CarMax Review: Do They Make it Easier to Buy a Car?

May 22, 2014

CarMax, a national chain of used-car dealerships, is growing rapidly — and for good reason. The company promises a no-pressure, low-stress buying experience. But does it deliver? We offer up a comprehensive CarMax review, so take a look.

How CarMax Changed the Car Sales Game

carmax-reviewsPeople used to dread buying used cars. They knew they’d have to deal with a pushy salesman who’d pressure them into paying too much for a vehicle with a host of hidden problems. CarMax was the first significant attempt to change the image of used car dealerships.

Electronics retailer Circuit City branched out into used car sales by opening the first CarMax in Richmond, Virginia, in 1993. The decision isn’t as odd as it sounds: Circuit City executives figured they could apply their retail strategy — wide selection, solid warranties and knowledgeable salespeople — to sell cars. Prices were non-negotiable, and sales staff’s commissions were based on the number of transactions, not the vehicle sticker price.

Although Circuit City no longer exists, CarMax thrived. The company has sold more than 4 million cars and operates more than 100 locations around the country.

Is CarMax Good & Why Should You Use It?

In our opinion, yes. So, why is CarMax good for the end user, you? Customers like CarMax because it makes the car-buying process easy. Begin by browsing cars online by make, model, features or even mpg. If you see one you like at a dealership in another city, you can request to have it transferred to the CarMax near you.

Then go for a test drive. If you like it, pay the sticker price — there’s no haggling. Every car goes through an extensive inspection process and includes a 30-day warranty (60 days in Connecticut, and 90 in Massachusetts and New York). Change your mind? CarMax offers a five-day money-back guarantee.

Another attractive feature for car buyers is CarMax’s offer to buy your old car, regardless of its age or condition. If it doesn’t meet the company’s quality standards for resale, it will be auctioned off to other dealers.

CarMax Pros and Cons

Here’s what we discovered from using CarMax ourselves and reading about other buyers’ experiences.

CarMax Pros:

  • You can browse almost every make and model. If you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, CarMax is a great place to test-drive different cars.
  • CarMax guarantees that its cars have never been designated salvaged or flood-damaged, which are two hazards of buying from a private seller or a less reputable dealer.
  • CarMax vehicles have that “new car” feel. The company thoroughly cleans and refurbishes its vehicles so they look good inside and out.

CarMax Cons:

  • CarMax prices aren’t as low as other dealers’. The Truth About Cars analyzed the sales prices of similar vehicles on eBay and CarMax and found that CarMax’s prices were consistently higher, often by a few thousand dollars. That’s because CarMax has more overhead, the site points out.
  • While selling your car to CarMax is easy, the company says clearly that they’ll buy it for less than retail value, because they have to inspect and resell it. You may want to get an offer from other dealers, or check the Kelley Blue Book value first.
  • You may have to pay a nonrefundable fee to transfer a vehicle you’re interested in from another CarMax location.

Who Gets the Most Benefit from CarMax?

CarMax’s biggest appeal is how simple it makes the used-car buying process. If you want a no-pressure, no-hassle and low-risk car-buying experience, CarMax can make that happen. However, if your primary goal is to get the best price on a used vehicle, and you enjoy the art of negotiation, you may be better off buying online from a dealer or a private seller.

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