Will Carmax save my sanity or make it worse?
January 23, 2013 2:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm approaching the dreaded moment that I need to buy a new (used) car. I hate the idea of negotiating with a salesperson. I love the idea of no-haggle. But I also hate the idea of getting a lemon. I've read loads of reviews of Carmax online, but they're so mixed, I don't know what to think. Can you offer insight?

I can't tell from reviews online if only the negative ones are getting posted, and the positive experiences are simply unsung, or if Carmax is really as bad as a Google search would suggest. I bought my last car in a no-haggle purchase from Enterprise, which was quite positive, but I like the variety I can choose from with Carmax as opposed to rental services.

Does anyone have any insight as to how reliable their cars are, how effective their inspections, and whether they differ in quality significantly from location to location? Where do their cars come from? Are used cars at dealerships likely to be more reliable in quality - and therefore make it worth the hassle of dealing with a salesperson? I don't mind paying a little more to avoid the sales negotiation, but not if there's a 50/50 chance of mechanical problems. I'd likely be purchasing from a Carmax in Ohio if it matters.

posted by Ms. Toad to Shopping (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I bought my car from Carmax 10 years ago and it still runs great. Overall it was a pleasant experience, and I liked not having to haggle. It was quick and painless. Not sure if I lucked out, but I would buy another car from them.
posted by chevyvan at 3:01 PM on January 23, 2013

That is a company that I'd stay away from if possible. They tried to scam me on a trade by miscalculating the mileage portion of the car's value. When I pointed out the problem, they said "Not a lot of women notice that." Yeah, but this daughter of a vintage car restorer DID notice.

It's possible that my one bad experience is not representative of this company. However, businesses who are scammers are scammers - on both the buy and sell side of transactions.
posted by 26.2 at 3:03 PM on January 23, 2013

Used cars at name brand dealerships will be generally reliable as they tend to skim off the best cars at the auctions, leaving the junk for Al's Used Car Emporium. Any used car dealer, Carmax included, should let you borrow the car for 24 hours. Take it to a mechanic you trust and ask for a pre-purchase inspection. My regular mechanic didn't even charge me for it last time I bought a used car. Negotiate a price pending a clean inspection from your mechanic first. Then if your mechanic finds anything that will need immediate attention either negotiate it off the final price or make the dealer fix it for you.

I wasn't impressed with Carmax. I found their prices to be 20% higher than they should be. But then, I'm in sales all day so haggling doesn't bother me at all.
posted by COD at 3:07 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was selling, not buying, but the Carmax dealership in OH that I tried to deal with was pushy and unhelpful enough on the phone that I didn't even bother driving in for an appraisal.
posted by Metasyntactic at 3:14 PM on January 23, 2013

My recent experience was that haggling wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be. I first made sure that the vehicle I wanted and was going to look at was already listed at a reasonable price, and it was (at a big name brand dealership).

I discussed the price for about 5 minutes with the salesman. Basically I just threw out an offer that was about 10% below the price they were asking. He just straight up said no to that and that they didn't really haggle more than a hundred or two off the price as their policy. But then he said he was willing to increase the price they were offering me on the trade in of my old car. So for 5 minutes of my time I got a net of about $700 off an already reasonable price (all things considered, since they were already offering what I thought was a fair price for my trade-in, too). The salesman was nice about the whole thing and it was painless.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:19 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a good experience with CarMax. I'm not knowledgable about cars, and I appreciated that the salesperson that I worked with was a super friendly, non-pushy, non-condescending lady. Selling my old car and buying the new car was seamless and easy.

The only thing that was a bit weird-- they don't work on commission, except that I think they get a flat fee for each car they sell. When I called to inquire about a specific car, the guy I talked to offered to "start the paperwork" so that the car would be held for me. I agreed to this, but then the sales lady I ended up working with griped that he got the flat fee and not her. Not my problem, but beware-- they are a bit territorial about who gets each customer.

