The car buying process sucks

Thought I was going to buy a minivan today, but things got a little weird …

We’ve been looking at minivans in anticipation of my folks visiting (plus we’re camping, so we need more room for the full family). We thought we were going to get a Mazda MPV. We’ve test driven them twice, thought the dealership (Lee Johnson Mazda) was reasonable, and spent time searching for the right combination options. On Sunday, I talked to the salesman on the phone and we identified one that they could “trade” with and agree to a specific price above invoice. I had the expectation of going in, negotiating my trade-in, and driving home with the new car.

The commute to Kirkland wasn’t as bad as I had expected and I get to the dealership by 6:30. We’re sitting in his office as he’s thumbing through his notes essentially going over the stuff we already did on the phone. It’s apparent that he doesn’t remember me, nor did he get the specific minivan that I wanted. I express annoyance at having my time wasted and he says they could get the car delivered tomorrow. Thinking I might be able to salvage the evening, I suggest that we go ahead and appraise my trade-in.

I spent a lot of time online trying to get comparables online. Kelly Blue Book has ranges from $2,000 to $3,500, depending on lots of interpretive things on condition. There’s even one in the paper for $6,500. That’s a pretty wide swatch, so I don’t want to say anything, hoping that it’d be closer to the upper band.

The dealer wants to see the registration, takes down some notes, does a quick walkaround, and says it’ll take about ten minutes. I go outside and play with my PDA, look through work notes, count cars, etc. He comes out again and asks how I plan to pay for it. It’s a strange question, but I say “cash.” He has a strange look, then goes back inside. (At this point, I think the answer should have been “I don’t know,” which would have triggered a request to do a credit report, blah.)

I hear the car start up — it’s got a very distinctive sound — and assume that there’s some kind of driving inspection for general mechanical. You know, does the engine run, does the AC blow cold air, etc.

Ten more minutes pass and I’ve mastered “Dope Wars” on the Palm. He asks me to come in and asks starts asking me how much the trade-in is going to affect the deal. He claims the car is worth $0 because of various scratches and dings, but they’ll give me $300 for it.

I understand they want to make money, but this is ridiculously low. So, I
I ask for my key back. He goes to the opposite end of the showroom for the key. As we’re walking outside, he says “geez, someone’s looking at that minivan you want” and “let’s talk to Dennis” (who I assume is the appraiser) “to see if there’s any leeway.” He disappears again.

I’m weirded out by not seeing the car anywhere. Five minutes pass, no Dennis, no salesman. I start walking around the lot. No car, but I have the key…

By now it’s 8:00. I haven’t eaten since noon and am feeling grumpy. It definitely feels like they’re playing games: good cop versus bad cop, lowball, and hide the car. I am seeing snippets of the William Macy scene in Fargo. Finally I wander around in back where they do service (as a logical place) and start doing wider arcs. I pass an industrial-sized garbage bin and there’s the car, parked in a way that you wouldn’t see it unless you were deliberately looking for it. This pisses me off and freaks me out, so I leave, unfortunately before realizing that they still have the registration for the VIN. (sigh)

My spouse is going to retrieve the registration tomorrow. Meanwhile, we’re going to wait on purchasing until we decide what to do with her car. It seems like I can do better in any variety of ways:

  • Sell it myself
  • Donate it. This is a much more interesting option since the car basically runs fine.
  • Sell it for scrap.
  • Demolition derby. This would further lower the value, but I’d get to watch things break.

Suggestions welcomed.

23 thoughts on “The car buying process sucks”

  1. You should hold your own demolition. Get a 5lb sledghammer and charge folks $5 to smash up your car. You could videotape it and sell the tape – or air it on community TV. I wanted to do this with my ’76 Nova, but I donated it instead. I like this idea very much.
    Marissa.

  2. Is there a CarMax out there? They’ll give you a price good for 30 days. I think the lowest they pay is $190 for any car you can push in there for parts auction. You can always donate it and take the tax write off.

    The guys you were dealing with were obviously sleaze. “There’s someone looking at your car” made me laugh – so get another one!

    Jen and I bought a new car (actually a used one) last month. The thought of someone else paying those first 2 years of depreciation seemed like good math to me. We ended up with CarMax. I ended up paying maybe $500 more than I couldve gotten from a dealer, but damned if they don’t make the process of buying painless.

  3. I hate trade-ins. I hate dealers slightly more. Give me your car- I’ll sell it and we’ll split the money 🙂

    -ted

  4. I sold my old truck to Carmax, after being insulted by a dealer in the same trade-in situation. Not only did he offer me only $500 (Carmax, who wholesales the older cars anyway, gave me $1350), but he acted as though I were insane to think that was low. “You really can’t expect much from such an old car like that.” Like, geez, woman. Get a grip on reality.

    I ended up getting a better deal on the new truck anyway, because after that I walked out and told him I’d drive my old truck for 10 more years just to spite him. So the price dropped.

    hateful, hateful process.

