number of things that might have happened along the way. To expect perfection is to be inevitably disappointed, so lowered expectations are certainly in order -- like buying any used car, you still need to be diligent.

What Should You Do?

First, make sure to go over the inspection list to see that everything was indeed inspected and any problem areas were addressed. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Next, do your own thorough inspection of the car. No, we don't expect you to take apart the transmission or measure how thick the remaining brake pads are, but look over the exterior and interior with fine-tooth-comb attention. Pretend you're a judge at a car show: Look for scrapes, dings and curbed wheels. Press all the buttons inside, move the seats, pull out the cargo cover, and make sure the floor mats are there or that the navigation disc or SD card is present (if applicable). Go for a test drive, and be hypersensitive to any creaks, groans or anything generally amiss. And again, don't be afraid to ask questions.

Then What?

Then, ask the dealer to fix anything that's wrong or doesn't seem right. If they won't, you can always walk away. However, whether it falls under the CPO program guidelines or simply a good-faith business practice, the dealer should be keen to take care of most issues.

For instance, while recently buying a certified pre-owned Audi, we came across a 2013 Audi allroad in seemingly excellent condition. It definitely did not seem like it had 35,000 miles on the clock. However, when we looked closer, we noticed a scraped fender flare, a misaligned taillight, a creaking panoramic sunroof and a paint blemish on the hood.

Did we walk away? Nope. While the blemish was an example of an inevitable used-car imperfection, we pointed the rest out to the dealer, who was more than happy to correct them. They even graciously had us come back after the sale was final to fix the taillight at a time of greater convenience. There was a clear desire to make us happy and to sell a CPO car that really was as close to perfection as possible -- even though they were making less money as a result.

Now, whether such missed issues are the result of them not being part of the certification inspection, an honest oversight or purposely looking the other way to save money, your own diligence is the answer. That applies when buying any used car, but at least with CPO vehicles, all the complicated things you couldn't possibly eyeball yourself are addressed without the need of finding a third-party mechanic. Plus, that extra warranty means that, if anything's missed or simply goes wrong, you should be covered.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
CPO Buying Tips: Do Your Own Inspection, and Make Sure the Dealer Fixes Everything - Autotrader