Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

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A Comprehensive Review of Stellantis’s Certified Pre-Owned Program

If you’re getting ready to visit a used car dealership in search of an affordable and reliable vehicle, it might help to understand the difference between a typical used car and a Certified Pre-Owned car. They’re starkly different in almost every way, most notably when it comes to warranties you will receive. Buying used is a gamble, especially if you’re buying from a private seller or choosing a vehicle with an unknown history. Luckily, you can hedge your bet by choosing a certified pre-owned (CPO) car that comes with a report card and additional assurances that it is in optimal mechanical and physical condition.

What exactly does it mean when a vehicle is certified? Certification refers to a rigorous factory-designed inspection and evaluation process designed to identify the highest quality used cars, trucks, and SUVs. Buying certified essentially eliminates the possibility of ending up with a lemon, an option that many buyers prefer over going it alone. It begs the question: why doesn’t every used car buyer choose a CPO vehicle? It’s complicated, but mostly these cars are priced higher, and there is less likelihood of having the price dropped down (a common occurrence in private sales). Factory CPO vehicles are only available at dealerships, so you won’t find them on a no-name used car lot or another third-party seller.

Buyers need to consider if they’re willing to pay a little more for ironclad peace of mind. That’s the bottom line. Here we review Stellantis’s Certified Pre-Owned program for Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram models, so you can weigh the pros and cons and decide if CPO is right for you. Stellantis encompasses Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and several import brands (and even brands that are not sold in the United States).

Qualification Standards

Before a used car is even considered for certification, it must meet a specific list of criteria set by the manufacturer. Every automaker designs its CPO program differently, but most of the initial screening criteria are quite similar. The certification process happens at the dealer level but is governed by standards originally set by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), now under the new corporation called Stellantis.

For Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram models, a CPO candidate must have fewer than 75,000 miles on the odometer. It must also be five model years or newer, possess a clean title, and have incurred no damage to the frame. Aftermarket accessories (consider Jeep models with light bars, push bars, etc.) are permissible but must not affect the operation of the vehicle or compromise safety or emissions in any way. It’s interesting to note that the age criteria is more stringent than that of a lot of other automakers. Let’s look at other American manufacturers for comparison. Chevrolet’s Certified Pre-Owned criteria states that a model can be 6 model years or newer, and Ford’s Blue Certified program stretches that age requirement to 10 years.

Subaru matches Stellantis’s 5 year or newer mandate but allows up to 80,000 miles on the odometer. Even luxury brands, like Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, are less stringent with either model year or mileage limits. By comparison with many factory CPO programs, Stellantis’s program is especially rigid. That high standard translates into a high-quality inventory of choices for discerning used car buyers to pick from.

A row of cars are shown from a low angle at a used car dealership.

125-Point Inspection: Mechanical Checks

Earning a certification isn’t supposed to be easy, so it’s not surprising that Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram CPO candidates are subjected to a rigorous and detailed inspection process. The term “125-point” refers to a literal list of 125 items that are subject to a microscopic evaluation during the certification process.

The first and most exhaustive category is Mechanical Standards, encompassing the following areas: pre-road test and underhood checks, operational checks, road test, steering performance, equipment operation, powertrain performance, braking performance, vehicle comfort, and a post-road test. It’s during the Mechanical Standards inspection that all vehicle systems are checked to ensure they’re in excellent working condition. These include features like the horn, all exterior lights, windshield wipers, and turn signals. All comfort features, like heated seats, are also tested. The road test determines overall performance quality, giving inspectors valuable feedback on the vehicle’s overall condition.

Next, 31 Maintenance Standards are reviewed and verified, including changing/checking engine oil, inspecting the air filter, checking tire health, and replacing or topping off fluids. All hoses and belts are inspected and tightened or replaced as needed, and the vehicle is tested to ensure it meets state and local emissions standards.

125-Point Inspection: Appearance and Cleanliness

Once inspectors verify the vehicle’s mechanical condition and sign off that all related systems are in working order, the focus turns to appearance. One of the biggest differences between used cars and CPO vehicles is their physical condition. CPO vehicles are nearly new, which means they look, smell, and feel like brand new cars. Some used cars show their age via cloudy headlight covers, a slightly “off” interior cabin smell, or otherwise present physical evidence of wear. Often the cloth surfaces, like floor mats and headliners, fare worse because they absorb odors and take a beating from normal day-to-day use.

Not only do CPO vehicles show less evidence of physical wear-and-tear, but they also undergo a thorough interior and exterior detailing. Before they reach the detailing stage, the condition is determined by inspecting the vehicle for a set of Appearance Standards. Every inch of the car is examined for outward signs of excess wear or damage that disqualify it for certification. Every body panel, bumper, wheel, and truck bed is scrutinized to ensure normal wear-and-tear. On the vehicle’s interior, careful attention is given to the instrument panel, seating, carpet and headliner, and cargo areas. Buyers find interior wear especially off-putting because no one wants to drive a car that feels like it belongs to someone else.

A blurry showroom shows used cars.

125-Point Inspection: Exterior and Interior Detailing

If the stringent Appearance Standards are met, then the vehicle is deemed to have successfully met the certification criteria. It then enters the final stage: detailing. The Detail Standards require dealers to perform ten specific deep cleaning tasks.

On the exterior, detailers remove debris – like dirt – then give the vehicle a thorough wash and wax. The engine compartment is deep cleaned, and any scratches or minor body damage are repaired and reconditioned. These include small door dings. The goal of this detailing process is to return the vehicle’s exterior appearance to like-new condition. The interior detailing process is equally comprehensive. It includes removing all odors, whether they originated from normal daily use, smokers, or moisture from undetected water leaks. Every surface is thoroughly disinfected and deep cleaned, including leather seating surfaces, in and around the consoles and cubbies, and all windows. The headliner, carpet, and floor mats – places where odors tend to settle – are also cleaned, shampooed (when necessary), and vacuumed.

Because of the factory’s thorough inspection and reconditioning process, these vehicles come with a confidence-inspiring 3-month/3,000-mile maximum care warranty that starts at the end of the factory new vehicle warranty (3/36). It’s a comprehensive warranty that covers over 5,000 of the most common vehicle components.

CPO vehicles also come with a 7-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. It covers the repair or replacement of the most expensive components, such as the engine and transmission. This warranty is upgradable to one of three plans: Powertrain Care, Added Care Plus, and Maximum Care. These extended warranty options offer additional coverage for added peace of mind.

The case for choosing a CPO vehicle is stacked with practical reasons that buyers should carefully consider. The alternative – the independent used car marketplace – is riskier. We’re not saying all used cars that don’t bear the CPO certification distinction are poor quality; what we’re saying is, when you buy a CPO car, you know exactly what you’re getting. The two questions you want to ask yourself are, am I willing to roll the dice when I buy my next car and is peace-of-mind worth paying a little more? We think the answer is no to the first question and yes to the second.

Bottom line: Take the Vegas-style gamble out of used car buying and opt for a Certified Pre-Owned car instead.