An independent dealership isn't associated with any particular automaker. The used-car selection can vary wildly, depending on whether you're shopping at a corner lot or a full-size dealership with a service department. Since the quality can also vary from one place to another, we recommend you run Google and Yelp searches and see what kind of reviews that dealer has. The Better Business Bureau is also a good resource.
Independent dealerships are useful if you're trying to find a really inexpensive used car. If you have poor credit, you'll have a good chance of getting a vehicle financed at these dealerships. It is worth noting that interest rates at independent dealers may not be as favorable as rates found at larger stores.
If you're choosing this type of dealership in hopes of getting approved for an auto loan, consider checking with a big-name dealership first. Large franchised dealerships often work with multiple banks, including some that specialize in less than perfect credit.
Some independent used-car lots may specialize in a certain type of car, which can make your selection process easier if you have that type in mind. For example, one place might focus on European luxury makes, while another might specialize in classic cars.
Use your best judgment if you do business with independent dealers and make sure you run a vehicle history report for anything you are seriously considering. We also recommend that you read our "Field Guide to Independent Used-Car Lots."
We'd be remiss if we didn't toot our own horn to say that Edmunds also has used car listings from a wide range of dealerships and in both CPO and non-CPO varieties. Here you can search nationwide, get the price checked to see if it is high or a great deal and even see how long the car has been sitting on the dealer's lot. To be clear, Edmunds isn't selling the vehicles, but we can help you locate and get in touch with the dealership to see the vehicle in person and complete the sale.
CarMax is technically an independent used-car dealer. But with upwards of 200 stores nationwide, it is the largest used-car seller in the country. You'll find a wide array of late-model cars in a variety of body styles.
Buying from CarMax is a hassle-free, no-haggle process. All of its salespeople are paid on a flat-commission basis, which means they'll get paid the same amount whether they sell you a BMW or a Ford. This pay system allows salespeople to focus on helping customers find a car that best fits their needs and price range, said a CarMax spokesperson.
Carmax also gives the buyer the option to take a 24-hour test drive, which is perfect for driving the vehicle home to see if it fits in your garage or test out its size with the whole family. That said, its prices tend to be higher than other used-car sources. CarMax is serious about its no-haggle policy, so the price will hold firm. But if you hate negotiating, this policy could be an advantage.
If you have a trade-in, CarMax will make you a fixed offer on that, too. All CarMax vehicles come with a 90-day, 4,000-mile limited warranty (whichever comes first). The company also offers a 30 day money-back guarantee just in case you change your mind about the vehicle you choose. There are many cars to choose from, and they can be researched online. While there are a few exceptions, generally speaking, if you find a car you like at another branch, you can arrange to have it shipped to a location near you (sometimes for an additional fee).