By on September 28, 2017

CarMax Dealer

Over 25 percent of the used vehicles sold through eight CarMax locations in the United States had recall defects that were not addressed, according to a recent safety report.

The 2017 study, conducted by the Center For Auto Safety, the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation and the MASSPIRG Education Fund, noted that vehicles with unresolved safety recalls  had more than doubled since 2015 at the five locations surveyed in both years. That is worthy of a raised eyebrow or two.

Questions remain, however. While the review cites numerous locations selling vehicles with what many would consider unacceptable issues, we don’t definitively know if this is indicative of CarMax as a whole. But lets face it, there were 64 million vehicles recalled for safety problems last year — exceeding the total for the previous three years combined.

That said, consumers should not be sold vehicles with outstanding recalls without being informed in advance. While CarMax does provide an “AutoCheck” report and the option to go over VIN-specific recalls with a sales associate, it’s not obligatory for customers to pay attention. Likewise, the report may not include any recall information outright.

Brought to our attention by Jalopnik, the study states that at least 45 of the 1,699 vehicles surveyed contained recalled Takata airbags, which have been attributed to 16 deaths and countless injuries. That’s a little less forgivable than a loose seat or faulty drink holder, despite the recall’s massive scale.

Dealers passing off lemons as quality automobiles isn’t an uncommon practice but CarMax presents itself differently than your average no-title-no-problem sketch artist. Its recent influx of duds could be attributed to the abnormally high number of recalls within the automotive industry. Honestly, we’d have been surprised if the research found fewer cars with outstanding problems this year.

Of the sample, 461 cars contained some unresolved issue — which accounted for 27 percent of all vehicles currently for sale between the eight locations. Those would be poor marks even if the study was intentionally choosing bad apples, however, the report doesn’t go into great detail about its methodology. Assumedly, it wanted to look into the five previously selected sites and picked the other three out of convenience.

Here are the shops in question, in case you were curious: In Massachusetts we have CarMax of North Attleboro, Danvers, Norwood, and Westborough. California locations included Oxnard and Sacramento South, and Connecticut’s East Haven and Hartford were also part of the study.

All of the cars in the sample were individually assessed based on the inventory available through the CarMax website and are available in the full report.

CarMax issued a response to the study, saying it “provides the most transparent and integrity-driven car buying experience in the industry. Our approach to recalls is no different. CarMax has led the industry in recall transparency and shares vehicle specific recall information in-store and online.”

It then went on to provide a link to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall lookup website, with the VIN pre-populated, allowing customers to obtain open recall information on any used vehicle for sale. This is true and incredibly easy for anyone with thirty seconds to spare.

Finally, customers are required sign a form acknowledging the NHTSA recall information prior to signing sales documents. At this point, whether or not they actually did kind of doesn’t matter because the legal burden is off the seller.

Sure, we’d love to see CarMax taking care of problems prior to sale and shouting out recall details to unaware consumers. But they’re operating within the boundaries of the law and giving shoppers the tools necessary to make informed decisions — if they are willing to take advantage of them.

The only serious issue we see is that some CarMax locations seem to be more willing to take on a sketchier inventory. In which case, buyer beware. Of course, if you do hate your purchase the company does offer a five-day money-back guarantee.

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31 Comments on “A Quarter of the Vehicles Sold Through CarMax Had Unresolved Safety Issues, Study Claims...”

  • avatar

    In 2014, we bought a 4-year-old Odyssey with 40k miles for…well, typical Honda used prices.

    Over the next few days, issues started to arise (warped rotors, bad front suspension bushings, among other things). We took it in for a pre-delivery inspection because we were still within the return period. The inspection crew noted that it looked like very little maintenance had been done, and they also pointed out a terrible re-spray of the rear bumper — the body shop hadn’t even taken the masking tape off the rear bumper reflectors (which I didn’t even know existed because they were body color).

    Just an anecdote, but on Day 7 the car went right back to them. We ended up buying a brand new version, albeit a lower trimline, for just a few thousand more.

    It definitely soured me on the idea of CarMax, but I wouldn’t say I’ll never buy from them again…I’ll just get a third-party inspection ALWAYS and will never treat them as being on par with manufacturer CPO programs. They’re more like buying private party — and with their volume, I’m not surprised they miss things and cut corners.

  • avatar

    CarMax stinks – they’re for people too lazy to do their homework, and willing to pay CarMax’s no-haggle prices. As for recalls, yes, they (and everyone else) should disclose recall information, but with recalls, if there’s no remedy, then the car is probably not going to sell. My mother-in-law’s 2008 Lexus ES350 had over a year wait to replace the Takata front passenger airbag, so for over a year, no one was allowed to sit in the front passenger seat.

    If Carmax isn’t disclosing open recalls, it’s probably because there’s no remedy (repair parts not yet available).