You probably do pay a bit more overall, but for me it was worth it for the money-back guarantee and the non-smarmy atmosphere. Knock on wood, my car is still running well after three years, no major issues.
posted by bonheur at 3:27 PM on January 23, 2013

I had a good experience dealing with CarMax. I really like their online payment system (if you use their financing).

All you're really going to get from folks are anecdotes here, and reviews online range from super positive to super negative because only the really passionate people will post a review online. But, this is Ask, and I'll give you my review:

"Meh, they were pretty good. Easy, quick, got the car I wanted, and I haven't had any problems with it since purchasing it about 2.5 years ago in Brookfield, WI. I've driven it to and from Texas at least 3 times, and it is fine. I didn't get a lemon. I probably overpaid in the end. Who cares. Another 2.5 years and the car is mine, and I plan on driving it until the wheels fall off."

They do have a 3-day return policy, so if you really get a lemon, it would probably fall apart in those 3 days. bring it back, no questions asked. That is a nice selling point.
posted by King Bee at 3:33 PM on January 23, 2013

//They do have a 3-day return policy//

So you can take the car to a mechanic for a once over, and if he finds anything serious, you can take it back. However, I'm pretty sure they don't give you your money back. You'll have to pick another car from CarMax.
posted by COD at 3:36 PM on January 23, 2013

I wouldn't trust a car from anybody, really. Take it to a mechanic for a once-over before you buy. I don't think Carmax is exempt from this, although the no-haggle stuff should make your life easier.
posted by zug at 3:50 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

The do give you your money back and/or cancel the loan if you take advantage of the immediate return policy. I've never used it, but I've bought three cars at Carmax and I've read the paperwork pretty carefully.

Which, yeah, I've bought three cars at Carmax and have no complaints. I'd do it again in a second. This last time, I called ahead, said "is the green Sky still on the lot?" They said yes, I walked in and bought it. Totally hassle-free, and I have no complaints about the price they gave me for either of the cars I sold to them.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:15 PM on January 23, 2013

They do give you your money back. I got a VW Golf from them that died three times in two days. They took it back, no questions asked and I went right over to the Honda dealer and bought a Civic. So, YMMV. Literally.
posted by youcancallmeal at 5:52 PM on January 23, 2013

Took a friend to sell her car at a Carmax last weekend (Columbus, Ohio) and the impression I got was fairly positive: people were helpful without being pushy. Sales prices seemed a bit high, and the offer they made for my friend's car seemed a bit low, but I think that goes with the "no hassle" sales model.

I bought a car last summer, and ended up going with a certified used car via a dealership; we have a good warranty and a decent price (and have had a fantastic experience with the service department for the two times we have needed to use it). Depending on the make/model you are looking for, I would definitely look into this, as it may provide you with enough long-term assurance that you are getting a decent car to balance out having to haggle for the cost.
posted by 1367 at 7:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

They seem high priced for what they offer, compare.
posted by irish01 at 7:19 PM on January 23, 2013

They probably are a little higher priced, but I was ok with that because I treated it like I was paying for the convenience of not having to haggle and having a wide selection of cars. Mr. Bibbit and I had very different ideas about what cars we wanted, and it was so much easier to go to Carmax and try out six very different cars at one time than trying to track them down at different dealerships. We ended up settling on a very specific car that we actually had to have shipped in from Colorado because it was the only one Carmax had in stock - but the fact that we could do it (for a fee...) meant we ended up with a car we were both happy with. So those might be some things to consider.
posted by bibbit at 8:27 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Would definitely use again. In September, I brought in a 14 year-old clunker to sell. By the end of the day, I had sold that car plus our other family car, and bought a late model, low mileage luxury car. I got an excellent price for the trade-ins, a good price for the new car (which I love with all my heart), and most importantly, I got the same level of excellent service with the original transaction (selling the clunker) that I did with the larger transactions. After a thorough review of the new car, my mechanic gave his full approval, and figures it will last me approximately forever and a day.
posted by spinturtle at 10:22 PM on January 23, 2013

I had a good experience with Carmax. Then again, I didn't have the luxury of time to shop around, so possibly I could have saved a little money by doing the legwork. As it was, I got a perfectly decent car in like an hour for maaaaybe a higher than norm price.
posted by (F)utility at 10:54 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I bought my last car at Carmax because I got tired of having to play the negotiation game that you have to play at other dealerships.

