With my 1991 Dodge Caravan all-wheel-drive finally back and repaired from its Colorado misadventure, I couldn’t miss the opportunity make a video with its wood-paneled cousin before selling it. Other than both having faux wood paneling stuck to the sides, it has very little in common with my 1983 Chrysler LeBaron. A comparison test would be pointless, as they’re both dinosaurs from a terrible era for domestic cars — but as it turns out, CarMax thinks they have something else in common.
Yes, I borrowed a page from the DeMuro playbook and took both of these wooden relics to my local CarMax for an appraisal. I have a long history with CarMax, and this store in particular, as they gave me my first job in the car business.
Twelve years ago, I was right out of high school, and I was determined to get a job that had anything to do with cars. When I saw CarMax being built just a few miles from home, I eagerly applied to be a salesman. During my interview, the manager pulled out a pen and told me to sell it to him, just like in the movie "The Wolf of Wall Street." I proceeded to take the pen apart to show him how it worked — but I forgot how to put it back together. By some miracle, he hired me anyway.
After training, I was on the sales floor for opening day. Despite being mobbed with customers, I didn’t come close to selling a car. I also failed to sell anything the second day, or the third — and I eventually went three weeks without closing a sale. Despite being a total failure, the managers of the store remained patient and kind. Eventually, I lucked into selling something — but I still wasn’t very good.
I only lasted at CarMax a few months. Once the newness settled down and the store became less busy, there were too many salesmen standing around waiting for customers. It also didn’t help that winter had come — the slowest time of the year for car sales, until they bounce back for tax-return season. Educating the public on CarMax’s concept of no-haggle pricing (unusual at the time) was also a challenge.
With my Carmax experience on my resume, I was able to get hired at a dealership that sold Chevrolet, Cadillac and BMW models. The commission potential was much higher, but there was far less structure than at CarMax. This was great for me, as I was free to find my own style — but also challenging, as management philosophies were very inconsistent. Creating a culture of high ethical standards and uniform policies is something CarMax clearly excels at.
This means they always stand behind what they say, including their offer to buy any car, even if you don’t buy one from them. Even if it’s a pair of ancient wood-paneled Chrysler products. Even if one has a melted hubcap from a small brake fire — and the other has rust holes you can put your fist through. Carmax will make an offer to write you a check on the spot, and that’s exactly what they did with my Caravan and Lebaron.
CarMax would never be crazy enough to put these vehicles in their retail inventory, which means if they purchased them, they would promptly wholesale them to another dealer. With zero wholesale value data for early Caravans and Lebarons, the buying representatives at CarMax would certainly bid conservatively. If you have a vehicle they actually want to retail, CarMax is known for making aggressive bids.
I encountered this firsthand while selling my 2012 Volkswagen GTI that I purchased new for $21,000. After a year and 10,000 miles, I got bored with it — and CarMax made the highest offer in town, at $18,000. This was higher than the local Volkswagen dealer, and I jumped at the chance to sell my VW for only a few grand less than what I paid for it new.
Throughout the process of getting offers on my faux wooded wonders, I exchanged a few messages with Doug. He expected CarMax to treat my cars like they contained radioactive waste and offer $100 — less than scrap value. I was a little more optimistic, expecting $300-$500 per car.
Turns out, CarMax was less stingy than both Doug and I thought. They offered $600 for the Caravan and $500 for the LeBaron. Given the LeBaron’s extensive rust issues, I thought they were extremely generous. I hope to sell the van for thousands more, as it’s in pretty nice condition with very low miles — but it’s nice to know where CarMax stands on it. Find a used Chrysler for sale
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.