Houston, Texas is home to 6 CarMax locations, showing that the franchise is doing rather well in the Lone Star State. What is it about CarMax that people love that has helped to make it so successful nationwide? Why is Houston just one in a multitude of locations nationwide that have helped to change the way we buy cars.
Below we dive into the Houston division of the conglomerate, how it works, the keys to its success, as well as its potential drawbacks, and how people get the most of their experience..
CarMax Houston: How Does it Work?
CarMax is essentially a used car platform designed to help make buying and selling pre-owned cars much easier first by offering all manner of vehicles under one roof, but also offering flexibility in the way these cars are purchased. The principle behind CarMax is essentially a “what you see is what you get” kind of policy. The platform doesn’t support haggling, and promises the best-possible rates on a huge range of pre-owned vehicles.
Flexibility in Choice
First, CarMax allows users to buy cars fully online, or to “shop in-store” at whichever locations are closest to their customers. The online platform is designed to make finding cars easier by allowing customers to search for cars in different ways:
- Shop by type - SUVs, Crossovers, Sedans, etc.
- Shop by brand - Ford, Honda, Hyundai, etc.
- Shop by price/budget - Under $10,000; $20,000-25,000; etc.
- Shop by lifestyle - Commuter, Family, Eco-Friendly, etc.
- Shop by popularity - Popular SUV models, Popular Sedans, etc.
- Shop by model year
Many find these options attractive because people do indeed shop for their cars in different ways. Some are dead set on what brand they want, but want to explore the models, where others have no brand preference but know that they’re looking for an SUV or a minivan.
Once a pathway is chosen, the customer is taken to a results page where vehicles are listed displaying their model year, make and model, as well as price, odometer reading and where they are currently located. Many models also come with free shipping options, and that is also listed on the entry. Customers can filter results further with a whole list of options.
Selecting an item from the list will open up a much more detailed information page, which shows a 360-degree view of the vehicle, as well as what additional features it has such as parking sensors, rear-view camera, remote start, etc. There are also detailed photos of the interior and exterior. It will also indicate maintenance information such as whether or not it has had new tires and when.
The page also lists information on available warranties (see more on CarMax warranties below), and a car finance calculator for those who are going to purchase the vehicle through a financing plan.
Securing a Vehicle
When the customer feels sure that this is a vehicle they want, they can do one of three possible things:
- Express Pickup - Purchase the car online and then pick it up at whatever CarMax location is indicated on the listing
- Hold - Reserve the vehicle for a test drive at the CarMax location
- Ship - Purchase the vehicle online and then request shipping either to their home or to their local CarMax
Selling/Trading Vehicles to CarMax Houston Locations
Finally, CarMax also works as a platform on which people can quickly sell their existing vehicles, or trade them in as part of a purchase to get money discounted from their purchase of a replacement vehicle. Users just begin by entering their license plate number, the location of the vehicle’s registration, and zip code to get started. Alternatively, they can enter the VIN number.
CarMax themselves point out that this information is sufficient for most cars to get an instant quote, the amount of which can be paid on collection of the vehicle. Some vehicles will only have the payment amount confirmed only after someone at CarMax sees the vehicle in person. Any offer given by CarMax is good for 7 days, so people can shop around and see if they can do better elsewhere if they feel the sum is low.
The fact is that offers from CarMax, while competitive in its own field, will never be as high as what you’d get for the car if you sell privately to a buyer yourself. That’s just the industry reality. CarMax is buying the car in the hope of detailing it, and then selling it on for a profit. What you get that’s really beneficial isn’t the price, but rather the speed and convenience at which you can get your car sold: no fuss, no muss.
CarMax Houston: Quality Assurance
One of the biggest questions surrounding companies like CarMax is how they can ensure customers are happy with their purchases. One of the benefits of the old model for buying cars is that customers would see the cars in person every time, as well as test drive them. That first-hand experience is the perfect way to inform on whether or not a car is suitable for a buyer.
For example, a car might look fantastic in pictures, and even get good reviews in terms of its performance, but then again a very tall buyer might not realize that the driver’s cockpit is very cramped for them just from the pictures. Equally, another driver might not realize that driver visibility in the car is not so good because they never tested it on the road.
So, how does CarMax address these issues?
Test-Drives Offered at Local Centers
First of all, as we touched on further above, CarMax does allow customers to reserve cars for test drives at local centers, so while a customer can’t test every single car they see, they can filter results to local ones only to ensure that every car they do see is one they can also test drive. That solves the problem for people who absolutely must test drive the car themselves.
30-Day Returns Policy
Next, for those who can’t find what they want locally but instead find something further afield, they can have the car shipped to them first, after which they have 30 days or 1,500 miles to determine if it’s really the car for them.
CarMax calls this the “Love it or return it” policy. If during that time you decide for absolutely any reason that this isn’t the car for you, you can take it back to CarMax and get a full refund, no questions asked. It only has to be within 30 days or 1,500 miles, and with the car in the same condition as when you bought it.
Warranties and Service Plans
Newer cars of just 1-2 years old, for the most part, still have their manufacturer warranties active, so that provides bumper-to-bumper coverage for any manufacturer defect, as you would get when buying the car new. Since many cars for sale at CarMax are beyond their full bumper-to-bumper warranty, CarMax reassures customers with a limited warranty to cover all the vehicle’s major systems either for 90 days or 4,000 miles, whichever comes first.
So, the 30-day money back guarantee is the first level of protection, followed by the 90-day warranty. The strongest layer of protection comes in the form of the MaxCare extended service plans. Any car can have the service plan tagged on, regardless of year, make, model or mileage. There are different plans offering coverage for different total odometer mileages or time periods.
The plan covers engine, electronics, suspension, transmission, electrical systems, cooling systems, drivetrain, steering and climate control. There’s also emergency roadside assistance, nationwide coverage for the US and Canada, low deductibles, rental reimbursements up to $40 per day and up to 7 days, and anytime cancellation with pro-rated refunds in some cases.
It should also be noted, however, that there are some limitations:
- Maintenance services and parts like batteries, brakes, trim, wiper blades and wheels are not covered
- Aftermarket accessories purchased after getting the car are not covered
- Breakdown caused by abuse or misuse
- Certain components that are damaged by inadequate maintenance
- Some other provisions in roadside assistance aren’t covered, like the cost of fuel for fuel delivery service
Customers can select a plan based on how many miles they drive annually and what kind of vehicle they are purchasing: sedan, SUV or truck. Deductibles start at $50 and range up to $300 at most. The plans typically add $23 to $42 to the monthly cost of the vehicle when financing.
Pros and Cons of CarMax
Clearly, CarMax Houston has a lot to offer its customers, but whether it’s the service for you is really down to whether the pro/con balance comes up in your favor.
On the plus side:
- Fast, convenient, and easy car searching
- Easy car trading in or selling
- Financing available
- Buy online and either collect or receive delivery (often free)
- 30-day money back guarantee and limited warranty available
- Comprehensive service plans
- No visiting showrooms if you don’t want to!
On the downside:
- Low prices when selling your car
- Can’t test drive non-local cars, which even with knowledge of money back guarantee makes the process potentially more troublesome
- Only pre-owned cars are an option
- No haggling or negotiation means you invariably pay more than in the typical car buying experience