Consumer Reports: Buying certified pre-owned cars vs used cars

There's no question that buying a certified pre-owned car - or CPO - comes with certain benefits.

It's also true that a CPO vehicle may be less of a headache than a used car with a mysterious past. But is paying a premium for a CPO car really worth it? Consumer Reports has answers.

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. Consumers are really paying a premium for peace of mind-which may not be necessary," said Consumer Reports Auto Editor Jon Linkov.

Enter non-certified used cars. 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. Here's how:

"First, find a trusted mechanic who can inspect the car for any hidden damages, or repairs that may be necessary," said Linkov.

Next, use Consumer Reports' list for the most reliable used cars. Search the car's vehicle identification number - or VIN - online to check if any revealing information pops up. You can also enter the VIN at to check for open recalls and although no guarantee, AutoCheck or Carfax can be helpful tools to check for past accidents.

This approach could save you money, and be all the certification you'll need.

These are all helpful tools but Consumer Reports says a clean history report does not necessarily mean the vehicle has never been in an accident.

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