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The ABC's of CPO's:
A Used Car Buyers' Guide To Certified Pre-Owned

If you're shopping for a used car you've probably heard the word "certified." The number of certified used cars has grown since their introduction approximately 10 years ago. Unfortunately, most of us don't know what certified pre-owned should mean and, even worse, it doesn't always mean the same thing.

While all certification programs are different, the basic idea behind them is simple. A manufacturer or dealer puts vehicles that qualify through a fairly rigorous and thorough inspection process, add things like extended warranties, maybe offer special financing terms and other perks and sell them with many of the same benefits associated with buying a new car.

Buying certified pre-owned vehicles is a smart move for many used car buyers. You get lots of features you might only get with a new car. Better still, you can get more car for your money – Certified vehicles cost less than their new car counterparts.

But all certification programs are not created equal. To help you sort out the best from the worthless, used car experts offer the following advice:

Certified by whom? Make sure you know who sets the standards for the certification program and who makes certain they're being enforced. Look for a manufacturer backed program – The best people to certify a car are the ones who built it. Unscrupulous sellers often claim a car is certified but the certification isn't worth the paper on which it's printed.

Do your homework. You still have to pick the right car for you. Check used car price guides, research the makes and models that make sense for your driving needs – Long commutes, taking kids to soccer, teenager's first car. Also, check safety and reliability ratings published on used car websites and prices from your whole area.

How was the car certified? At a minimum a car should have a detailed mechanical inspection and a CARFAX vehicle history report. Ask to see the results of both. The car may be certified, but you're the one who's going to be driving it.

What does it get you? The certified used car you're buying probably comes with an extended warranty. Make sure you know exactly what this covers and for how long. You can always add additional coverage through an extended warranty for a little more money.

Ask for more! Don't forget – You're the one buying the car. If you want roadside assistance, options added to the car, free oil changes or anything else don't be afraid to ask. You can ask for anything before you buy.