Consumer Reports: Used car or certified pre-owned?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There is no question that buying a certified pre-owned car 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 certified pre-owned car really worth it? In a partnership with Consumer Reports, 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney has the answers.

So, you are in the market to buy a car, but a new one is out of the question. You will 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.

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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," Jon Linkov, Consumer Reports Auto Editor.

What about non-certified used cars? Easier on your wallet, a regular used car can cost you a lot less than the certified pre-owned 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.

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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 SaferCar 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 will 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.

Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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