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How to buy a certified preowned car in 6 steps

Take advantage of a warranty without the hefty price tag of a new car.

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Unlike traditional used cars, certified preowned (CPO) cars are only available at authorized dealerships and come with a thorough inspection and manufacturer’s warranty. If you’re looking to invest in your next car but want to avoid the depreciation associated with a new vehicle, buying a CPO car might be for you. Follow these steps to get started:

1. Research CPO prices

Certified preowned vehicles tend to be more expensive than traditional used cars because of their warranty. When you’re comparing options, check prices on Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and the National Automobile Dealers Association. This can guide you in negotiations at the dealership and help you spot good deals — or overpriced offers that aren’t worth pursuing.

2. Check dealership and manufacturer inventories

Manufacturers that offer CPO programs typically have a dedicated page on their website where you can search for cars by model and year in your area. If you don’t find anything you like, check local dealerships — although your options may be slightly more limited.

Once you visit a lot, have the salesperson verify that the car is involved in a CPO program before you start the purchase process.

3. Read the CPO warranty

No CPO warranty is exactly the same, so check your manufacturer’s website to see what it covers and how long the warranty lasts. Manufacturers may set a CPO warranty based on when you buy the car, while others will allow you to take over the original warranty and extend it for one or two years.

You’ll also want to make sure you understand how coverage works. Some may cover a limited number of components, while others may extend coverage to the powertrain and protect against corrosion.

4. Take a test-drive and visually inspect the car

Like with buying any car, you should take it for a spin before you sign any paperwork. There’s wear and tear no matter how well-maintained the vehicle is, so consider both minor dents and scratches as well as any larger issues you see. A car’s condition can vary widely between manufacturers and even between two of the same model.

5. Request previous inspections and vehicle history reports

Fortunately, you won’t need to take the car in for an inspection with a mechanic since the dealership or manufacturer will have already done this for you. Ask to see the mechanic’s report, which will outline what’s been inspected and the condition most parts are in — and if anything has been replaced.

Similarly, you should also request the vehicle history report if it isn’t supplied automatically. Make sure it’s up to date and take note of any previous damage — it could affect what you might have to repair in the future.

6. Negotiate and purchase the car

The sticker price of your car isn’t final. When you’re ready to make your purchase, don’t forget to negotiate based on the price you want to pay overall, not just the monthly payment. Have the average price of the model on hand so you can use it as leverage for a good deal, and look into how much other dealerships are charging to back up what you’re willing to pay.

Avoid common sales tactics that attempt to get you on the hook for products you don’t need. GAP insurance or an extended warranty can seem like a good deal at the time, but weigh the benefits with how much it’ll cost you to ensure it’s worth it. Read through your contract carefully before signing to make sure the salesperson didn’t try to slip in any of these extra products without you noticing.

Compare car loans from popular lenders

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
Carvana
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300
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SuperMoney Auto Purchase Loans Marketplace
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CarsDirect auto loans
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Save time and effort with this lending service specializing in beginner-friendly or subprime car loan.
Auto Credit Express Car Loans
300
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Monevo Auto Loans
500
3.99% to 35.99%
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LightStream Auto Loans
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LendingTree
Good to excellent credit
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Bottom line

Buying a certified preowned car can be the smart compromise between new and used. Doing some research before you hit the dealership can arm you with the information you need to negotiate a good sticker price. And as with all cars, don’t just settle for dealership financing — compare your car loan options from outside lenders first to ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.

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