The Post-MBA Guide to Buying a Used CPO Car

So you’ve earned your MBA and now it’s time to start working. Especially if you’re an international MBA, you probably don’t have a car and want to get good value for your dollar. After all, you need to look good, but you have to pay off your student loans too.

That’s what I’m here for: I’ll show you how to buy a certified pre-owned car and get the most bang for your buck.

Why Certified Pre-Owned (CPO)?

Manufacturer CPO vehicles are fairly new (within last 3-4 years) and in very good condition. Manufacturers will add additional warranty on top of what a car may currently have, and because of this, they are incentivized to carefully inspect a car before they certify it in order to end up profiting from the extra fee the customer is charged for this peace of mind. For you the customer, you want peace of mind because you’re going to be working so many hours in your new job, you don’t have time to be worrying if your car is going die out on you as you are stuck in rush hour traffic. Thus, unless you consider yourself a car expert who feels he can rate the internals of a car himself, CPO is a great way to go.

Sound good? Let’s get started.

For more about CPO programs and understanding which manufacturers offer good ones, see this article from Edmunds.

  1. Start with CarGurus. CarGurus can tell you how good the price of a car is relative to the area and similar vehicles. It’s a very good starting point for understanding whether something is a good deal. The only thing where it may lead you astray is if the listing on CarGurus is different from the official dealer listing – for example, CarGurus thinks there are a couple of options that are not in fact, in the car. Just double check. Also double check that the car is in fact manufacturer CPO – dealer listing is the official listing. A used BMW car cannot be sold by a Mazda dealer as CPO. It may be CPO by the individual dealer, but you only want manufacturer-CPO. A BMW manufacturer CPO means that warranty is covered by BMW as a whole and you can go to any BMW dealer for repairs.
  2. Here’s an example search I made for a friend who was looking for Mazda and Subaru crossovers. Here’s a starting link for you to enter in your own information. Remember to select “Dealer” as Seller Type and “Certified” under Condition. All cars that are filtered should be manufacturer-CPO.
  3. Before you begin, filter out (check the box) all the options under Photos in the left column. You do not want to see listings with frame damage or simply don’t have a photo.
  4. You want to focus on the Good and Great Deals. I pay attention to anything $1,500 below Market Value. Depending on urgency and how picky you are in terms of options, you may have to be more amenable to lesser deals.
  5. If you like what the car offers, call the dealer and book a time (ASAP) to see the car. Research the car in advance just so you know what you’re getting in terms of reliability, CPO terms, etc. A test drive really isn’t about seeing if you like the car – it’s pretty hard to judge a car on a 5 mile drive that you will probably drive conservatively. If you see a car you love and it’s a Great Deal, don’t waste time and put it off until a convenient time (weekend, holiday). Odds are it will sell quickly. There’s less dealer foot traffic in the middle of a week, so there’s an advantage.
  6. For the most part, don’t expect to really negotiate unless you have leverage (exact same car within 50 miles, similar miles and options). Most dealers now are on automated pricing in which they have enough inventory in enough areas to understand what they can sell at. The system regulates the pricing.
  7. If the car is listed as a Great Deal, it may already be under dealer cost, so no discount possible – also look up a car under NADAguides to better understand the value of a car. Another thing to look into is the Costco Auto Program. The program guarantees you an easy no-negotiation price for a new or used car. Costco will have partnerships with dealers in your local area. You may not get the absolute best price from Costco, but you will always get a very good price with no work or hassle – Costco is very emphatic about protecting its members from typical dealer BS.
  8. Do check out any student offers (usually a cash rebate from the car manufacturer, not the dealer – it does not affect dealer profits) for new graduates. This may be around $500-$750. You can see a rundown of discounts per manufacturer on CarsDirect.
  9. You’ll need insurance, a copy of your job offer (or pay stubs), and a copy of your MBA degree to finalize the purchase assuming you want financing and the student discount. For F1 Visa MBAs, some car financing units may to offer financing to F1 Visas – check in advance. Toyota does, BMW does not.
  10. You’re more than likely better off not buying any additional insurance / wheels / maintenance coverage. Those are always priced to be profitable (of course). You could negotiate it (there may be tips online) if you want to see how low they can go. Expect the car purchase to take 5 hours if everything goes smoothly – most of that is due to financing.

If you’re wondering, I followed these guidelines myself and purchased a 2013 BMW (F30) 328i sedan for $21,500 in the Spring.

My 2013 BMW 328i F30

More details:

  • Original MSRP: $42,000
  • Purchased with 25,000 miles, and with CPO Warranty, the car had warranty for nearly 3 more years or 75,000 miles at time of purchase. Free maintenance was active for an additional 10 months. For reference, a new BMW has a 4 year / 50,000 mile warranty.
  • $1,500 recent student graduate manufacturer rebate from BMW for CPO vehicles.
  • Price was listed at $22.9K. Before the student rebate, the car was shown as over $3,000 below market value, according to CarGurus.
  • Received 2% financing for 5 years, another BMW promotion.
  • No Costco discount – the salesman said, this is already below our dealer cost.
  • NADAguides listed the CPO pricing for a similar (mileage, condition, etc.) vehicle at $27,075, with the “Clean Trade-In” value, or what a dealer would pay if a customer traded in the car to buy another at, at $22,375. This latter value doesn’t include the cost for the dealer to actually inspect the vehicle, recondition any problem issues (for ex, my floor mats were replaced with new ones), and add warranty onto it.
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