  5. What kind of car is it that you’re trying to part with? If it’s an older model like a Celica, Impreza, Neon, Eclipse or just about any DSM you should be able to sell it to a rally team to turn into a race car. They’ll happily take damaged cars for parts…that’s how I got my Impreza to build up into a PGT race car.

  6. Thank you all for the comments. I think we’re going to hold off for a while, maybe try again in September during the various clearance sales.

    We don’t have a CarMax out here. It would appear that a private sale is the most fiscally prudent option. I may try posting it on the work-bulletin board first as it’s amazingly efficient if an item is priced right. (ANd it’s free, too.)

    The car is a 1997 Chevy Cavalier, your basic entry-level Chevy product. Boring, cheap transportation. It’s got only 51k miles on it, lots of scratches and little dings (and one medium-sized ding), gratuitous Chevrolet benign squeaks and rattles, but otherwise runs fine.

    My dad had some intersting suggestions, which I’ll post in another entry shortly.

  7. I HATE buying cars! J hates it even more! Maybe this is why we drive our cars a minimum of ten years (grin). J’s car is 9 years old and the thought of shopping next year is already haunting us. Keep looking and DEFINITELY do NOT under any circumstances (unless they GIVE it to you, of course) go back to this dealer.

  8. Fiber Moreno

    Hello, Jim,
    Unfortunately I know that the car buying process stinks but please know that there is more than one way to buy a car. When you have the time please read through my website and learn that you do not even have to leave home to buy a car. Where ever you are located we can find a car anywhere for you. We offer no hassle and we will definitely not waste your time. Thank You

  9. I brought my 1999 Chrysler 300m that my dad left me when he passed in October. I already has 3 other cars so I decided to sell it to Carmax, it had 59K miles and was a beauty. They offered me 8300.00 (good for 7 days NOT 30)which was about 2K below blue book. I said ok but they needed the title in my name for 30 days before they would buy it. So off to the title lines. Waited 30 days, went back and got offered 7300. I asked why 1K less and they said it was 30 days older now. Liars and rip offs is what I told them. Thay had the exact same car on their lot for 14K, same milage. Don’t go there to sell your car.

  10. CarMax Nightmare Story: 2002 Mazda Prtoteg5
    I bought the car with 36K. Bought the Max Care Warranty. At 45K I was running down the highway to work and notice the Temp Gauge at H. I turn around and I drive to the exit where I live and where the carmax is also located. Maybe 5 miles? Engine overheats and spews white smoke. Engine needs major repair. The Max Care guys denied my claim saying it was my fault for driving the car hot. 9K and less than 1 year later and I’m stuck. THe car has been in the shop since Jan 29th. Am I up the creek here? Do i have any legal action I could take? CarMax is trying to get the claim reconsidered as we speak, but I am not hopeful. I need help!

  11. It might be worth consulting an attorney regarding your options; I had a transmission go out in a car once because the mechanics replacing the clutch neglected to put fluid back in. The process lasted two months of daily going to the dealer and raising hell.

    You may also want to look up the repair history for the Protoge and see if there’s an unpublished recall.

  12. I sold my car to carmax and was the best experience so far…and yes other dealerships will try to rip you off…cheat…etc..but definitely Carmax showed me the opposite….Go Carmax!!

  13. I bought a Chrysler 300M from Carmax with $1500 1 year extended warranty in June 2003, they sales lady told me that the warranty would cover transmission without telling me that the $1500 is only good for 8000 miles, in Septermber 2003, the transmission broke down, I called the warranty company from Carmax, they denied my claim! Not only I lost $1500, I had to spend $3000 to fix the 300M transmission! CARMAX IS A BAD PLACE TO BUY A CAR! THEY LOVE TO LIE! THEY DIDN’T TELL ME THAT THEIR CARS ARE REALLY BAD! I WILL NOT BUY A CAR FROM CARMAX EVER AGAIN! The delership even sent me home with a broken transmission and I almost got into accident because the car lost power on the way home from the dealership! STAY AWAY FROM CARMAX!

  14. Saying that you didn’t know the length of your warranty is weak. Plus it sounds like you set yourself up for failure when you ran the car 8k miles from June to September. A smarter person might have thought about getting the longer warranty coverage when they know they’re going to be running 24k+ miles per year on a car.

    And to the dip who drove 5 miles with his engine temp at HOT: […] you’ll blow the head gasket or crack the head running the car for even a few minutes in that condition. […]

  15. Yes I agree. First off if your car is running hot, anybody knows to stop running it until it cools off and check the coolant level. You did void your maxcare!Also, I have purchased a car at Carmax, and they do explain the length of the warranty once in the office and then they explain it again to you in the business office, ya know when you are signing the paperwork. It is your own fault. ALSO—> THEY DO NOT SELL 8K mile WARRANTIES!!! They start at 12months/12k miles!!!!!!!

