Like New Vs. Not New: Certified Pre-Owned Cars Vs. Used Cars

If you're searching for a used car, you know you have a choice between certified pre-owned (CPO) cars and plain used cars. One option is to get a regular used car from a dealership that also sells certified pre-owned and new cars. It sounds at first like there's no real difference between CPO cars and regular used cars from a dealership, especially if all the cars in question are from the same make (e.g., a Nissan dealer selling CPO Nissans and used Nissans). Some important differences exist, however, and while both options can be good choices, you should know what you're getting before setting down money.


Certified pre-owned cars are usually limited to those that are just a few years old, usually no more than five years old. This means the cars often carry hefty price tags that, while not as high as you'd find for new cars, can still require a few years of payments to pay off. It also means that if newer models of cars have features you don't want, like keyless entry, it's more likely the certified pre-owned cars will have those features, too. Of course, that varies by car manufacturer, so you still may be able to find CPO cars that don't have those unwanted features if you're willing to look at other makes.

Plain used cars, however, can be of any age. Keep in mind that many popular year-models don't always show up as used, though, because their owners want to keep the cars running instead of trading them in or selling them -- the used cars that you do find may tend to be year-models that weren't so tough or that weren't as well-liked. But you'll find a wider variety of features if you look at regular used cars simply because the pool of models is more diverse.

Amount of Work

Certified pre-owned cars are supposed to be fixed up and inspected to the point where they're like new. However, there's nothing to prevent plain used cars from being fixed up to the point where they run like new. Plus, as with any car, there's the chance of a certified car simply being a lemon -- the rest of the cars at the dealership could be great, and just this one happens to have a lot of hidden issues that weren't evident when the car was being certified.

Given that plain used cars are usually much cheaper than CPO cars, you may want to look very closely at plain used cars if you're on a tight budget. As with any used car, get a good third-party mechanic to look at the car before you buy it; you may find some gems.

Warranty Length

Warranties are also a feature that can vary by dealership, but in general, a CPO car is going to have a more thorough warranty. A plain used car may have a very short warranty of only a few months, or a limited warranty that covers only part of the car. CPO warranties are much more extensive, often being slightly shorter versions of the warranties you find on new cars. But again, that affects the price of the car, too. Those limited-warranty cars tend to have very low prices compared to CPOs, and if the dealership offers additional warranties that you can buy, you might be able to get a great warranty for a price that is still much lower than that of a CPO car.

If you want to know more about how a dealership treats its CPO cars versus its plain used cars, talk to the dealership and compare the warranties offered, ask about extended warranties, ask about the services and repair work done on each type of car, and see what models the dealer offers. Dealerships like Western Avenue Nissan are very aware that if they can get you a good deal on a good used car, they'll be able to add you as a loyal customer.