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Buying a Car Online Isn’t as Painless as the Ads Make It Look

A first-hand, step-by-step account of our very recent experience buying a car online. The pros, the cons, and everything in between

My wife and I were just in the market to buy a car. Early on, we decided it was in our best interests to buy a late-model used car, with relatively low mileage instead of buying something new. We needed the height of an SUV or a crossover to assist my wife in getting in and out of the vehicle more easily. Our old car just sat too darn low to the ground.

Since we only drive about 5,000 miles per year now that she works close to home and I work wherever I have high-speed internet access, a late-model used car makes a lot of sense. Now that the average SUV lasts to about 300,000k miles, a ‘new to us’ vehicle of that type will most likely last the rest of our lives if properly maintained.

These decisions also opened us up to the intriguing and still relatively new process of buying a car completely online and having it delivered right to your house - a concept my wife anxiously looked forward to as she dreaded our past car buying experiences - to the point of panic attacks.

Naturally, I began my quest by perusing the virtual inventories of all of the national companies which advertise constantly on television. Carvana, probably the best-known brand in this niche of used car buying, requires at least $2,000 down unless your credit score is over 720. We don’t have horrible credit, but it isn’t 720 or greater, so Carvana was quickly eliminated from the mix.

I had already registered on Vroom and CarMax and I was in the process of browsing the inventory of a local used car lot when I began receiving promotional emails from CarMax. Not too bad at first, but one caught my attention because it was featuring a beautiful powder blue Ford Escape - a color and vehicle my wife and I had previously discussed and both liked.

The hook was in. So I took the next steps of providing all of my contact information (instead of just my email as I had previously). The car was really attractive to us, so I proceeded with the intention of probably buying it. The unfortunate aspect of online car buying with these types of companies is that they have finally managed to do away with haggling over the price of the car. There’s just no way to do it. You either accept their listed price or you don’t, and quite frankly, thought to myself that $20k for a 9-year-old car was a bit excessive - even if it was the top-of-the-line Titanium model with all the bells and whistles.

Still, it’s been a while since I was in the car business so I took it to the Kelly Blue Book iPhone app and was surprised to see them agree that CarMax’s asking price for the car with only 56,000 miles was indeed not an outrageous price. The only problem remaining was that the specific vehicle we were interested in was located in North Carolina, and we would have to pay an additional $250 on top of our down payment to have the car transferred to the CarMax nearest us - in this case, the Warner Robins, GA location.

My wife and I decided to sleep on it before deciding if we wanted to pay the additional money to have the car transported. The issue was rendered moot the next morning. When I logged in to agree and have the car transported, I saw that it was no longer available. But being glass-half-full kinda people, my wife and I were undeterred. At least now we knew what kind of vehicle we wanted.

I focused our search parameters and voila, a shiny red 2014 Escape Titanium was located at the Columbus, GA CarMax and could be transported to WR for free. I promptly agreed and reserved the car so we wouldn’t have a repeat performance as we had with the powder blue one.

This is where the process began to break down.

It took all day that Friday for the vehicle to be transported the 50-some miles from location to location. During that process, like a package being shipped via UPS, I received tracking updates on the vehicle’s progress. Once it got to Warner Robins, I received one last notification that the car had arrived and that technicians would shortly begin a “quality control 125-point inspection of the vehicle before it could be determined to be ‘sellable’.”

So what was the other CarMax location doing with it the entire time they had it? I had no idea, but I asked anyway. Probably because I’m a journalist and I just have a need to know these things. Unfortunately, absolutely nobody I asked could (or would) answer the question for me. hmmmmm.

So I waited for notification that the safety inspection was complete and the car was ‘sellable’.

And I waited…. and waited……then I called. I was told the cars are inspected on a first-come, first-served basis and as soon as my inspection was done, I would be notified.

Five days elapsed. Still no word.

I called again. I was given the same response.

Not this time.

I called a third time, this time navigating the automated answering system to make sure I got to a human who actually worked in the service department at the Warner Robins location. His exact words to me:

“Oh yeah, I’m looking at your car right now. I did that inspection myself-finished it Friday night right before I left for the day.”

Now we have a problem.

