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The (Important) Difference Between Used Cars and Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles

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2018 Buick Regal TourX steering wheel and dashboard as displayed at the Chicago Auto Show
In the driver’s seat of the now-discontinued 2018 Buick Regal TourX

To some car buyers, all used cars are the same. Once a single owner has driven a car, it’s no longer brand-new. For these shoppers, “Certified Pre-Owned” is just a fancy term for “used car.”

But, that’s not true. The designation of CPO isn’t just fancy-schmancy semantics to make a used car sound more appealing. There is actually an important difference between used and certified pre-owned vehicles!

Shopping for a Used Car? Don’t miss these important tips!

Understanding CPO vs. used cars

A CPO vehicle is a type of used vehicle. Both designations affirm that the vehicle has been previously owned by someone. But, a CPO vehicle must pass a rigorous series of standards and tests performed by the original manufacturer. If the vehicle passes these tests and meets these standards, it will earn the certification.

In other words, all certified pre-owned cars are used cars, but not all used cars are CPO.

Each automaker has its own standards for assigning CPO status to its used models. For instance, a company like General Motors can require the vehicle to be less than six years from its original model year, have less than 75,000 miles on the odometer, and pass a 172-point inspection.

Therefore, a CPO vehicle is technically a used vehicle, but it’s received a special designation for its age and condition.

Does that mean all regular, non-CPO used cars don’t meet the same standards of quality? Certainly not! Not every used-car seller has the authorization to grant CPO certifications. A Nissan dealership can sell a Chevy car that’s in great condition but they didn’t have the authority to bestow Chevy’s CPO certification. The same goes for any high-grade models sold by a used-car dealership.

So, don’t assume that just because a used car for sale isn’t CPO-certified means it doesn’t measure up to CPO quality standards; the seller simply may not have been authorized to certify its condition. That’s why it’s important that you as the potential buyer carefully inspect the vehicle’s condition, age, ownership history, and maintenance records yourself.