CarMax or a Traditional Dealership: Which is Better for Buying a Used Car?

If you’re in the market for a pre-owned vehicle, then it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the number of ways in which to buy one. With the advent of home-delivery car-buying services like Carvana and Vroom, it’s easy to get tempted into going with one those, but can still be confusing.

That’s why places like CarMax and regular dealerships still exist. Having a brick-and-mortar store to go to and an actual salesperson to talk to can help any first-time or curious buyers when purchasing a used car. However, CarMax has a different process than a traditional dealer, so which one is better for buying a used car?


CarMax’s business models take the user-friendly approach to buying a used car. It’s like “Best Buy for cars,” in that you can browse the inventory of the store nearest you, or anyone in the nation, and find the car you want. You can then go to the closest store and find that specific car, or even casually browse around.

The main highlight of the experience is that the salespeople there are typically hands-off until you actually need help, and they’re okay with you driving multiple cars and answering questions to help you out. When it comes time to purchasing a car, the salesperson that you are with takes care of all of the paperwork and payment, and there’s no need to see a finance manager or wait long hours.

One drawback is that CarMax offers a “no-haggle” buying experience, which means that the price is the price. And most of the time, the price is $1,000-$2,000 over the retail value. This is how they make a profit.

A traditional dealership

Since the beginning of car sales, traditional dealerships have constantly gotten a bad reputation, thanks to shady business dealings and tactics in the latter half of the 20th century. We can’t say that nothing bad goes on now, but that’s beside the point of this specific topic.

With a traditional car dealership, you can browse their inventory online and find a car you want. You can also go to multiple locations and browse the lot as well, however, be prepared to be met very quickly by a salesperson. The salesperson will help guide you through finding the car you want, go over pricing with you, then complete whatever preliminary paperwork is needed

After the initial paperwork is done, you will then have to wait for the finance manager. The finance manager takes care of the rest of the paperwork, which includes the necessary DMV documents, finance documents, and the actual contract. Don’t be surprised if they try and sell you some extra products for your car during this time.

The process might not be as smooth overall, however, with a traditional dealership, you can at least negotiate on the price of the car and rest assured that you’re getting a great deal. Luckily, dealers to need to remain competitive nowadays, so you’ll see that their used-car pricing is typically far less than CarMax’s.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Which one is better?

Both car sales institutions have their pros and cons. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop and an easier car buying experience, but don’t mind paying for it, then CarMax might better suit you. However, if pricing is a concern and you want to make sure you can get the best deal, it might be better to put up with the long wait times and slightly more aggressive approach of a traditional dealership.