Certified Pre-Owned vehicles vs used -- what's the real difference?

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So you’re in the market to buy a car but a new one is out of the question. 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, 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 but consumers are really paying a premium for peace of mind, which may not be necessary.

Non-certified used cars are generally 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 says 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.

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

You should also enter the VIN at to check for open recalls. And while they're no guarantee, AutoCheck and Carfax can be helpful tools to check for past accidents, the sales history, and potential insurance red flags. This approach could save you money, and be all the certification you’ll need.

Before you buy any used car, always pay to have it fully inspected by an experienced, reputable and independent technician. Even with a CPO vehicle, you'd be surprised how a pre-sale inspection can reveal things you need to know, including some that might even help you negotiate a better deal.

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