Monday, November 21, 2011

Lessons learned from our Carmax nightmare

By now most of you have seen us in our new 2005 Crown Victoria Sport.  We started driving the Sport after our 1997 Crown Victoria stopped running at 325,000 miles.  The truth is that we had put off buying a new car for a long time.  The old Crown Vic just kept going and going, which made it easy to turn down new cars.  But when we got stranded and found ourselves on and off of buses and in and out of rental cars for nearly a month, we got in a real hurry to get a new car.  We got the 2005 at Carmax, and in the process we have learned a few lessons we want to share with our friends.

Update: Hold the phone! We finally got a refund check for some of the repairs.  Find out what Carmax gave us back and what they said wasn't covered near the bottom of this post.

Lesson #1: Never buy a car from Carmax that has obvious problems after a five minute test drive.  Seriously, this one is a non-negotiable and we botched it because we were just so beat from riding the bus and renting cars for nearly a month.  We might have an excuse, but we never should have bought this car.  During the test drive we heard the right side catalytic converter rattling and buzzing under the car.  We knew the non-stop door chime was the sign of a broken part in the key cylinder.  We were underwhelmed by the loose pieces in the trunk, and the scratches we could see were a real warning of what our Carmax friends were hiding from us under the wax they'd slopped on like butter.  They told us it was returnable.  They told us it had a warranty.  All that might sound good, but they also told us they couldn't even hear the buzzing catalytic converter, and those things are expensive to replace.  Bottom line, there are a lot of used cars on the market, so if you drive one that makes you nervous, no matter how long you waited for it or how much money you paid to have it shipped, walk away.  Leave it behind and go have a cookie and juicebox.  We caved to the pressure of the salesperson de-prioritizing our concerns by saying it was a six year old car, and jeez, for the fourth time buddy, that non-stop chime is perfectly normal.

Lesson #2: If you have a five day return policy, return the thing in less than five days.  We literally burned three of our five days of the return policy with our new car sitting at the dealership repair center.  Why was it at a dealership repair center you ask, when that wicked helpful Carmax salesman said they couldn't hear anything and the chime was perfectly normal?  Because that salesperson was wrong.  The morning after we bought the car we took it to a Ford dealership.  The technician diagnosed the failed catalytic converter while sitting in the drivers seat.  And that non-stop chime?  No problem at the dealership.  They can replace that failed part in the key cylinder for less that $200.  Your friendly dealership can also make you a valet key, since you didn't get one from Carmax, and they can determine the five digit key code for the keyless entry, since you didn't get that from Carmax either.  And when it takes three days, Ford gives you a TAP.  This is dealership lingo for a loaner car.  Basically, we got our fourth rental car in as many weeks.  So right after we buy the car, we drive the TAP while the dealership fixes the car we just bought.  Seriously.  Instead of repairing a car you just bought, observe lesson #2 and return the car you just bought.  And for those in the back of the room waving your hand wanting to ask why we didn't take it to Carmax for a warranty repair, remember those experts couldn't hear the problem, so there was no getting them to fix it, warranty or no warranty.

Lesson #3: Warning signs are actually signs of bad things to come, not a signal that a miracle will happen.  We had a shopped a long time for a car.  Back in 2010 we actually found a car at Carmax and had it shipped to Indianapolis so we could buy it.  Problem was, the car was at a price our lender wouldn't approve.  You see, Carmax had priced it at premium, and wouldn't negotiate the price.  Carmax of course offered us their own financing, but an overpriced car is an overpriced car, so we turned it down.  And then when they dropped the price of the car more than 10% within about a week do you think the salesperson bothered to call us?  Heck no, they sold the car we had shipped to someone else.  So because we didn't learn lesson #3, we had another car shipped.  We waited and waited for this one.  They told us it was scheduled for pick up and transport, then gave us a new date.  When our bank called our salesperson for information, they didn't even return the call.  And this was our bank needing to confirm details for the financing, not window shopping.  We were trying to buy a car and they wouldn't even call our bank back.  Talk about a warning sign.  So here is our service list for the first 30 days:

  1. Replaced right side catalytic converter at Ford dealership, luckily covered by manufactures warranty.
  2. Repaired key cylinder to stop that non-stop chime Carmax said was normal.
  3. Paid for a new valet key that we didn't get, and paid to get the keyless entry code set.
  4. Got the tires balanced.  This car was shaking like nobody's business going down the road.  We finally figured out, after checking everything else, that the new tires slapped on at Carmax hadn't been mounted properly and balanced.
  5. Our regular mechanics drained the water Carmax put in the windshield washer tank and actually filled it with wiper fluid.  What a novel idea.  We also got new wipers.
  6. Got the oil changed, more as a precaution than anything, so make sure that was right.
  7. The best one we saved for last: the radiator and coolant system was actually filled with water!  We got the car all the way to the Keys to find this one out.  So we paid $100 to have the system flushed and filled with antifreeze.  Had that water frozen in the radiator and cracked in the Indianapolis winter, well, you can just imagine what we would be saying about that.
$500 in service and repairs later this car is finally starting to earn some credibility with us. But seriously, water in the radiator?  Water in the wiper fluid?  Sorry sir, but we can't hear that rattle under the car?  And that chime that won't stop, that perfectly normal, I swear.

We did call Carmax about all the repairs and service we were having done to the car, and we were told to submit the service invoices for possible reimbursement.  We submitted just under $500 in service bills.  Carmax reimbursed exactly $197.35.  They reimbursed the repair of the key cylinder that was done at our Ford dealer, but that was it.  Carmax sold us a car with a radiator filled with water, and when we had that water drained and replaced with real antifreeze, they refused to pay and said it was routine maintenance.  Apparently for  Carmax, selling cars with radiators filled with water is such common practice it doesn't even get their attention.  Those severely out of balance tires -  not a Carmax problem.  The fact that they didn't give us the keyless entry code - not their problem again, and don't even think Carmax is going to reimburse the $40 Ford charged to determine the entry code, or pay for the valet key that didn't come with the car.  And don't even get us started about the broken locking trunk release button and the missing panel fasteners on the front fender or in the trunk.  Fact is, Carmax claimed to have inspected the car.  This is the same car we drove off the lot with a failed catalytic converter and a radiator filled with water.

Carmax goes on and on about their detailed inspection, described by our salesperson as going over the car with a fine-tooth comb.  We find it hard to believe this car got inspected.  Either Carmax filled the radiator with water, or they didn't find it during their so-called "inspection."  In any case, we think our experience with Carmax has been a nightmare.  We think they misrepresented the car to us, and had we been smart and followed our lessons, we would have either walked away or returned it.

With all that said, Crown Victoria Sports are hard to find, so we are hopeful to get everything sorted out with this one so we can enjoy it.  As the Sport goes down the road, you'll read about here on Josh and Joe Travels.

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