Buyers Guide - Certified Pre-Owned M-B Automobiles

Gary Anderson and Richard Simonds

__preowned_2_0.jpgNearly new models with Mercedes-Benz warranties can be very good values


CPOs: Certified Pre-Owned Cars
Nearly new models with Mercedes-Benz warranties can be very good values

Article Richard Simonds and Gary Anderson

Photography Gary Anderson 

Timeless design and excellent build quality are two areas where Mercedes-Benz cars excel. As a consequence, the average person on the street is often hard-pressed to tell the difference between a brand-new Benz and one that is older by as much as a decade. The owner, too, will feel just as comfortable in the cabin of that older car, with just as much confidence in the car’s reliability as he or she might have in a brand-new car of a different brand. So why would anyone consider buying a new Mercedes-Benz? There is, of course, the knowledge that the new car comes with a multi-year  warranty backed by the dealer and company, has all the very latest safety features, and affords the unquantifiable benefit of being the first in the neighborhood with the newest model of the marque.

But on the other hand, for the person who can give up some of those benefits, there is more than one way to enjoy the advantages of owning a Mercedes-Benz: Shop the lineup of cars outside the showroom in addition to looking at those inside, looking for the tag in the window that identifies the car as a Mercedes-Benz Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) automobile.

The CPO program in a nutshell

In preparation for this buyers guide, we took a trip to Smythe European, our local Mercedes-Benz dealer in San Jose, California, and carefully read the information posted at the website that describes the CPO program.

In brief, what we found were cars that were rarely more than three years old and could be as little as six months old, in exceptional condition, at prices markedly lower than their original sale prices. To even be considered for pre-owned certification, a vehicle must be no more than five years old and have accumulated no more than 75,000 miles.

Embodying nearly all of the safety features incorporated in recent years, these cars were carefully inspected by the dealer to assure that they were nearly as good as new, and then offered with a generous warranty in terms of time and mileage. In terms of value for money, the CPO program seems to be a great opportunity to own a current-era Mercedes-Benz car at a practical price.

Reasons to buy a CPO Mercedes-Benz

  • Nearly new condition at lower than new-price depreciation
  • Detailed inspection by dealer to determine the vehicle meets CPO standards
  • Carry-over of remainder of original 4-year, 50,000-mile warranty
  • Additional CPO warranty for one year from purchase, up to 100,000-mile total limit of accumulated miles, transferable to next owner
  • Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance Program, including trip interruption protection
  • Additional extended limited warranty coverage available at time of purchase
  • Purchased from and supported by a Mercedes-Benz dealership


Reasons not to buy a CPO Mercedes-Benz

  • Won’t be the newest Mercedes in the neighborhood
  • Won’t have latest safety features and recent technical upgrades
  • Could be more expensive than buying from a private owner


Where CPO cars come from

The cars that are offered as Certified Pre-Owned cars most likely have been in the Mercedes-Benz system since they were brand-new, generally as lease cars. Many new Mercedes-Benz cars are leased for business purposes, for example, by real estate agents to take clients on tours, or as perks for senior executives. Others are leased by owners who like getting a new car every few years and prefer the convenience of a lease to the uncertainties of trading-in and buying. Bound by the lease terms for maintenance and mileage limits, these cars are then are turned in to the dealer after the typical three-year term is finished.

Of course, there are always owners who decide within a few months or years that the particular model they purchased isn’t one that they really want, perhaps because their personal circumstances have changed, or just because they’ve fallen out of love with the exterior color or interior trim that they ordered when they bought the car new. At that point, the owner may either trade in that car for one they think they’ll like more, or offer the car to the dealer for purchase.

Either way, the car most likely has relatively limited mileage and has been carefully cared for by the owner, maintained according to guidelines recommended by Mercedes-Benz. Within this pool of cars can be found the best of the best previously owned cars.

What is required to be “Certified”

All automobile dealers deal in both new cars and used cars simply because the life span of the average car continues to increase, while new styling and safety features change every few years on every model.  This means that a specific car will first be sold new, and then will be traded in or resold to appear again on the market as a used car perhaps three or four times in its initial useful lifetime. However, even on the initial trade-in, the condition of specific cars will vary widely, from those that were driven carefully and maintained properly to those that have been the victims of careless drivers or unfortunate accidents.

