Continuing from our last installment, Bertha made it to the target CarMax. When I turned her off in the visitor lot, I just prayed that she would start again when needed……whether that was me leaving for home, or CarMax taking her into their fold.
If you’ve never been to a CarMax, it’s a pretty slick operation. I’ve been to several over the years, though this is my first transaction. When you pull in, it’s just the visitor lot. You can’t drive amongst the fenced inventory like most dealers, which makes complete sense. It prevents damage to their inventory, and you have to enter the building to interface with them before you make it into the fenced inventory lot.
Which, ironically, is less pressuring to me than a regular dealer. We all know what it’s like to walk or drive through a regular dealer, just wanting to see what’s there, and being accosted by one or more salespeople appearing seemingly out of nowhere.
At CarMax, you enter the building (it’s pretty bland inside, but it keeps the overhead down) and there is a receptionist desk. If you want to walk around and just look, they are happy with that. I’ve done it more than once. You just tell them you aren’t looking to buy right now, you just want to see different makes and models side by side. It’s perfect for that, if you are trying to compare an Altima to a Camry, for example. And since the lot is securely fenced, they leave everything unlocked for the day. You can hop in and out of everything.
I had placed a free seven day hold on a 2015 BMW 320i sedan. It seemed odd to me that they would let you hold a car for seven days for free, but that’s sure enough how it works. When I placed the hold on it on their website, it disappeared from my “Watch” list on the CarMax site. It reappeared under my “Appointments” list, as part of the seven day hold process involved setting a date and time to come see it.
When I set the appointment, within about 10 minutes I got an email from a salesman wanting to make sure I had not made a mistake due to the distance, making sure I knew they could transfer it, etc. But otherwise, he would see me that coming Saturday at my appointed time. And if I wanted to call ahead and give him about 10 minutes of time, he could do the finance application on the phone and then be able to tell me the best interest rate they could give me.
Eager to make a potential purchase as quick as possible, I took him up on that. He took the needed into and told me that CarMax’s internal finance arm gets first dibs, then they can shop other lenders if 1. CarMax passes on you or 2. you want to see if other lenders make you a better offer.
Within about an hour, I had another email telling me CarMax’s internal unit would give me 2.95% APR for 36, 48, or 60 months. They can also do 4.95% for 72 or 84 months if you desire. The 2.95% sounded good, as I had already talked to a local BMW dealer about interest rates on CPO BMW’s, and there was no current special finance offer in place. I also called my Lexus salesman, as I thought a second ES350 might replace Bertha. The Lexus/Toyota Financial 0.9% I got a year ago is no more. A rate of around 4% was the norm right now.
So, on my appointed day, I arrived about 40 minutes early (since I skipped lunch due to Bertha’s temperament). The salesman greeted me and told me he was wrapping up with a prior client. It was raining pretty good by this point, though, and I remembered what my dad always told me….never buy a used car in the rain. You can’t see what you are getting.
The salesman (let’s call him Larry) came over soon enough and we reviewed the price and specs on the 320i. It was a 2015 with only 15,000 miles, which is why I was interested in it. It was a three year lease, and CarFax showed no accidents and dealer maintenance by the book. It looked great in the pictures online, and had the extra cost options we wanted (heated seats, nav, sunroof). It was an X Drive, which is BMW speak for all wheel drive, which we decided we wanted for the modest extra price on the used units. The 320i is the bottom of the BMW line, but is pretty nice of course anyway. It has a 180 horsepower turbo 2.0 liter four, with an 8 speed automatic. About $40,000.00 new, this one was $22,000.00. Overpriced when new in my opinion, but a compelling value at almost half off.
Which brings up another interesting point about CarMax. Their prices, from what I can tell, are generally quite lower than franchise dealers. There’s no haggling and by and large, the price appears to be what you are willing to walk in and pay. My local BMW dealer has 2015 320i’s with three times the miles, for MORE money. Now, they may dicker some, but I don’t think they would come down to $22,000.00.
