By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
When it comes time to buy a car, consumers basically have two choices: new or used. Buying new will cost you, but you'll get all the latest bells and whistles, a comprehensive manufacturer warranty and the peace of mind that you're not purchasing a vehicle that has been put through the wringer. Go the used route, and you typically get more for your money. However, you never know if you'll get a peach or a lemon — or do you?
There's a relatively new type of used car on the market that offers the advantages of buying both new and used. That is, you get more for every dollar spent, as well as the solace of knowing that the vehicle's health and well-being is guaranteed by the vehicle's manufacturer or an independent agency. It goes by many names, but is most commonly known as certified pre-owned (CPO).
To qualify as CPO, a vehicle must be inspected, refurbished to "almost new" condition and certified as such by the vehicle's manufacturer or an independent certifying authority. This helps to almost eliminate the chance of a consumer getting a lemon. Furthermore, CPOs typically come with some type of factory-backed warranty and financing, just like a new car.
There are variations regarding what is termed certified pre-owned, however, so it's important to note the distinctions. Manufacturer (or "factory") CPO vehicles are sold only at authorized dealers. The cars are generally five years old or newer and have fewer than 80,000 miles, and they often cost more than vehicles certified by independent authorities. Independently certified CPOs can represent good value, especially since independent authorities may hold a vehicle to a higher standard than a manufacturer. Independents include brands such as the National Vehicle Certification Program, CarMark and others. Finally, there are dealer-certified vehicles. These generally have not been inspected by anyone outside the dealership, but do typically carry a warranty or extended service contract to provide some protection to the consumer.
While we aren't fans of the dealer-CPO vehicle programs, we do think the others, in general, take much of the worry out of buying used, and the value proposition of CPO cars has garnered consumer interest in this tough economy.
"Across almost every major [manufacturer], new car behaviors have trended downward, used has gone downward and, for the most part, CPO has trended up," says Steve Gallagher, marketing manager for Toyota's CPO program. Gallagher also notes that May was Toyota's best-ever CPO sales month and that the company is on track for its best CPO year ever.
Be careful, though. CPO certification adds, on average, $1,300 to the price of a used car, and it can go as high as $2,000. In today's strong used-car market, that can bring the price of a CPO car close to the price of a new car, and that's before manufacturer incentives. Many manufacturers offer more favorable financing rates, though, so buyers can save money that way.
Take a look at the 10 best-selling CPO vehicles through the first six months of 2010. We examine what makes them hot sellers and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Sales numbers are up to date through June 2010. Data provided by the individual manufacturers and compiled by MSN.
10. Lexus RX
Roughly half of all luxury cars are leased, so it is important for the manufacturers to have effective CPO programs to keep the sales flowing once the cars come off lease. One of the hottest CPO vehicles is the Lexus RX. Though it's a highly desirable crossover as a new vehicle, premium pricing puts it out of reach for many consumers. A lightly used CPO version is the next best thing. However, CPO prices aren't that low, as the RX's residual value is among the best in the industry. RX buyers get a vehicle with easy ingress/egress, a luxurious interior, plenty of room for five, useful cargo space and a glass-smooth ride. They can also go green by opting for a hybrid.
Minivans are the ultimate in practical transportation. They offer room for up to eight people, and all passengers can get to their seats easily thanks to sliding side doors and thoughtful seat arrangements. But minivans can also be expensive, especially if they are loaded with the entertainment features families desire. The Honda Odyssey is no exception, with starting prices as high as $40,000 for a brand-new, loaded EX-L. But it's a roomy, comfortable minivan that handles well. The Odyssey also gets a powerful engine, useful interior storage and the benefits of Honda's reputation for reliability and high resale values.