    There are multiple smartphone apps out there that allow you to scan VIN barcodes on cars, and find open recalls.

    • 0 avatar

      What is your concern with offering a sales channel for people whose time to value equation is different than yours?

      If one wants to haggle, fine. If not, fine too. Its not your money or my money….so….why categorize them as lazy?

      Maybe they just hate the typical BS dealers do and want a simpler, clear process?

  • avatar

    What’s the % of used cars sold at new car dealerships with these same issues?

    If there’s no law requiring eery single issue be addressed before a sale, don’t expect individual sellers or car dealerships to address this.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My son’s CPO Sonata had 4 outstanding recalls when he bought it from the same dealer which had serviced it for the prior owner. They acted surprised, then we took it somewhere else for the work.

    • 0 avatar

      Our last two cars were used, from dealers. We ran a VIN check on both and verified that all recalls had been addressed. They had. Why wouldn’t they? The factory pays them to perform the work.

      For CarMax, it’s an inconvenience. For the [same brand] dealer, it’s money.

      • 0 avatar

        Warranty pay sucks compared to customer pay jobs. Dealers will perform warranty work, but they don’t go looking for it. Checking for open recalls takes time away from scrounging sales.

        • 0 avatar

          You’re correct that warranty work typically pays less than customer works, but it still pays. They do go looking for it. You still make money on it, so why not? Also, customers tend to go elsewhere once the warranty is up.

          It used to be that warranty work kept the doors open for some dealers. Now that cars are more reliable, not so much.

  • avatar

    Clickbait is annoying enough but how come you guys are just rewriting Jalopnik’s articles now? I literally just read this over there, click here and here it is again.

    Perhaps you could look a little further into the “Truth” and see how this relates to what other dealers do and actually add something to the story.

    I have zero connection to Carmax but they do a WAY better job of showing recalls or at least offering to show recalls and making it very easy to check for recalls right on their own website. I have yet to see ANY other dealer do the same.

    And what are people supposed to do with a Takata recalled car? Not drive it at all for several years? Never sell it? Should Carmax just hold it in a lot like the Silverdome? The only sort of realistic option I see is to force the manufacturers to offer to buy the cars back and they an hold on to them (like VW with TDI). I get it, they can be dangerous, I probably wouldn’t buy a used Civic in a high humidity climate like New Orleans that’s on the list but shouldn’t paint all cars with the same brush…At least Carmax discloses it, if the buyer doesn’t want to listen then that’s the buyer’s problem.

    • 0 avatar

      We had an Audi with the Takata passenger airbag… no recourse, nothing to do. Thing is, both that Audi and the BMW we have now, I honestly prefer the sitting position in the back. So we instituted the VIP riding policy, where one spouse would drive and the other ride VIP in the back. Rear seats were heated, and there was a reasonably plush armrest. Made for funny conversations crossing the border to Canada though. Sold it like that and did not lose a night’s sleep on it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Dealers passing off lemons as quality automobiles”

    Vehicles with outstanding recalls are not lemons. A ‘lemon’ actually has a legal definition, which varies by state.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand why outstanding recalls on used cars are such a big deal. When you buy a used car, is it really that hard to call a dealer for that brand and see if there are any open recalls? It’s not like there is an extra cost involved.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      You’re correct, but most people aren’t thinking about recalls when they’re excitedly working out terms on a car purchase. So serious recalls go unaddressed too often.

      Plus, it’s a pain to bring it back in for the work, or to wait a few days until the dealer can release your new purchase to the street.

  • avatar

    Not a safety complaint, but when I went to look at a used Avalon a few years ago, I was appalled at the crappy Fuzion tires that they slapped on there. Totally ruined the ride and added a ton of road noise. A bunch of scratches and dings on the car, interior not cleaned at all it seemed. Good luck with no haggle pricing on cars that are not presentable at all.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, love it when a dealership replaces two tires (usually with super-cheapo ones) and then advertise the “NEW TIRES!” I had a 2003 Jeep Liberty years ago with Fuzion tires, and they were truly horrid.
      That said, I bought one car via Carmax. I had been looking for a gen one Ford Fusion with a manual and found one through Carmax in St. Louis (I was living in Charleston, SC at the time). They had it advertised as a six cylinder, which I knew was false. When they got it in, I went to look at it and pointed out that even though I had asked (they allowed something like three questions, like a genie in a bottle or something!) if they were 100% sure it was a six cylinder, it clearly was not. So, they knocked off $500 of the price and I bought it. Other than that, the experience was easy and painless and I drove the car happily for several years.
      When I got to Huntsville, I made a friend at the local Carmax who would call me whenever something cool and unique would come in. I’d pop down and we’d take whatever it was for an extended (and spirited) test drive. I was bummed when he eventually left the organization and moved away. My fun times were over! Would I buy again? Not sure. But I do like having the large selection right there on the lot to look at.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s a C-Max at an MA Car-Max location. It says it has “A new pair of tires”.

