CarMax vs Dealer – Insider buying tips


CarMax is the largest independent automotive used car dealer in the US, with more than 200 countrywide and a large inventory to choose from. Over 18,000 franchised car dealers in the US sold more than 17 million vehicles per annum before the 2020 pandemic. Buying or selling a pre-owned car can be a daunting task and best done with specialists like CarMax.

CarMax offers a user-friendly online platform and mobile application focused on helping you buy or sell a used car with minimum hassle. New car franchise dealers are far more numerous throughout the country and their focus is often on new car sales as opposed to used car sales.

Most new car sales involve a trade also known as part-exchange, which the car salesperson must negotiate in order to get the deal to work for both parties.

As main dealers are under new car sales targets they are often forced to accept trades that are not in good resale condition. CarMax on the other hand focuses on buying desirable models to give them an optimal range of popular brands and models. Let’s look at what will make the best sense for you when buying or selling a used car.

Car Lot

Buying Or Selling A Used Car – Carmax Or Dealers

Carmax vs Dealership Infographic

CarMax will give you online visibility of their entire stock in the US on their website or a mobile application. The ease with which you can search for a car to suit your needs allows you to do all your research in the comfort of your home.

Using the budget calculator on CarMax.com, you can indicate how much money you have for a down payment and how much you can afford to repay monthly. You will also be asked to show your FICO credit score, and the algorithm in CarMax will present you with a range of potential vehicles to buy.

A test drive may be arranged via the online portal on the vehicles in which you are interested. CarMax does not haggle about prices. Their inventory is priced to sell cars with a fast turnaround at prices that are $1000 to $2000 above average retail. The advantage is that you can test drive the car before committing to the purchase.

Once you have taken ownership, you have a 30-day or 1,500-mile money-back guarantee if you are unsatisfied with the vehicle. All major components of the car are covered by a 90 day or 4,000-mile warranty.

Selling your used car to CarMax is equally hassle-free. You will need to enter your current car’s license plate or vehicle identification number (VIN) along with where you are based on your ZIP code. You will receive a written offer that is valid for seven days. If you decide to accept their offer, they will arrange for a final assessment and settlement.

CarMax is adamant that they will honor their online offer, and the offer will not change even if you take the car to them for assessment. Car Dealers are not as agile or hassle-free with their used car buying or selling process. The car dealer focuses on selling new vehicles, and they will often sell their trade-in vehicles in lots to used car wholesalers.

If you have the time and the patience to work with a car dealer, you are likely to get a better price for your used car when trading in or buying for a better price than what would be the case at CarMax.

The convenience offered by CarMax is why they can charge a little more for their cars.

Dealing with a car dealership allows you to compare a new car against its preowned stock. Dealers often have great deals on demonstration models that they sell before the mileage gets too high.

There are 18,000 car dealers versus just 200 CarMax outlets, the dealers will offer a massive stock to choose from, but will require an extensive search. CarMax on the other hand makes choosing a model easy as they’re all on one site.

What Do Customers Say About CarMax

CarMax car lot

CarMax does not earn glowing reviews on consumeraffairs.com or trustpilot.com from customers who have had an experience doing business with them. Being the biggest used car dealer in the US does not automatically equate to being the best. Other used car-focused organizations that customers highly rate are Kelley Blue Book and Carvana.

In a customer satisfaction survey conducted by trustpilot.com, CarMax has rated a paltry 1.8 stars out of five, and 69% of the 146 respondents rated them as a one-star (Bad). A similar survey conducted by consumeraffairs.com rated CarMax at 3.4 stars out of five. Four and five-star ratings were more numerous in this survey conducted amongst 358 respondents.

The well-known YouTube used car expert, Scotty Kilmer, has a subscriber base of 4.7 million, and his video warning his subscribers against the pitfalls of dealing with CarMax has been viewed over 900,000 times. Beware of falling for the convenience of doing business with CarMax.

Car dealers will be more transparent and have their reputations on the line. You will have more recourse if dissatisfied with the customer experience at a car dealer. If you have the patience to do business with the car dealers, you may be getting a better deal.

Insider Buying Tips

Having worked in the motor industry for twenty-five years, I know the pressure sales teams are under to move metal. Some sales staff are on a small base salary and rely heavily on sales commission to fill their monthly pay packet.

Therein lies an opportunity for car buyers. Here is a list of some of the best times to go car shopping, this is insider info, so don’t tell anybody!

  • Towards the end of the month
  • Towards the end of the quarter
  • Towards the end of the year
  • When a new model is announced
  • During heavy snowstorms
  • Ask main dealers about demonstarator cars for sale
  • Check out car rental companies for ex fleet sales

If you lack the confidence to haggle with a dealer, or you’re daunted by the whole prospect of part exchanging your old car, you are not on your own.

Spend some time researching online, speaking to friends, family, and work colleagues that have experience. Ask strangers in a parking lot about their car and where they bought it, people are great, most are delighted to give you their opinion.

Above all know exactly what you want and what you are prepared to pay, some car dealers may exploit the uninformed to maximize profits.

Before deciding on a dealer, look at several online car forums sites, evaluate what their previous customers have experienced. CarMax seems to have some delighted customers, but they also have some negative feedback.

Use online platforms like Kelly Blue Book or Carvana when conducting your online research.

You may find the following posts helpful:

Are Carvana prices good?

Are cars cheaper in Texas?

Are Avis good cars to buy?

Do car dealers make money on financing?

Why are Hertz cars so cheap?

Do dealers change the oil before selling?

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty-five years, and I've worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Landrover, and Jaguar dealerships. My passion is cars. I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of car ownership, including buying advice, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

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