After six - no embellishment - SIX more calls to the customer service arm of CarMax, which is a team of poorly informed remote workers who you can mentally visualize are working in their underwear (or less) with unkempt hair and poor personal hygiene, I finally encountered an honest lady (Betty-the actual name she gave me-she deserves a shoutout). Betty assured me that she and her ‘lead’ would exhaustively keep at the dealership until the problem was corrected.

In the meantime, I should upload all of the required documents (known as stipulations) that the approving bank requires to prove we are who we say we are and that we actually have real jobs and can pay for the car they just bought for us. I informed Betty that I had done this when I reserved the car and filled out the required credit application. Betty informed me that those documents were nowhere to be found.

I submitted them again, silently seething because Betty was a nice lady - that is, nice as far as semi-naked remote customer service experts go. Shortly after Betty confirmed she had received all of my documents and that they looked good, she also informed me that the dealership had stopped responding to her and her ‘lead’ (supervisor I guess?).

I thanked her and tried calling the dealership again myself. True to form, they did not answer the phone. I live about 15 miles from the Warner Robins CarMax and it was 6 PM. The dealership closed at 8. So I found myself in my old car and on my way there. It was time for CarMax to meet Mr. Dillon face to face.

I was greeted by a young man, Alex. He was the first CarMax employee I had encountered so far that did not dismiss me, BS me, or try to convince me it was someone else’s problem or responsibility.

Unfortunately, he still couldn’t fix the problem. He called a supervisor - Bryson, also a fantastic young man who looked at the scenario and informed Alex he had to call the company’s IT department and have them manually set the vehicle’s status to ‘sellable.’ I was told that because the computer status wouldn’t update, this was the reason why I was never informed that the car was ready. It was also the reason I couldn’t proceed with buying the car until it was remedied, but I was assured that it was just a glitch and would be resolved promptly.

It took about 10 minutes, but the IT department fixed the issue and at last, my car was showing in the system as ‘sellable.’ I went out and sat in my old car. Right there in the parking lot, I once again called the expert team of remote customer service associates who are responsible for scheduling home deliveries of newly purchased vehicles.

It took about an hour on the phone to answer all the questions, dot all the i’s, and cross all the t’s, but our new car was finally scheduled to be delivered the next day at noon. For those of you keeping score at home, this was the following Wednesday from the initial Thursday that I had reserved the car - now a six-day ordeal - and it wasn’t over yet, I still wasn’t in possession of the car.

At 7:30 the next morning, I received a text message to call my favorite team of unkempt, semi-naked, remote customer service gurus, though no reason was given. Of course, I called promptly - any excuse to chat with those folks.

This time I got Becca. Apparently, all of the documents that are required to be submitted, need to be submitted in PDF format - I had submitted them as JPEGs. Who knew? Clearly not Betty and certainly not me. She suggested I go to Staples or an OfficeMax who could scan the documents as PDFs for me. Now, I have to add here, if I actually had to do that, I would have been really pissed and Mrs. Dillon would most likely not be driving her new car right now - at least not that one.

Fortunately for all of us and especially for my sex life, my trusty HP printer has the ability to scan docs and save them as PDFs. It took me an hour to manually rescan everything, but I got through it - thank goodness for caffeine.

At this point, I was dubious about everything, but Becca assured me all was well and congratulated us on the new purchase. It did little to appease my skepticism.

Nevertheless, I was excited because my wife really loved the car and was very much looking forward to taking it to work and showing it off to her friends. Being the amazing husband that I am, I was just happy that my wife was going to be happy that day at noon (happy wife, happy life, and all that).

But the adventure wasn’t over. At 11:30 AM, my phone rang…my heart sank….yes, I knew.

Sure enough, one of my favorite disheveled semi-naked remote working ladies was on the line. Unfortunately, the dealership would be unable to deliver my car that day, and what day next week would be good for me? Oh hell no!

I balked - loudly. Mr. Dillon had had enough. Finally, Stephanie asked if it would be possible to just go there and pick up the car?

“Sure,” I said. “I’m just curious why they can’t deliver it? I was told last night that the dealership had open availability today and the vehicle could be delivered whatever time after 11 I wished?”

I just had to.

