Is Buying a Car at Car Max. Good Deal or Shady Business?
You see their advertisements all over the place. The ads claim that buying a car at CarMax is different than most used car dealers. The claim is a car must pass an extensive 125-point Certified Quality inspection before ever being put on a CarMax lot for sale. On top of that, they claim on their website that the car you purchase from them will be in top condition when you drive it off the lot. A lot of enticing words for people in the market for a low-mileage used car. But what is the reality of buying a car at CarMax?
Buying a Car at CarMax - Starting Online
Before embarking on our trek to living a semi-nomadic lifestyle, my wife and I knew we needed another vehicle. Our 2004 Chevy Malibu had seen it's better days. We also knew that our credit scores and work history might limit our options. Both my wife and I had filed and completed bankruptcies in the last seven years and we both have three years of working online. I decided we would try buying a car at Carmax, since they seemed to have the better finance options plus they would purchase our car regardless if we made a deal with them or not.
I found a PT Cruiser on their site that was at the CarMax closest to us. I did the research and even looked at the CarMax report on the vehicle. Looks like it was a repo. I filled out the small box to set it up for a test drive. One hour later, CarMax calls. Seems they need to do a credit check over the phone to ensure I qualify to buy a car. Figuring this was a good time to get the “sorry, we can't help you”, I answered the questions and hung up the phone expecting the bad news to follow. Surprisingly they called back letting us know we were approved and did not need a proof of income statement. Long story short, test drove the PT Cruiser and drove off the lot with it in less than three hours on a Sunday.
Buying a Car at CarMax - Problems With The Vehicle
A week after purchasing the PT Cruiser I noticed a couple of things. A slight ticking in the front wheels and the compressors were cycling on and off too quickly. My wife took the car to CarMax and they ended up putting her into a loaner. Turns out there was a broken engine mount and the compressors needed work. How a broken engine mount gets past a 125-point inspection is beyond me, but they were fixing the problem.
Three days later our PT Cruiser was ready. Picked it up and drove the car for another week. Honestly, we were in the process of getting ready for our trip. The Cruiser still had the ticking, but I would keep an ear out because we were going to stay with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law for a few days in town once we moved out of the apartment.
The following Saturday afternoon we had final get-together with family to say our goodbyes and leave the following Sunday morning. I went up to a convenience store and was stopped by an off-duty police officer who kindly informed me that the car had no brake lights or tailights. Great. Now for those of you who don't know, there is no fuse for the 2006 PT Cruiser taillights. Back to CarMax. Now understand at this time I'm a bit miffed. So knowing the service department was closed on a Sunday, I went to CarMax specifically to deal with a sales manager.
Spoke with a sales manager and explained my frustration. He understood and got me into a loaner as I filled out the service paperwork to drop off the keys. I included the info about the ticking that was still in the front end and getting worse. Monday morning I decided to drop by CarMax and see how things were going and what was found out. The Cruiser was in the parking lot. The service desk informed me that the car needed replacement bulbs and wouldn't be ready until after lunch. It's 11:00AM so I'm not going anywhere. I get a call at 12:30PM saying my car is ready. Funny, the car hasn't moved since I arrived. I didn't make a scene, simply signed the paperwork and drove off. However I only drove a few miles to listen for the ticking that evidently was never put on the work order. Yep, still there. Can you guess where I headed to next?
Back to CarMax I go with the PT Cruiser and an attitude like Jules from Pulp Fiction asking Bret what does Marcelos look like. Went to the front desk I simply asked for the store manager, the district manager and the service manager. I got a sales manager. We sat down, I explained the issue and also explained that this was not acceptable. He found the service manager and, along with the mechanic, drove the car to figure out the ticking. The mechanic indicates the car needs bushings and a front axle. Another loaner, and another day not getting on the road.
After fuming about this and not getting an answer the following morning about whether parts are in, I drove back up to CarMax. Only this time when I went to the front desk and the nice lady asked if she could help me, I gave her a long list of the people I needed to see. She seemed surprised. A salesman, trying to be diplomatic, asked if he could help me. Nope. The district manager and the service department head and I have a meeting in a room. I told them what was going on, and was quite nice about the situation. Bottom line, the people I have dealt with after buying a car at CarMax were polite and helpful. But out of the 10,000 cars they put through the 125-point inspection I get the one that slipped through the cracks. The DM asks what we should do. Simple answer is to fix the car or do another deal.
I like the Cruiser because it fits our needs. But I don't need the next major mechanical issue to happen when we are halfway across the country. The DM suggested that the axle and bushings be replaced followed by another extensive 125-point inspection. Upon the findings from the next inspection, we would make a decision of what to do to go forward.
The following day, I went back for the Cruiser. I watched the mechanic drive it into the parking lot. As he was braking, I noticed the left brake light was out. Not good. The service manager came out to tell me the car was good to go. I asked him to step behind it as I applied the brake. He just shook his head. At this point, I asked to speak with the DM again. The service manager came back and agreed that this Cruiser would end up in the shop again. He even admitted that CarMax had lost trust in this car.
Buying a Car at CarMax - Resolution After The Sale
So what did CarMax do at this juncture. What I expected was a runaround. What I expected was to be told they would work on it again. However, CarMax did more than I expected. They bought the Cruiser back, and I ended up driving off in a 2007 Chevy Trailblazer. They did another deal for me, and I ended up with a truck with less miles and a year younger than the Cruiser.
I had my doubts about the truck based on the experience with the Cruiser. But I am happy to say that we have driven from Richmond, Va to Oakland, CA. With absolutley no problems. The oil will need changing and the truck needs a routine service, but the vehicle runs well and I am very pleased with it.
Buying a Car at CarMax - Relationship After The Sale
CarMax did what other used car dealers would never do. They actually stand behind the cars and trucks they sell. Sometimes it feels like the left-hand has no idea what the right-hand is doing, but in the end they strive to please the customer at all costs. I dealt with over a dozen different individuals at the dealership and my wife communicated with their corporate offices in Richmond. Everyone we dealt with treated us with respect and did not attempt to downplay the situation.
You hear a lot about the unscrupulous ethics of used car dealers. Most of the horror stories you hear are true. I've dealt with several in the past. But buying a car at CarMax is not like any other used car dealer. Although we had a problem car in the beginning, CarMax strived to do the right thing for all parties.
I highly recommend buying a car at CarMax if you are in need of a reliable vehicle at a fair price. There is more to a sale than just the initial purchase. It is the service after the sale that impresses me. Although our circumstance was unfortunate, we drove away with a great deal and a great relationship with our dealership.