For that reason, “used” cars are often approached with trepidation, even those that are shiny and clean and being sold on the front of a respected dealer’s lot. Even if they are dent-free, and clean inside and out, there is still some concern, and in fact it is true that most used cars sold by most dealers carry, at best, a 60-day warranty from the time the new customer drives the car off the lot.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s where the Mercedes-Benz “Certified Pre-Owned” program comes in. These cars are sold with CPO warranties that extend the existing new-car warranties at least a full year, or up to four years from initial “in-service” date, or up to 100,000 total miles, whichever comes first. The buyer also can purchase an additional extended warranty that adds up to two years, or up to 135,000 miles to the standard CPO warranty.

What’s the difference? As noted at the MBUSA website, to be offered as a CPO car, the individual example must have all of its original equipment, including such things as windshield glass (to ensure it was not in an accident during its ownership period).

More importantly, the car undergoes a 164-point inspection by one of the dealer’s certified technicians, starting with mileage verification, ownership history, all recall work performed, all scheduled maintenance completed, as well as an inspection of the engine compartment and components, electrical systems and functions, undercarriage and drive train, chassis and body – all to certify the vehicle. The inspection then includes a complete road test for driving and accessory functions, followed by a post-test of all interior component functions. Finally, the car is completely detailed to be sure that, in the words of the CPO page on the MBUSA website, it is a “clean-skinned beauty, as free of dings, dents, rips, scratches, and scuffs as the dealer can make it, with high-quality fit and finish, inside and out.”

It’s not surprising that the car must be exceptional to pass these tests. However, Gretchen Sprenger, sales manager of the Smythe dealership, says that she prefers to limit her inventory of used vehicles to those that can be certified. To her, even though running the car through the inspection and performing the necessary services costs more, it’s worth the price in terms of customer satisfaction. Those cars that her staff takes on trade-in that don’t meet the CPO standards for the most part are sold at wholesale dealer auctions, eventually to be sold on the lots of non-Mercedes-Benz dealers .

The range of cars available

On the day we visited our dealer, we found that the majority of current CPO cars on the lot had been produced in 2009 and 2010. The E350 sedans and ML350 medium-sized SUVs that were the best-selling models in the Mercedes lineup when new, and were the most often leased, represent the greatest numbers in the CPO lots, as we might expect.

Two of the vehicles on the lot – a 2012 GL550 and 2012 C250 – were very new and very low-mileage, perhaps cases of buyer regret  traded in because the customer decided the car was either too big or too small, and traded it for a Goldilocks just-right alternative.

2012 GL550 4Matic   White     6,373 miles   $82,975      

2012 C250 Black, Black MB-Tex  12,127 miles  $37,975      

At the other extreme, the oldest CPO car – a 2007 CL550 – also had clocked the most miles, 46,933. That makes one point: The limit of 100,000 accumulated miles on the extended warranty is not going to be an issue with any of these cars. Instead, it illustrates a common characteristic of most CPO cars: They were not used very much, with most being driven fewer than 10,000 miles each year.

2007 CL550                 46,933    $48,975        Titanium Grey, Cognac Leather

Another common characteristic was that most of the CPO cars were equipped with every available option – this often means a good quality car that’s only a few years old represents an excellent alternative to a brand-new version of the same car at the same price but without all the safety and convenience options. 

The bottom line

The conclusion to be drawn is straightforward: If you want the peace of mind of a dealer warranty and the benefit of all of the technology that has been introduced across the Mercedes-Benz lineup in recent years – but don’t want or need a brand-new car – a visit to the forecourt of your dealership may provide you with the vehicle of your dreams.

2009 CL550                 59,019    $52,975        Majestic Black, Black  Leather

2009 CLK350               39,898    $29,971        Arctic White, Stone Leather

2011 E350 BlueTEC    11,676    $50,975        Designo Blue, Beige Leather

2011 E350                    43,913    $37,975        Arctic White, Almond MB-Tex

2011 E350                    21,820    $46,975        Arctic White, Black MB-Tex

2011 E350                    28,159    $43,975        Black, Black MB-Te

2011 E350                    32,998    $43,975        Arctic White, Almond MB-Tex

2010 ML350 BlueTEC  36,982    $42,975        Graphite Black

2011 ML350 BlueTEC  21,074    $48,975        Silver