HARP, an Early, More Hands-On Version of CPO

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

It’s easy to think that certified pre-owned, CPO, programs that sell used cars that meet manufacturers’ standards for quality, are a fairly modern development in the car biz, but car companies have been helping their dealers sell ‘approved’ used cars for generations. Chevrolet had its “OK” used car program. Ironically, that branding apparently had its origins in the marketing of 1918 era American Motors (unrelated to the company of the same name formed by the merger of Hudson and Nash), which Louis Chevrolet helped found after he parted ways with Billy Durant and the Chevrolet company. Louis Chevrolet would hand sign the dashboard of each American Six with the rhyming “O.K. Chevrolet”.

While at the new National Hudson Motor Car Museum that’s now part of the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, I noticed a poster from Hudson’s H.A.R.P. program. HARP stood for “Hudson Approved Reconditioning Procedure”. I doubt that any current automaker today would use the word “reconditioning”, particularly luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, which popularized and heavily promotes its CPO program. Consumers in the 1950s were a bit more forgiving, more likely to accept the fact that at 50,000 miles or more many cars would need some kind of overhaul or major reconditioning. Note how #7 on the HARP list is “Perform minor mechanical adjustments and repairs. Major overhaul if necessary.” If you note, it wasn’t the only “if necessary” on the list.

You may also notice that the Chevrolet O.K. ad from the 1950s says that those cars have been “reconditioned” for safety, performance and value. Back then consumers needed assurance that necessary repairs and reconditioning had been done. Today’s CPO programs are more likely to give the impression that those cars are so lightly used and so well treated that repairs and reconditioning aren’t needed to ensure that they are nearly new in condition and performance. They’d never give even the impression, let alone put it in writing, that their cars sometimes need “major” overhauls.

For the most part, that’s probably true. People today will spend $6,000 on a used Toyota with 150,000 miles on the odometer. That kind of long term, high mileage durability was almost unheard of in the 1950s. Automatic transmissions lasted 50,000 miles and at 100,000 miles most engines were tired and in need of rebuilding. It’s likely that the average used car buyer needed greater assurances of reliability back then than the potential buyer of a low mileage E Class needs today. I could be wrong but Hudson’s HARP seems to have meant actually going over the cars and making necessary repairs. Today’s CPO programs seem to me to be more like hand-holding than reconditioning.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Shaker Shaker on Sep 29, 2014

    It seems logical that you should buy a CPO vehicle from a dealer that sells that model new; at least any repairs should be done correctly, and since the car doesn't have to be sent to a third-party, maybe the savings will be applied to giving the vehicle a closer look.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Sep 29, 2014

    How does one "regroove" a tire?

    • See 3 previous
    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Sep 29, 2014

      @-Nate Thanks, sounds pretty labor intensive. I would think better in the long run to make a new tire than bother with all that. Of course that must not have been the case back in the day.

  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.
  • MaintenanceCosts This is delaying an oil change for my Highlander by a couple of weeks, as it prevented me from getting an appointment before a business trip out of town. Oh well, much worse things have happened.I also just got a dealership oil change for my BMW (thanks, loss-leader prepaid plans!) and this didn't seem to affect them at all.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Gonna need more EV fuel.