  16. Im a sales rep at a carmax dealership, I’ve been going site to site reading different entries and stories customers have regaurding their experience. Im not a car salesman type of guy, the best thing about working at carmax is the honesty, I’m not obligated to twist any arms or words for that matter to sell A vehicle, and we do sell cars with ease to the consumer. Where else would you have a 5 day return policy and option to purchase a warranty on a used product? Sales reps don’t sell cars, we assist finding the right vehicle for you..end of story

  17. I went to CARMAX with a 2000 Corvette; great condition, BLue Book value: $25,000. They offered me $13,500 due to rear tires. I replaced the tires, bad mistake, took it back, they offered the same. Bullcrappers, that’s what they are, Can’t wait for that Company to go belly up!

  18. What people tend to forget is that what your purchasing is a USED car!!! Also you as the consumer dont have the same resources that are availabe to professional appraisers. Kelly blue book is just a GUIDE!!! Kelly is not the one out there looking at and driving your vehicle or offering you a cash offer. To the guy who said he can’t wait till CarMax bellies up, HaHa it will NEVER happen. From a individuals perspective I can relate w/the frustration you really do not have a clue as to what it’s worth, you probably have’nt even taken the time to deduct for anything all you people do is hope for the best and never think of the worst. Everybody’s car is worth a million dollars and you know better than anybody concerning this. Do a little more reaserch further than Kelley blue book before you have your vehicle appraised anywhere this way when you start pointing fingers or casting blame you can do it with a little more sensabilty and actualy make sense doing it.

  19. Is there any other places to sell your car besides CarMax? I have a Toyota Prius that I am trying to sell. I’ve tried the newspaper and it is now on autotrader. I am considering taking it to CarMax given that I have not had any bites. I’ve heard good stuff and bad stuff about CarMax and just wondered if there are any other options.

  20. I recently had a good experience at Carmax. Other than the time it took to purcase my veichle, due to the large amount of other people purchasing cars that day, everything went well and I found the perfect veichle for me. No hassle, easy process. Way better then hasseling with a dealer salesman trying to keep his commission high. Regarding people’s problems with the Maxcare warranty, you cannot drive an overheating car and upon engine failure expect them to replace and fix it. Stupidity is not covered. And for people trading their cars in, Carmax will almost def. give a better offer than a dealership. One thing you must also take notice of with concerning people who complain, is how clean and maintained their veichle is when they take it for trade-in/buy. Don’t expect them to offer even close to what it should be if it doesn’t look like you even take care of the car. Looks matter here.

  21. WENT TO CARMAX IN RICHMOND VA. THINKING I WAS GOING TO GET A GREAT DEAL ON MY 2001 PLYMOUTH NEON. I GUESS I WAS WATCHING WAY TO MANY COMMERCIALS. THIS GUY GREETED ME AT THE DOOR AND THIS GUY TOLD ME THAT THEY WILL PULL THE CAR AROUND THE BACK ON SOME TYPE OF MACHINE TO VALUE MY CAR. HE POINTED TO THE WAITING AREA AND HE TOLD ME IT WILL BE ABOUT 40 MINS. LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOW THIS GIRL COME OUT AND WALK AROUND MY CAR FOR 10 MINS.STILL SITTING IN THE SAME SPOT MIGHT I ADD AND POP THE HOOD AND DID A QUICK LOOK(AS I WAS WATCHING THROUGH THE WINDOW) AND WALK BACK INSIDE. THE GUY WHO GREETED ME CAME BACK OUT AND SAID MY CAR WAS READY AND HE SAID THE CAR WAS APPRAISED AT $500 BECAUSE I HAVE A BAD TRANSMISSION. I JUST TOOK THIS CAR BACK TO THE ORIGINAL DEALER AND ASK THEM TO THROUGHLY LOOK OVER MY CAR AND MAKE ALL REPAIRS.(THE TECH HIMSELF SAID MY CAR IS IN EXCELLENT CONDITION AND THE TRANSMISSION WAS THE LESS OF MY PROBLEM) I WAS SOO INSULTED THAT THIS GUY THOUGHT I WAS A SUCKER I DIDNT MAKE A SCENE IN THE PLACE BUT FELT LIKE IT AT THE TIME I KINDLY TOLD HIM TO THROW THE APPRAISAL LETTER IN THE TRASH AND I CANT BELIEVE HE CAME AT ME WITH THAT NUMBER. THE FUNNY THING ABOUT THIS THEY DIDNT EVEN USE A MACHINE TO CHECK FOR MECHANICAL ISSUE WITH ANY OF THE CARS THAT WAS IN FRONT OF ME OR MY CAR. UNLESS SPOTTING A FAULTY TRANSMISSION WITH YOUR EYES IS SOMETHING NEW. MORE INSULTED THAN ANYTHING I WOULDNT WHAT THAT JOB FOR NOTHING I COULDNT SLEEP AT NIGHT WOULD FEEL TO GUILTY TRYING TO ROB PEOPLE ALL DAY LONG. I FELT SORRY FOR THE SALEMEN THEY MUST GET CREAM EVERYDAY WITH THAT APPROACH THEY ARE TRAINED TO DO.

  22. well did you consider that the 300m is actually what sucks, not carmax cars in general…we wont sell that car with over 60k miles because of the noted tranny problems…same with the intrepid

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *