Your guide to knowing what car to buy: Used or certified pre-owned?

Dave Kunz Image
Monday, June 18, 2018
What to know before buying a used or certified pre-owned car
Here's what to look for when you're in the market of deciding between buying a certified pre-owned vehicle or a used one.

If you're in the market to buy a car, but a new one is out of the questions, you'll have to choose between a certified pre-owned vehicle or a used one.

The difference?

Manufacturers offer CPO vehicles as more affordable alternatives to new models. They usually have lower mileage and fewer defects or needed repairs than a typical used car.

Protected by a manufacturer's extended warranty, they go through inspections and history checks for potential repairs before they can be certified.

Some also offer roadside assistance, free satellite radio and discounted finance rates on loans.

"These are all great benefits. Consumers are really paying a premium for peace of mind, which may not be necessary," said Jon Linkov of Consumer Reports.

Enter non-certified used cars. They are easier on your wallet. A regular used car can cost you a lot less than its CPO equivalent.

And with a little more legwork on your part, Consumer Reports said it could end up being a better value.

"First, find a trusted mechanic who can inspect the car for any hidden damages or repairs that may be necessary," Linkov said.

Next, use Consumer Reports' list for the most reliable used cars. Search the car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, online to check if any revealing information pops up.

You can also enter the VIN at to check for open recalls, and although no guarantee, AutoCheck or Carfax can be helpful tools to check for past accidents.

This approach could save you money and be all the certification you'll need.

Consumer Reports has one more piece of advice. They say just because a car has a so-called clean history, that doesn't necessarily mean it was never in an accident.