There is no extended warranty like with a CPO BMW, but the CPO warranties have been dialed down over the years, anyway. BMW CPO adds just a year to the end of the 4 year/50,000 mile factory warranty, up to a maximum of 100,000 miles on the odometer.
And, there is less detail and prep work at CarMax too, but we will come back to that later. They claim to do a 100 some point mechanical inspection, and I guess we can trust that they do. While having an accident or paint work won’t keep a car off a CarMax lot, having a brand on the title or evidence of being put on a frame rack will.
So on to the car I reserved. It looked great when the salesman pulled it out of the gate, and picked me up at the door. Jet black with black “Sensatec” or whatever BMW calls vinyl. It drove great too, just like a BMW with 15,000 miles would. I was smitten. It seemed like a great car for my 16 year old. Not that he needed a car that nice, but for the price of a new Civic or slightly used Accord, why not? And if he didn’t abuse it, it should last him six or more years and at least get him through college.
Since it was raining, I asked Larry if we could pull in a service department bay so I could examine the exterior closely. This seemed to be the car, and I wanted to examine it closely. The service department was closed on Saturday, so that was helpful. He told me he would go greet another customer and check on me later. I started examining every panel at the driver door, working my way around the trunk, then started up the passenger side.
While I was confident I would find nothing amiss with the clean CarFax, I was wrong. When I got to the passenger rear door, it had the worst wavy, high school shop class bondo job I have ever seen. And a really poor paint job too, just on that one panel. I found some clean shop towels to wipe the door down, to make sure of what I was seeing. But, the adjacent panels and rocker appeared to be factory perfect. So this was likely not an accident, but maybe a parking deck mishap (like grazing a column or pole).
I kept on with my examination, as I wasn’t sure the door was a deal breaker. With everything else so right about the car, I thought I could have it wet sanded at a body shop, and that would probably help for very little cost. I learned from prior cars that what I was seeing, while poor prep work, also was evidence of too much paint and/or clear coat being applied. A good wet sanding would “level” the surface and make it look a lot better.
Things went fine until I got to the driver side front corner of the hood. There was about a 2×3 foot area that was clearly less shiny than the rest of the hood. Almost flat black, in fact. And that headlight had a 2018 date code sticker, on a 2015 car. So something semi serious happened there.
The hood concerned me more, as just the corner was repainted (and not well). There wasn’t a way to make it look better, besides maybe a new clear coat over the whole hood.
While I wasn’t giving up on the 320i yet, this was a real disappointment. Larry reappeared by this time, and I told him of the two problem areas. He had no reaction or response, and I got the impression this was not news to him. Maybe a prior shopper had pointed out the same problems.
I told him I needed to think on it, and I wanted to see what else they had on the lot that was similar. It had quit raining by this point, thankfully. We walked over to the part of the lot where the 320i came from. There was a 5 Series sedan or two, a 3 Series wagon, and another 3 Series sedan.
Except, as we got closer, it wasn’t. It had a hatch and I didn’t know what I was looking at. It was a 2015 328i Gran Turismo, or GT. I don’t recall ever seeing one in person. I’ve seen the similar 5 Series GT on a semi-regular basis, by comparison.
Wiki tells me that it is a little wider and has a longer wheelbase than other 3’s. It uses the China market, long wheelbase 3 chassis. It clocks in just under 4,000 pounds, so it’s heavier too. And it was X Drive (they come as S Drive, or rear wheel drive, too). It was $2,000.00 more, or $24,000.00. The 320i was already more than the $20,000.00 I had budgeted, but this car seemed to be a better value.
Over the 320i, the $2,000.00 added a panoramic roof, power front seats, leather seating, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, rain sensing wipers, interior LED “mood lighting” across the dash and along all four door panels at night, an upgraded Harmon/Kardon stereo, larger wheels,
that hatch, folding rear seats and a huge cargo space (great for my son’s bike he takes to the state parks all the time), and real burl wood trim. It had a 240 horsepower version of the 2.0 liter turbo four, so more power but not too much power.
