When I upgraded my tiny green 2012 Mazda 2 hatchback to a larger Subaru Outback to accommodate my child and her immense amount of stuff, I decided to check out CarMax to sell my car rather than trade it in at the dealer.
I’d dealt with that whole trade-in thing before, and I honestly felt like I’d been screwed over when I saw my former car for sale for a whopping $5,000 more than the dealer had given me for it.
So off I trekked to CarMax, mostly just to see what they would offer me. Kelley Blue Book told me my car was worth anywhere from $6,000 as a trade-in to $8,000 via a private seller.
At CarMax, I was able to get $7,000 for my car, which I received immediately by check. I cashed the check and used it as part of the down-payment for my new, family-friendly car.
My personal experience with CarMax is fairly limited, though it’s good. I didn’t have to wait long, and I got what I thought was a fair price for my car. But the one thing I didn’t do — buy a car — is the main reason most people go to CarMax.
This nationwide retailer prides itself on its no-haggle pricing — a feature that’s very attractive if you’ve ever bought a car from a dealership, where haggling often comes with the territory.
I talked with two customers to get a feel for the buying side of the CarMax experience. Here’s what they had to say.
Susan Hickey, a physical therapist from Dayton, Ohio, had a great experience at CarMax and says she would definitely buy from them again.
“We found the exact car we were looking for online, and we definitely liked the no-haggle thing,” she says. “We walked in and told them what we wanted. Turns out they had the same model but with fewer miles at their store in northwest Indiana for the same price.” Hickey paid a fee of about $200 to have it delivered to a local CarMax.
It only took a couple of days for Hickey’s car to arrive. Her salesman at CarMax called to let her know it was there, and she went in to test drive it with her husband. It was exactly what they wanted, so they signed the paperwork right there and drove home in their new family vehicle.
“It was so easy,” she says. “There was no stress, no pressure to try to ‘beat the offer. I know that hasn’t been everyone’s experience, but I would definitely do it again.”
Just like any car dealership, CarMax has customers who had negative experiences during the car-buying process. One customer, Andréa Van Sickle, a work-from-home mom living in Dayton, told me her story, which was a stressful experience for her family from start to finish.
Van Sickle says she was at the end of her pregnancy and desperate. She and her husband needed a new car for their growing family, and CarMax seemed like the best place to find what they were looking for. However, Van Sickle felt the salesman used their desperation to sell them an overpriced car that ended up having multiple issues.
“There were red flags with the car that we overlooked because of the stress in our lives at that time,” says Van Sickle. “We had issues right away with the car that they ‘fixed,’ or told us wasn’t a concern.”
One of these issues was a revving sound when the car went downhill, which CarMax claimed they didn’t hear and therefore couldn’t fix. Another issue was that the seat belts wouldn’t retract. CarMax claimed to have fixed it but Van Sickle still has issues with the driver seat belt, which gets stuck in the door frequently.
“When we bought it in again later they told us it was our responsibility, even though we had the coverage plan with them,” she says. “Since then, we have had nonstop issues with the sensors in the car as well as recurring issues with the catalytic converter. In hindsight, I should have taken it back for a refund within the first 30 days when the minor symptoms first presented themselves.”
“I love the car, when it works,” says Van Sickle. “But we definitely feel like we were taken for a ride. What we owe now on the car is way more than what it would ever sell for.”
Even though Van Sickle’s experience was a negative one, she won’t rule out shopping at CarMax again.
“I would just be more vigilant about making sure the car is in good shape by getting a third party to evaluate its condition within the first 30 days and knowing the value of the car I’m looking to purchase before agreeing on a price,” she says.
It Comes Down to Your Local CarMax
CarMax has 191 stores located across the U.S., according to its website. As with any dealership, your experience will likely depend on the sales representatives at your local store.
Before you commit to buy, read some reviews online of your nearest CarMax to see if they are overwhelmingly positive or negative.
Even if your local store comes recommended by most reviewers, you should follow your gut when it comes to whether you want to buy there or not. Shop various used cars at local dealerships as well to see if CarMax truly has the best deal.
When you test drive a car, use your own judgment to determine whether you trust the salesperson or not. You are completely within your rights to ask for a different salesperson if the one you meet gives you a bad feeling.
At the end of the day, when it comes to buying a used car, CarMax might be the best choice for many drivers. With so many stores, you’re likely to find what you want even if it’s located elsewhere, and you can easily get the car shipped to your local store, though you might have to pay an additional fee.
But as with any transaction, you could have a negative experience. If this is the case, ask to speak with the manager at your store and relay your concerns to see what can be done.
Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a stressful experience, whether you choose to buy at CarMax or elsewhere. Before deciding on a dealership, shop around to find the best deal, and don’t be afraid to walk away if necessary.
Catherine Hiles is a writer and editor living in Dayton, Ohio. Although she has never bought at CarMax, it remains a possibility should she ever need to replace her beloved Subaru.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.