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I Took My Dodge Viper to CarMax for an Appraisal

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2017

I recently drove my 1997 Dodge Viper GTS to CarMax to find out what they'd offer me for it. This is a time-honored tradition I've done with each and every one of my cars, largely because you people seem to find it approximately as entertaining as playoff sports. Perhaps we should start wagering on my CarMax offers.

The fact that I was able to get to CarMax at all was rather impressive. Over the last couple of months, several people have asked me why I haven't done much with the Viper -- and there are two good reasons. One is that it's been wintry and cold -- and I've already shown you how the Viper performs in winter weather. More important, however, is that it keeps breaking down. In fact, I went to shoot this "Viper to CarMax" video three weeks ago, and the Viper overheated just a few blocks from my house, requiring a tow to my mechanic.

If you've been following along with my whole Viper saga, you'll know this is the second time it's broken down. The first time came a couple of months ago, when I was trying to teach my friend Britt to drive a manual transmission. During that adventure, the Viper overheated, coolant started pouring out of it and I had to get it towed. This time, same deal: The Viper overheated, coolant was leaking out of it and I sent it to my mechanic on a flatbed.

In both cases, the culprit was similar: Last time, the radiator failed; this time, the coolant hoses failed. Now that everything has been replaced with parts that are stronger, newer and more durable, I'm hoping the Viper works just fine until I'm ready to sell it -- probably sometime this summer.

Anyway: Back to CarMax.

For those of you who don't know what CarMax is, allow me to enlighten you. It's a nationwide used car retailer with a large inventory of vehicles for sale. But more important, it's a company that claims it will purchase your vehicle, regardless of what your vehicle is. Just bring your car to CarMax, they'll make you an offer on it and you can sell it to them if you want. I've done this for something like four or five vehicles now, and my readers and viewers always seem to get a kick out of it, so I decided to do it with the Viper. As usual, I go on a quiet weekday morning, so I don't waste anyone's time.

And this brings me to the offer. CarMax basically has two tiers of vehicles: stuff CarMax will sell, and stuff CarMax won't sell. What they will sell are newer cars in good condition with low miles. If you bring them something like that, they'll make you a very fair offer, and you'll walk out happy. Meanwhile, what they won't sell are cars like my Viper: 20-year-old exotic sports cars. If you bring them a car like that, they typically provide a fairly low offer, because they're going to turn around and wholesale it at auction. They don't want your Viper. They want your Altima.

So, with this in mind, I tried to figure out what my offer would be. I bought my Viper last fall for $37,000, and I think it's still worth about that number if I were to sell it retail. But since CarMax doesn't want anything to do with my Viper, I figured they'd offer me some figure well below that number. I guessed $25,000. Then I got in my Viper and I drove to CarMax to find out what would happen next.

What happened next was, I met two very nice CarMax employees: one named Chip, and one named John. John owned a Roush Mustang. This always seems to happen every single time I go to CarMax: I hope I get someone who doesn't know anything about cars and who accidentally makes me a really high offer, but then I arrive and the CarMax person says something like: "Oh, I see you have the Hesperia interior with the factory Erstwhile seat bolsters," and it turns out the guy is right, even though I always thought the interior was black.

So anyway, John and Chip checked out the car, looked it over and went into their lair (the CarMax business office) to discuss where to value it, and they came back with my appraisal: $25,000. I could hardly contain my excitement, as I've now correctly guessed two CarMax appraisals in a row. I was thrilled. I was congratulating myself. And then two CarMax employees recognized me in the parking lot, so I quickly fled the scene.

But here's what I've learned: The CarMax people are typically very nice and often fairly knowledgeable about cars. But CarMax doesn't quite value a Dodge Viper like a car enthusiast would.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
I Took My Dodge Viper to CarMax for an Appraisal - Autotrader