A new way to sell your car

Technology has come to used car selling and buying. This may not be news to many of you, but it was to me when I recently accompanied my daughter on her quest to purchase a new car. Thanks to the internet, it was a lot easier, helped by the new car dealers’ websites that list their inventories online. Simply go on line to see what’s on the lots of the dealers you choose. No longer do you need to visit a bunch of dealers and meet with a salesperson at each one. What was once a couple of days of work can be condensed to an hour on line. We found many dealers to be low in inventory, but occasionaly found one with plenty of cars available.

After locating her car of choice, she met with the dealer to discuss the purchase and her trade-in, an 11-year old low-mileage BMW. The dealer offered $4000 compared to the Kelly Blue Book of $6000. When she declined the offer, the salesman suggested trying a nearby CarMax. I’ve seen CarMax facilities but never paid much attention. The experience was a revelation of how the company makes buying and selling used cars so different.

My daughter went to their website, typed in information about her car, including the VIN, and she quickly received an offer to purchase it for $6800. The offer was good for 7 days and subject to an inspection to verify the information she provided. We assumed that gave them an out, thinking she’d possibly end up with a lower price.

A couple of days later after taking delivery of her new car, she made an appointment with CarMax to move forward with the sale. CarMax is a huge complex, one of four in the San Diego area, about four or five times the size of a new car dealer. The main building has a huge room with a toteboard listing the upcoming appointments, much like Apple used to do in their stores. We arrived at our scheduled time and were sent to an associate at one of the 20 desks spaced around the room.

The very pleasant associate took the keys and gave them to an inspector to check out the car. About ten minutes later the associate got a report on her computer and said they wanted to change the purchase price to $7600, $1000 above the original offer! The offer was good for another five days. She was given a list of the papers she needed to provide, including evidence of ownership, ID, etc.

On our next visit, we provided the information and exchanged the keys for a check. There were no negotiations, no conditions, just a very simple sale.

The associate said the car would be sent to another location about 70 miles away because of the demand for that particular vehicle. Cars they acquire at one location can be sent anywhere around the country, depending on local demand. In fact, I saw several vehicle transport trucks at the dealer unloading and loading cars.

I’m assuming the purchasing experience for used cars is equally streamlined. If you want to buy a car on CarMax, you have access to its entire US inventory, which is said to be the largest selection in the country. If you choose a car that’s located at a distant location you pay a transportation fee to bring it to the local facility. Once you make a purchase you have the right to return it within 7 days. Used cars come with a 90 day warranty.

The company began as part of the electronics retailer, Circuit City, and was spun off in 2002. Circuit City is long gone, but CarMax is thriving. Most of the cars they sell are trade ins, allowing them to have a better than average inventory of used cars. The cars on this lot were mostly three years old or less, with a large inventory of Audis, Teslas, and BMWS. All were well detailed with non-negotiatiable prices clearly displayed. CarMax provides financing, repairs, and warranties for all their cars.

For my daughter, this was a much better way for her to sell her car compared with negotiating with a new car dealer who’s most likely going to send the car to an auction, and certainly better than trying to sell it herself. In effect, you’re selling your car to a company that has a very efficient way to resell it, minimizing the multiple markups when several companies touch your car. Anyone can check the value of their car by using their on-line estimator here.

To further streamline purchasing a car, CarMax recently acquired Edmunds, the company that rates and reviews cars. Now when you search for car reviews, you can read them and click to view CarMax’s inventory of that car.

by Phil Baker