In the past, buying a used car was like a grab bag, you were not sure if you were getting something decent or just junk. Nowadays, you can find and purchase a used car with a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program, which offers you the benefits of a new car at a used-car price. Providing a CPO on used cars is one of the auto industry's hottest trends. It was created in the 1980s by Mercedes-Benz to insure consumers that the used cars in their lots were well-seasoned and durable. It is now available from most automakers.

The used car industry has soared with the use of the Internet. The use of the Internet also allows you to shop for a car you need now, or to browse websites sporadically to find a certain type of used car.

According to Autodata, Ford and Lincoln-Mercury had 15,740 certified sales in May 2006, up 19 percent from May 2005. Chrysler / Dodge / Jeep had 10,176 certified sales in May 2006, up 28.2 percent from May 2005. GM sold 38,471 Certified Used Vehicles in May 2006, up 15 percent from May 2005.

As cited in the July 1-14, 2006, issue of Auto Remaking magazine, Paul Pejza, manager of GM Certified Used Vehicles said, "Virtually all other major manufacturer-certified programs saw year-to-year increases in their certified sales in May , up 11% from May 2005. " Pejza continued, "Essentially, everyone's an online customer today. In fact, research by AutoTrader.com shows that certified searches this year are up more than 50% of the same period in 2005. The consumer now expects to see certified used vehicles with photos and details on price, color, and options, much like when they physically walk a dealer's lot. "

Mike Dennis, manager of sales, planning, and distribution for Ford, said, "We have our own http://www.fordcpo.com site, and we are please with the traffic. program and will also link them to dealer inventory. " He goes on to state, "We encourage dealers to post their cars and trucks on sites like Auto.Trader.com. More and more consumers are turning to Web-based sites to start their CPO shopping."

IntelliChoice researches each automaker's CPO program and rates them based on comprehensive warranty, inspection, title verification, financing, roadside assistance, and return policy. For 2005, in the luxury car category, Jaguar had the best overall CPO program. In the non-luxury category, Volkswagen had the best overall CPO program, followed by Honda, Mazda, Chrysler / Dodge / Jeep, then Ford and Mercury.

CPO is not backed by any legal standards in the auto industry. Each dealer or automaker has a different set of criteria for inspection and protection. As stated on Consumer Reports.org, for a vehicle to be certified, it must meet certain mileage and condition requirements, typically no more than five years old with less than 60-70,000 miles. They must also pass a checklist inspection – scratches, brake and tire wear, engine and transmission problems, etc.

Some certification programs are not offered by manufacturers but by the dealerships themselves. Dealer-certification programs are common for used-cars not affiliated with an automaker. In fact, you can find a multi-brand dealership with manufacturer certification on some vehicles and independent certification on other vehicles.

Keep in mind, however, that certification is not free. According to CNW Marketing Research, when a dealer certifies a vehicle, he pays the manufacturer a fee between $ 100 to over $ 1,500, whereas, factory certification adds $ 500 to $ 3,500 to the price of the vehicle. However, for the consumer, the added amount is well worth the price for an extended warranty or money-back guarantee.