How Car Companies Inspect Vehicles for Certified Pre-Owned Programs

Christian Wardlaw | Feb 01, 2017

Purchasing a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle is a smart way to get a like-new car, truck, or SUV at a great price with a formidable warranty.

Those offered as a part of a CPO program through an auto manufacturer must meet minimum standards for age and condition, and must pass a rigorous inspection process designed to ensure that they are of the highest quality.

Inspection and certification processes vary between programs, but they all offer an extension of the original vehicle warranty and most include a vehicle history report, roadside assistance for a short term, and a limited subscription to satellite radio and subscription-based services at no additional cost to the new owner.

Some CPO programs allow buyers to exchange the vehicle for something else, within specific time and mileage restrictions.

What is inspected during the CPO process?

The number of items that dealership technicians will inspect prior to certifying a used car for a CPO program varies from automaker to automaker, but each company is focused on four primary areas of concern:

1) Records and Paperwork

Most vehicles considered for a CPO program are trade-in vehicles, off-lease vehicles, or "program" vehicles, a bucket that can, but does not always, include former rental cars.

Typically, any vehicle under consideration for certification first receives a background check. A vehicle history report and dealership maintenance records are consulted to determine whether a vehicle has been involved in a collision, suffered flood damage, was stolen and recovered, or was bought back from its original owner by the auto manufacturer.

After a vehicle passes this initial test it is ready for closer examination.

2) Mechanicals

A certified dealership mechanic will take the vehicle for a test drive to identify any potential mechanical problems.

Following the test drive, the mechanic will inspect the engine, transmission, suspension, steering, braking, and other components in order to determine whether the car requires re-tuning or repair. Depending on the findings and estimated cost to resolve any mechanical flaws, the car is accepted into or rejected from the CPO process.

Vehicles that continue on the path to certification are brought back up to "like new" condition using original-equipment parts. Fluids are commonly changed, the wheels are balanced, and the suspension is aligned so that the car drives as much like it did when new as is possible.

3) Systems

The certification process also inspects all vehicle systems, including the instrumentation, lighting, infotainment, climate, safety, and seating, in order to ensure that everything is in working order. Dealerships also ensure that the car is equipped with all of its original manuals and documentation, as well as both sets of keys.

4) Appearance

Interior and exterior assessments determine any cosmetic repairs necessary to bring the vehicle into near-new condition, and the car is professionally detailed prior to going on sale.

Rigorous inspection provides peace of mind

Programs vary from automaker to automaker, but all CPO inspection and certification processes are designed to ensure that these vehicles represent the best pre-owned cars, trucks, and SUVs that you can buy or lease. They might cost a bit more than a non-certified used vehicle, but the added expense pays for extra peace-of-mind.

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