8. BMW 5-Series
Luxury automakers tend to put more backing into their CPO programs, hoping to turn CPO buyers into new-car buyers. BMW's CPO program adds a 2-year/50,000-mile warranty at the end of the original 4-year/50,000-mile warranty, and includes two years of BMW Roadside Assistance, a comprehensive inspection and a CarFax vehicle history report. The BMW 5-Series' mix of usable space and on-road dynamics makes it tempting for families who want precision German engineering. It is the most fun-to-drive car of its size, and the BMW roundel badge is a desired status symbol.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a model of luxury and sophistication. Though it isn't Mercedes' most affordable car, it's the company's best CPO seller. "We like to say the E-Class is the heart and soul of the Mercedes brand," says Rob Moran, manager of product and technology public relations for Mercedes-Benz USA. "It really does offer a compelling balance of quality, value, safety and exclusivity." The Mercedes CPO program consists of a 162-point inspection (including a road test), a 12-month extension on the original factory warranty and roadside assistance for the life of the vehicle. Customers can also extend their warranties by 12 or 24 months, but the warranty can never exceed seven years or 100,000 miles.
Toyota's sparkling reputation for quality and reliability has taken a series of heavy blows in the last few months, but the company's CPO program is still one of the strongest in the industry. The program includes a 160-point inspection, a CarFax report, a 3-month/3,000-mile comprehensive warranty, a 7-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, roadside assistance and new-car financing rates. The vehicles are also required to have less than 85,000 miles. The Toyota Corolla is a no-frills car that doesn't quite have the sporty character of the Mazda3 or the engineering precision of a Honda Civic. It does, however, have a reputation as a reliable, safe and affordable means of getting from point A to point B. Add the backing of a CPO program, and the Corolla becomes a very attractive second car for the family, or a starter car for younger buyers.
Though the Chevrolet Impala sells fairly well to the masses, it makes this list due to large-volume fleet sales. Many of those cars are used for only a few years and then go into Chevy's CPO program. Compared with the other vehicles on this list, the Impala isn't as modern. Its architecture dates back into the late 1980s. The last redesign was in 2005, and even that didn't mark much of a change from the previous generation. Still, the Impala has lots of interior space, a large trunk and some good-looking variants. Chevrolet's CPO program includes the remainder of the original warranty, a 12-month/12,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 117-point inspection, a vehicle history report, three months of OnStar and XM radio, and special financing rates.
4. Honda Civic
Given Toyota's recent troubles, Honda has the best reputation for quality and reliability in the industry. Civic buyers will find more than they expect in a small car. It offers lots of usable room for the size, a fun-to-drive character and a level of engineering quality that is matched by few in its class. Plus, the Civic, perhaps more than any other car, holds its resale value well. That means CPO prices may be high, but you should do well when it comes time to sell. Be sure to check the price of your targeted CPO vehicle against a new one, though. A hot CPO seller could cost as much as a new car. Honda's CPO program includes a 150-point inspection by a dealer technician, a CarFax report, a 12-month/12,000-mile extension on the original warranty and special financing offers.
3. Toyota Camry
It's no surprise the Toyota Camry is on this list. It has been the best-selling car in the US. for the last several years, so there are plenty of used cars eligible for the program. The Camry is practically a luxury car in midsize sedan guise. It features a plush ride and interior trim and amenities that make for a very comfortable environment.
2. BMW 3-Series
The new BMW 3-Series is one of the best-handling, most driver-oriented vehicles on the market, but it is priced out of reach for many of us. However, a 2- or 3-year-old 3-Series with between 6,000 and 60,000 miles on the odometer and similar looks and handling can be had for thousands less. Buyers can opt for a coupe, convertible, wagon or sedan — all of which feature driving dynamics that are the envy of the industry. Be thrifty with equipment and watch pricing, though, because the 3-Series holds its value well and can be slathered with expensive options.
1. Honda Accord
Like the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord has been among the top sellers for many years. The Accord is a well-engineered car. It's larger inside and out than any of its competitors yet weighs less than all of them, which gives it fine handling characteristics and impressive fuel economy. Both of its engines are quite capable, and the interior environment is modern but inviting. The Accord is a reliable car that delivers great value for the dollar, but be careful how much you pay. The Accord holds a high resale value, so it will cost you more up front but will bring more when it's time to sell.
List of Resources:
Bell, Kirk “Top 10 Certified Preowned Vehicles” MSN Autos
9 August 2010