        To that, I say WTF? “new pair of tires??” Why are there not two new pairs of tires for an even 4?

        They are currently building a Car-Max where I live, should be open soon since they’re hiring at the moment. I’ll be interested to check it out, but don’t know if I’d ever buy there. If I did, I’d do my due diligence before signing.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Playing devils advocate…
      Regarding the Avalon, it is entirely possible this was a lease return and the lessee opted to put a set of the cheapest tires possible prior to turn in.
      But most likely not..

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    This is a hit piece on CarMax.

    Are they for everyone? Nope. Their exists a large contingent of (as noted above) ‘lazy people’ or as I refer to them: people who are completely opposite from me in that they are disinterested in cars as a whole, are completely intimidated by the buying process, have had terrible experiences in the past, just want an easy process to buy a car, people. CarMax serves this community very well, and they are willing to pay for it. Good for CarMax for finding a niche, just like Nordstrom found their niche; I never step foot in them.

    Here is the recall issue using Honda as an example any make will do: CarMax delivers the car to the Honda dealer for recall repair. Dealer knows that this is for another dealer and parks in the back to ‘get to it’ and handles their own used inventory recall work, customer pay, customer recall, customer warranty work first. 3 weeks later CarMax inventory manager calls to ask about the status of said Honda that now has one low tire and a dead battery sitting on the back row by the fence awaiting its ‘turn’ in the shop for recall work.

    This is why most used cars with open recalls are sold to the public either with or without disclosure as it is easier and quicker for the consumer to get the problem solved.

    As I mentioned above, I find this ‘study’ to be a hit piece as it found 25% margin of error and we are expected to react with shock and horror. Well, how about they go measure Larry H Miller, AutoNation, Hendrick, Sonic, or any number of large dealership chains? Lets see how they do or better yet some random used car outlet in pick your city USA. You may find that 25% default rate is indicative of a really good job.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget that whether you buy from CarMax or not, it’s the best way to test drive the widest variety of competing models in one place. They aggregate inventory in ways few competitors can match.

    To me it’s not about the haggling, it’s about the expectation of a quality (CPO-level) vehicle in exchange for pricing it 5%-10% above what an independent dealer would charge. To that end, this is definitely a black mark against them.

    There are plenty of lazy shoppers at CarMax, but having been formerly employed by a competitor, there are also plenty of enthusiasts who like to drop in every few months to see what’s out there. I call them “serendipitous shoppers” who might not have something specific in mind, but can be swayed by what they see. Not everyone obsesses over a specific model enough to stalk it on Craigslist over a 200-mile radius.

    Also: People who just totaled their car and can’t be too picky.

    • 0 avatar

      CPO quality used to mean someone thoroughly goes through a car, replaces or refurbishes parts that need replacement or doesn’t meet specs, and looks ‘nearly new’.

      I’ve found CPO cars recently that appear to have nothing but a wash and wax. At an Audi dealer here in LA, I drove a SQ5 with oil change and service alerts and what looked like grease on the rear seats, and an A6 with a non-functioning backup camera. Both were CPO cars.

      BMW is now playing these games, too. When we bought my wife’s cpo X5, it needed an oil change within 1k miles along with new rear brakes. I didn’t know at the time to look through iDrive, but I do now.

      At an LA Carmax, most of the cars were dirty inside and out and had very faint odd smells. Not bad smells, but something distinctive that smelled of must.

      My takeaway is that most dealers just don’t give a damn – the attention to detail is grossly inadequate. The advantage Carmax has is that you can get the car inspected and return it or demand that they fix what they missed within (I think) a week of buying it. That’s a distinct advantage. It might even be something to use with a branded dealer to help seal a deal.

      I’m more at ease buying from an individual than I am from dealers. Service records, talking with the owner, no dealer bs… for me, it’s an easier experience.

  • avatar

    On a related note, 100% of the used cars sold at our local Carmax smelled like nasty used car dealer stank-cover-up deodorant.

  • avatar

    I once saw a 2016 XC90 that was for sale on Carmax but was a rebuilt from an accident in which all the air bags deployed.
    carmax stock #14864567

    yes, that very car was being sold at CarMax with no rebuilt title.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Disappointing, but not surprising.

      My 12 Leaf sustained $4000 worth of front end collision damage, was rebuilt by a certified Nissan body shop (with frame welding), and after the lease it was resold three states away with a clean Carfax – “no accidents”.


    • 0 avatar

      Interesting “that very car” being sold at carmax has a different VIN than the vehicle at copart…ever try fact checking?

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    My issue with CarMax is that there prices are as high or higher than any other dealer and they won’t budge when you point that out. To me this isn’t no haggle but rather shut up and pay what we are asking. I can walk into any dealer and fork over the asking price and get a similar deal. If you like shopping there cool, but I just don’t see the allure.

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