The original window sticker was in the glovebox. Right at $52,000.00 new, so $24,000.00 was more than half off. It was a three year lease as well, that just turned 20,000 miles. It sure had more than half it’s life left. CarFax showed regular service at the selling dealer, including an oil change, brake flush, and all the filters 1,500 miles ago. It is under factory warranty until June, 2019.
So this seemed like a real contender. I drove it and after about 20 miles of city and highway driving, we returned to the service bay. Larry joined me in wiping it down so I could inspect it (it had resumed raining during the drive).
Everything about the paint and panels was satisfactory. One BMW center wheel cap was missing. There were also what appeared to be nicks on the front, which turned out to be old bugs. The wheels had some minor brake dust staining, which a good waxing would take off. The engine bay was pretty dirty. Not oily, but three years of pollen and dust covered everything. (The headlights were original, with matching 2015 production dates). The cowl area under the hood was clogged with old leaf debris. On the rainy test drive, the wipers were clearly past their shelf life. So that’s what I mean about less prep at CarMax. A BMW dealer would have fixed all that prior to it going on the lot.
A good wash and wax in my driveway, including hitting it with the pressure washer under the hood, would resolve all this. I asked about the wipers and the center cap, but the reply was along the lines of “yeah, well, I’d have to ask the manager how to go about that….”. I knew I could find a cap on Amazon for $15 or so, and wipers were cheap and easy, so I would just do it myself.
I did some cursory looking on my phone and as with the 320i sedan, comparable year and mileage GT’s were thousands more at dealers. Not that there were many of them, the sedan is far more common. But it appeared the $24,000.00 CarMax GT would be $28,000.00 or more at a dealer. You would get modestly more warranty, but there was no financing advantage.
The 3 Series GT has been sold since the 2013 model year, and Google tells me 2019 is going to be the end, with no replacement planned. Which seems like a shame, it’s a very practical vehicle overall. But it’s not an SUV, and I guess new and used BMW shoppers who want something more than a sedan get one of the SUV’s instead. The resulting steep depreciation on the GT is our friend, if we like the packaging.
By this time, CarMax was through with appraising Bertha and yes, she fully cooperated with the process. $4,000.00 was the offer, take it or leave it. Even with her miles, Kelly Blue Book was $4,500.00 or better. But, with her erratic behavior, I felt I was on borrowed time. The GT seemed like a sound choice that anyone in the family would be happy driving for years to come, including Mrs. Importamation and me. It was there, I was there, the financing was approved earlier in the week, Bertha was cooperating for the time being. All we needed to do was put pen to paper.
So with that, Larry went to “secure the trade”, which means pull it through the sallyport and into the fenced lot. I took a final picture for posterity. I left her touch up paint, High Mileage Award, some extra wiper blades, and list of every fluid change since new in the trunk, for whoever to find.
The paperwork was quick. Much quicker than the Lexus dealer a year ago, in fact. Primarily because they made no effort to upsell me on anything. The salesman had asked me at his desk about an extended warranty, which I declined. I had to view and sign off that it had a clean title, no open recalls, and some other CYA documents. But there was no further mention of service contracts, credit life insurance, paint sealant, wheel replacement, stain repellant, etc.
And with that, I was on my way. The ribbon was a nice touch, though I didn’t take a selfie for Instagram like they hope you will.
I’ve already ordered, received and popped on the missing wheel cap, given her a coat of black colored wax, replaced the wipers, and found an OEM touch up stick online (though I only found a couple of places it was needed). The pressure washer made everything under the hood look showroom new, and a Brillo pad got the chrome exhaust tips clean. The inside was pretty spotless already. About two hours to give it a proper detail and make it right. It’s in better shape than my CPO Lexus was, after some elbow grease. And I don’t think I’m going to let anyone else drive it, ever! Sorry, kid.
Epilogue: The 320i with the iffy body repairs sold a few days later, so someone didn’t notice or didn’t care.