Should I Buy a Car From CarMax?

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Buying from CarMax might come with a higher price, but consumers praise the hassle-free experience.

If you’re in the market to buy a new car, shopping online can be beneficial since you’ll have access to view a wider range of options in less time. One of the most popular vehicle shopping sites is CarMax.

What is CarMax?

CarMax is a nationwide vehicle retailer selling only used cars. CarMax allows people to buy and sell cars online while also providing financing, recommendations on service providers, and more. Since the company’s inception, 9 million cars have been sold and 33 million cars have been appraised.

CarMax does have more than 220 physical locations in over 41 different states. Given their ‘no haggle’ pricing policy, the company seeks to give both buyers and sellers a more stress-free and easy experience overall. Over time, CarMax has expanded its services and offerings. For example, shoppers can now order their vehicle online and have it delivered to their homes.

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How Does CarMax Work?

CarMax offers three key services: Shop, Sell/Trade, and Finance. First, you use the CarMax website to browse vehicles of your choice and learn more about their features. You can also use the site to comparison shop and browse inventory at other CarMax locations in your area. Even though all the cars are used, you’ll still find newer models with 20,000 or 30,000 miles on the car.

CarMax provides a history report for each vehicle listed on this site. This can tell you things like how many owners there were, any reported accidents, and other important vehicle history details. CarMax has financing options and you can estimate how much your monthly payments will be. There’s a calculator on each vehicle’s description page that allows you to add:

  • Your down payment amount
  • Credit score range
  • Desired term length

This feature helps you determine which type of vehicle you can afford to finance based on your budget for a monthly payment. Get preapproved for financing online to save time if you have to visit a CarMax store.

Otherwise, you also have the option to order your car to be delivered to your home or a closer CarMax location. CarMax offers 24-hour test drives and has a 30-day free return policy (up to 1,500 miles) as well. This money back guarantee is not an option you’ll get at most car dealerships.

Since CarMax also buys vehicles, you can attempt to sell your existing car to them to lower your costs on a new vehicle. If you’re just looking to sell an extra car you have, CarMax may consider buying it as well. Just utilize the sell feature of the website to enter details about your vehicle and get a free quote offer. Or, schedule an in-personal appraisal for a vehicle you’re looking to sell. Either way, CarMax can give you money on the spot if they choose to buy your old car.

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Documents needed to buy a car

Buying a car with CarMax is a process that’s similar to buying a car at a dealer or another lot. You’ll still need to provide documents like your driver’s license, proof of insurance, proof of residence, and proof of income if you’re financing.

CarMax will give you a clear list of all the documents you’ll need to complete the sale. If you’re purchasing online, you can easily and securely upload these documents to streamline the process.

Fees overview

There are no fees for buying your car online from CarMax outside of the processing or dealer fee. This fee typically ranges from $100 to $400. On the bright side, if it’s easier to have the car delivered to your home, you can expect no extra charges.

However, if you choose a car that needs to be shipped to your local CarMax for pick-up, there will be a shipping fee that applies. This should be expected if you’re looking to buy a specific make or model. CarMax will likely have it, but it can be in another city or state. Any extra fees you’ll be expected to pay will be shown on the car’s details page. Also, shipping fees are considered outside the price of the vehicle and must be paid in advance.

CarMax does have a limited warranty and an optional MaxCare extended plan. The limited warranty is included in the sale price and covers the vehicle’s major systems including parts and labor for the first 90 days or 4,000 miles (whichever comes first). The MaxCare extended service plan is optional but costs an extra fee. The plans can be tailored to your budget and cover parts and systems for your vehicle for up to several years.

Finally, consider the state fees you may incur when you buy a new vehicle. This includes sales tax, registration fees, and title transfer fees.

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CarMax vs. Traditional Dealerships

CarMax is very different from a traditional car dealership. With both options, you can typically browse cars online, make inquiries, and get prequalified for a car loan. With a dealership, you’ll be met quickly by a salesperson who can help guide you through the process. Most dealerships have a finance manager who can run your credit and find you the best option for your auto loan.

With CarMax, the process is more laid back and there’s no pressure from the salesperson. The prices of the vehicles are fixed and there’s no room for negotiation. Also, CarMax provides online in-house financing which you can actually set up online.

There may be more flexibility in terms of getting the car you want to be transported to your nearest CarMax location. Whereas some dealerships, even the big names, might be owned by different people and you’d likely just be limited to selecting one of the vehicles that are available at the car lot.

If you’re in a hurry, you might find it quicker to use CarMax over a dealership. The overall process of buying a car at a dealership might not be as smooth since it may take time to find the car you like, haggle pricing or your monthly payment, and see what type of financing you’d get. Some people spend several hours at the dealership in order to get all their documents squared away. However, you would still have the chance to negotiate the price of your vehicle as well as a trade-in offer for your existing car.

Is CarMax Cheaper Than a Dealership?

Simply put, in most cases the CarMax price is not cheaper than a dealer. Their cars are well inspected but tend to cost more and the prices are firm. For example, a 2017 Ford Escape with 41,000 miles costs around $25,998. Meanwhile, a 2019 Ford Escape with 24,000 miles costs around $23,000 from a local dealer.

Some customers say CarMax is worth the extra cost due to the hassle-free experience, warranty options, and ability to let you test drive the car for a longer timeframe. CarMax sells mostly cars that were made within the past 10 years or so and you won’t find many options under $15,000 to $16,000. Most vehicles are around $18,000 and up. Ultimately, whether CarMax or a dealer is cheaper depends heavily on the car you’d like and pricing differences in your area.

Aside from the price of the car, you’ll also want to consider financing charges. While you get a low rate with CarMax if your credit is great, there are no options to refinance through CarMax. You can still refinance your auto loan through another lender to reduce your costs and CarMax will not charge a penalty if you pay the loan off early to switch lenders.

What rate can I get? What rate can I get?

Weigh Your Options

While CarMax is a great option for your next car, it doesn’t come without some drawbacks to consider as well. Here are some pros and cons of buying a car with CarMax

Pros

  • Access to national inventory
  • Certified pre-owned vehicles (free from flood damage or from being designated ‘salvaged’)
  • 24-hour test drives
  • 30-day return policy
  • Vehicle delivery options
  • Sell your car/trade-in options
  • In-house financing

Cons

  • Higher prices
  • No price negotiation
  • Potential additional shipping fee for delivery
  • Offers for trade-ins are lower than retail value
  • Most states’ lemon laws don’t apply to used vehicles

Should You Buy a Car From CarMax?

Car Shopping is not easy. Yet, CarMax seeks to make the car buying process simpler and less of a hassle. While their prices may not be the lowest, they provide access to a wide variety of used, but still new, vehicle options. It doesn’t hurt to use CarMax as a shopping tool and compare prices to other dealers in your area.

The fact that you can try the car for 30 days, or drive up to 1,500 miles, and get a full refund is also a great benefit. Ultimately, using CarMax for your next vehicle purchase comes down to whether or not you think the benefits outweigh the inability to negotiate the price.

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About The Author


Choncé Maddox

Choncé Maddox is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and personal finance freelance writer. Her work has been featured on LendingTree, CreditSesame, and Barclaycard. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Communications from Northern Illinois University and resides with her family in the Chicago area.


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