Is AutoNation all it's cracked up to be?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have heard about a used-car buying service called AutoNation. It's supposed to
be a place where you can buy a used car without haggling (kind of like the
Saturn philosophy, I imagine). Is this all it's cracked up to be? Can I really
get a good car there? Do they have inspection criteria that are above and beyond
anyone else's? Thanks for the advice. -- Marde

RAY: There are actually two big players in this business, Marde. There's
AutoNation, and CarMax. We've actually visited a CarMax store, although I
understand that AutoNation works the same way.

TOM: And it IS a pretty good place to buy a used car. Those of you who have read
our used car pamphlet (to order How to Buy a Used Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo
Don't Want You to Know, send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10
envelope to Used Car, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420) know we're big
proponents of late-model used cars. And both CarMax and AutoNation specialize in
just those vehicles.

RAY: They tend to buy the cream of the used-car crop, buying cars that have just
come off two-, three- and four- year leases. So you do get a huge selection of
good-quality cars (at least at the CarMax we visited).

TOM: You also get a set, no-haggle price. Is it the very best price? Probably
not. If you were really savvy (or carried a baseball bat), you might be able to
haggle a better price from an individual or dealer. But that's a pain.

RAY: Plus, we didn't find CarMax's prices outrageously high. From what we saw,
the prices were a little high, but pretty fair.

TOM: And they do check out every car before it's put on the lot. How good is
that inspection? It's really hard to know. That's why we'd still recommend that
you have a car inspected by your own mechanic prior to buying it, no matter who
you buy it from, and no matter how many times it's been "pre-inspected."

RAY: But the CarMax/AutoNation screening process certainly does filter out the
real losers. And unlike an individual seller, they're less likely to
intentionally try to dump a lemon on you since they're trying to build a good
reputation in the business.

TOM: So I'd say places like CarMax and AutoNation are excellent places to look
for a used car. They offer no haggling, a huge selection of good-quality cars,
and a distinct dearth of plaid pants, white belts and white shoes. But we'd
still recommend that you do some independent research on prices (try or Kelly Blue Book) and check out any used car independently before
plunking down your money.

* * *

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper,
or e-mail them by visiting on the World Wide Web.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One