“Yes, Sir, unfortunately, they just don’t have the staff to do it because of COVID,” she replied.

I couldn’t help but laugh. She didn’t know I was at the dealership the previous night and saw how many people were walking around aimlessly doing nothing. Nevertheless, I told her I would go and pick up the car myself. She then asked if I could still make my noon appointment.

My wife laughed out loud at that one (I had Stephanie on Speaker).

After adjusting our appointment to 12:30 PM, Stephanie assured me that this would be an ‘express delivery’ I hung up and told my wife not to be upset when we got to the dealership and she saw no less than 20 people wandering around. She told me I was exaggerating. I assured her I was not. Care to guess who won this issue?

Oh, and just in case you’re thinking that the sales staff probably aren’t the ones who do home deliveries, guess again. I had confirmed the night before that the sales staff are the ones who deliver the vehicles.

When we got to the dealership, it was my wife’s turn to balk. Not only was our car not ready for an ‘express delivery’ in fact, it was nowhere to be seen.

I did my best to reassure her everything was going to be alright, but my wife is nobody’s idiot and just wasn’t buying what I was selling. By that point, even she knew it was going to be a long day - women just seem to know these things.

Early on in the process, we had decided to trade in an old beater car we’ve owned for a long time or sell it for scrap if the dealership wouldn’t take it. As it happened, CarMax had appraised the car and not only agreed to take the 22-year-old Buick with 246,000 miles on it, hardly any paint left that hadn’t come out of a can, and duct tape on the dashboard, but they offered us $1,000 for it!

Once we began the process, CarMax had another glitch with their computer system. When the salesman, a great young bearded guy named Max (hey, Max - waving), went out to record the official mileage off of the Buick and enter it into the computer so they could do a title search on the car and make sure it wasn’t a bogus title we were handing over, the computer rejected his input. This was because the original title showed the mileage as ‘exempt’ because the car was over twenty years old.

Since the info on the title and the info he was entering didn’t jibe, the computer wouldn’t let us go any further. “No problem,” they told us, “we’ll just get a supervisor to override the search.” Unfortunately, nothing at CarMax works that easily.

As it turned out, no supervisor on the premises has the authority to override trade-in vehicle mileage in the computer. Who knew? None of them did, and certainly, neither did I. (This really speaks volumes to me about the extent of training and trust CarMax has and invests in its employees, even the ones it considers to be ‘managers’ or ‘leads’).

Fortunately, Bryson, the same young manager that had helped me the previous night came to the rescue. But even he knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. He apologized profusely, had Max bring our new car around to where it should have been all along, and put a tag on it. He suggested we take the new Escape out to eat lunch, his treat, no matter what we wanted, and hopefully, when we returned, the problem would be resolved.

Bryson really made the best of a crappy day for us. It didn’t solve the problem, but it made the whole experience a lot more tolerable.

The problem wasn’t fixed by the time we got back from lunch, but true to his word, Bryson reimbursed us for the fast-food (we’re not the kind of people to take advantage), and it wasn’t too much longer before the central office had the issue resolved and we commenced with the process of buying a car ‘completely online.’

The rest of the process proceeded uneventfully. From the time we arrived at the dealership (12:20 PM) to the time we pulled away with my wife behind the wheel of her new car (5:42 PM) was about the same as I’m used to when traditionally buying a new vehicle - minus the week-long ordeal it took to get to the point of arriving at the dealership.

The Front Driver’s Side View of our ‘new to us’ 2014 Ford Escape Titanium – Photo by Author Kurt Dillon

The Front Driver’s Side View of the Interior of our new Escape – Photo by Author Kurt Dillon

The Dashboard of our new Ford Escape titanium – Photo by Author Kurt Dillon

In the end, we got a great new vehicle at a fair price, though the process was for the birds.

The moral of my story is simply this: forget about trying to buy the car ‘completely online.’ The staff at the CarMax Warner Robins location (the physically present staff that is) are a great group of people. However, I would sincerely recommend you steer clear of having to deal with their telephone support staff - at all costs. But, if you’re going to buy a car the traditional way, the CarMax in Warner Robins is a great place to do it.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Culture and Current Events, Humor, Interview, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Personal Narrative, Self-Help, True Story