CarMax, CARFAX, And Greenbacks - Things Go From Bad To WorseS

In a lot of ways a car is like a roommate. The best of times are some serious “remember this on my deathbed” kind of fun. The worst of times are nothing but screaming about how he never does the dishes or that it should just tell you when a plastic water pump impeller melts before it overheats. But most of the time you’re just happy that he pays the rent or gets you to work and back without exploding. Similarly, losing a car can be a lot like losing a roommate and if the five stages of grief are a gearbox then at this point, cursing my luck outside AutoZone, I’m already hitting the powerband in third gear.

“Maybe, just maybe, CarMax is fool enough to offer me enough to pay my car off.” I distinctly remember hoping. “No harm in trying!”

Luckily for me the CarMax in town is between Manny’s AutoZone and my new apartment. I decided that since the Jetta is still technically capable of moving under its own power I should take advantage of that seemingly temporary condition and drive it where someone might buy it from me.

If you’ve never visited a CarMax with the intention of unloading a vehicle on them it’s a bit of a trip. I parked next to the sales building (but not too close, lest someone hear the Jetta’s death rattle and chase me away with a tire iron) after driving past a car lot that was no less than three acres square and so full that it looked like one of those puzzles where you have to get the red car out by shuffling the other cars around. They clearly weren’t hurting for inventory which, as my scumbag brain decided to remind me, meant my offer was likely to be that much less.

The process of getting a quote from CarMax takes about twenty minutes to half an hour if you’re at the front of the line, during which time a salesman (or as I like to think of him, a kitten-raping, hope-smashing abomination of a wretch who feeds on human suffering) explains what they’re doing to your car and what metrics they’re using to determine the value of your vehicle. There’s a lot of stuff that’s they’re obviously required by internal policy to tell you and the guy I delt with was very bad at pretending to be interested. He perked right up when I mentioned I’d be looking to replace the Jetta, though. We spent most of the time searching through CarMax’s Florida inventory.

Eventually he checked their system and we discovered that my quote was ready. More required reading and legal mumbo-jumbo. BigmoneybigmoneybigmoneynowhammiesSTOP!

$1,200. They offered me twelve-hundred dollars for a 2004 Volkswagen Jetta with 82,600 miles on the odometer. I understand that they have to fix up whatever they buy and the whole point of being in business is to earn a profit, but come on, I’ve spent more on computer parts building my current rig. However it wasn’t my ego that was really suffering, it was my wallet. If the balance on my loan was that or less I would have taken their check and skipped and laughed all the way to the bank like some kind of public menace that makes parents avert their children’s eyes and whisper in back rooms about what should be done regarding “the skipper”.

As I come to accept the number on the screen I am now well past my feelings of dread and fully immersed in manic acceptance, to the point where I actually caught myself saying out loud, “Thank you, Universe, what lovely lemons! How thoughtful of you!” as I left the CarMax, printout in hand.

I’m not at my finest when under financial stress. This much is clear.

This is what happens when you dare to hope, kids. Life loves to let you build yourself up just to kick you right in the ass. Oh, and there is no Easter Bunny. Fourth gear kind of bogs in this analogy.

Even with an offer I couldn’t use the process was invaluable for two reasons. First, I discovered that if CarMax was a mechanic I’d never bring a car to them since they listed my engine as being in “good condition” on the offer. I’m not sure how that one slipped by them. Second, however, was that they ran something similar to a CARFAX or an AutoCheck on my car which listed the car’s entire history for me. Here’s a short list of things I did not know about my car.

  • A couple of years ago I was in a low-speed front-end collision. I was told that nothing more serious than a damaged radiator was the result, however the CarMax offer insisted that the Jetta had a bent frame. Wonderful.
  • I bought the Jetta from the VW dealership in town back in 2008. I was told that the previous owner was an older couple who lived in the area and I believed them because it had less than 40,000 miles on the odometer and was in pretty good shape. Guess who the actual first owner of my Jetta was? It was a fleet vehicle in Staten Island for the first four years of its life before being sold at auction and bought by the very dealership from which I purchased it. Always insist on a CARFAX or similar, kids.

Despite my freshly-soured mood I decided to hit a small used-car lot on the way home, remembering that I’d seen a ‘93 Celica with 51,000 miles on it for sale on their website. Five grand for a car that looked like it had a mint interior was worth a look, unfortunately by the time I showed up it had already sold that very morning to some woman who bought it for her nephew. Apparently the kid was none too pleased; the salesman who sold it told me that the kid said, and this is a direct quote, “This thing is lame, why did you have to get me this one?” to his generous Aunt with excellent taste who was probably really cool and liked fun things like pool halls and comic books.

Things looked more grim than ever. I had this sinking feeling that I was going to end up buying a rusty Daewoo with a missing dashboard from a lot with a BUY HERE PAY HERE sign fastened to a telephone pole out front. Depression doesn’t even begin to effectively describe fourth gear.