As far as the price goes, in the end I wound up going with Carmax for the financing but I talked to the loan officer at my credit union the next day (to let her know I wasn't going to be using them) and she said that the price I paid for the car was "reasonable."

I'm sure I could have paid a somewhat lower price if I was willing to threaten to walk out a few times and argue over fees, but in all honesty the price difference was worth it for the convenience of being able to essentially buy a car the same way I would buy an appliance or computer.

I used to do almost all of my car repairs myself and the car was in excellent shape by my own experience. I used the three-day return period to have the car looked over by a mechanic I trust and he concurred with my opinion.

Overall, I would probably go with them again when/if I'm buying another car.
posted by Gev at 5:08 AM on January 24, 2013

I've had good experiences with Carmax (I've gotten two cars from them, one in Georgia about 15 years ago and the other in Virginia 3 weeks ago). The no-haggle thing is a godsend for me personally, and the car that I got was actually priced just under the KBB value. What they offered for my trade in was a little less than expected, but the convenience was worth it for me. The sales people I dealt with were not pushy at all and were very pleasant to work with.

My recent experience was really great, actually. I had gone on a long trip over Christmas and come to the realization that my old car was not cutting it any more. My mom let me drive her car while I was home, and I really liked it, so I figured I'd do a quick search on Carmax and see how much they ran. To my surprise, they happened to have the exact car I wanted (even the color I wanted) with low mileage, at a Carmax a few hours from my home, and I could do a free transfer to another Carmax that's much closer. I set up the transfer online, on Christmas day, figuring that I wouldn't hear back until the following day. But no, they called within a few hours to get everything set up - they just took my name and address and said they would contact me when the car had arrived. The car had some really minor cosmetic blemishes but is in good shape otherwise. I feel like I got a reasonable deal on the car I was looking for, and the whole experience was about as hassle-free as car-buying gets. Obviously, a lot of finding the car itself was luck, but I was very pleased with the service.
posted by ashirys at 7:42 AM on January 24, 2013

A place like Carmax is appealing, because it is a "brand", a chain, and so you feel that there must be some confidence you can place in it. Like the people who walk past a neighborhood bagel place (which sells great bagels) to get to the chain version (which sells mediocre bagels), because it is a successful chain restaurant, a known quantity, and so there's no danger of getting a terrible bagel.

Except, it is totally possible to get a terrible bagel, because people ultimately run the place, and the very actions they take to homogenize the product across franchises not only reduces the likelihood of a terrible bagel, but also maximizes resistance against ever getting a great one.

Carmax, then, is similar: you will pay too much for a car that is mediocre, average, and may actually be quite terrible...and you will pay that extra amount because you feel the chain nature of it, the "brand", affords some kind of protection from getting ripped off. But it does not, not any more than a legitimate used car dealer of any other type does with similar contracts and business practices.

At the end of the day, then, I'd sell a car to Carmax -- and have more than once, for expediency -- but I wouldn't buy one there. I also wouldn't buy one from a rental lot, though, because those cars are often abused. So what to do?

1. Talk to friends and relatives to find a reputable mechanic who can do an independent inspection of the car for a fee you are comfortable with;
2. Talk to friends and relatives to find a reputable used car dealer from whom they've bought a car in the past and been satisfied (even if that's Carmax or a rental lot);
3. Find a car in one of those places that you like and can afford, take it to the mechanic, get it inspected, and based on the results you can haggle downward more effectively or pass on the car.

Oh, and remember: used car prices are flexible in most locations, but Carmax is (theoretically) not. A $14,000 Carmax car and a $14,000 other-used-car-lot car are not the same, because the latter is actually an $11,000-12,000 car.
posted by davejay at 8:07 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

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