Car Buying

Is a CPO Warranty Worth It on a Reliable Car?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2015

Most drivers interested in a used car are at least a little anxious about reliability. After all, used cars have by definition seen prior use -- and that means they may not be quite as long-lasting as a brand-new model where you put on every mile yourself. The solution to this anxiety is a certified pre-owned (CPO) program, which offers manufacturer-backed warranties on used vehicles. But should you spring for a certified pre-owned warranty on a reliable car? We have some thoughts on the topic.

It Depends on the Car and the Warranty

Not surprisingly, our answer to this question is "it depends." That's because there are many of variables in play here, like the type of vehicle, the age of the vehicle, the vehicle's mileage and the warranty coverage.

As an example: a 2-year-old certified pre-owned Acura will offer 5 years of CPO coverage, which is an impressive amount -- and possibly worth the warranty's extra cost. But a 5-year-old Acura will only have 2 years of coverage. Is that worth the extra cost? To us, it probably isn't -- so we might skip the certified pre-owned warranty on an older model unless it's available at only a slight price premium.

But it's the opposite situation over at Lexus. Lexus's certified pre-owned warranty lasts for 3 years from the date of the CPO purchase -- and that means it's a much better buy on older models (which are likely more prone to breaking) than it is on newer ones, since you'll only get 3 years of coverage either way.

Is the Peace of Mind Worth It?

The biggest variable, however, is exactly how much extra you'll have to spend in order to get a certified pre-owned warranty. If you can find a reliable model that offers a certified pre-owned warranty for just a slight price increase over a non-CPO car, we'd be inclined to do it. But if the price increase is too great, we'd walk away.

For example: say you find a noncertified 2012 Honda Accord for $24,000, and a relatively similar certified model for $24,500. We'd probably pay the extra $500 for that peace of mind. But if the prices were more like $24,000 and $27,000, we might have trouble justifying the extra $3,000 on a car as dependable as the Accord.

With that said, a driver who has suffered an engine failure or a transmission failure might feel differently. So while we'd suggest walking away from a CPO car with a high price premium over a standard model, the real answer to this question is this: whether or not you should get a certified pre-owned warranty on a reliable car depends on exactly how much you value peace of mind.

If you trust that the car won't break, don't pay anything extra for the warranty. But if you want to drive along knowing you're covered in case of any issues, no matter how unlikely, then you might find that a CPO car is worth a few hundred dollars -- or a few thousand dollars -- more than a traditional used model.

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.
Is a CPO Warranty Worth It on a Reliable Car? - Autotrader