Guenther–My First CarMax Unicorn

My fascination for CarMax unicorns began in 2013 when I scored a 2004 Mercedes S55 AMG for $20,599.  Blue, or so I thought (Mercedes data card says “Green Black Metallic”), with a tan interior.  Almost 500hp of supercharged V8.  All options.  Folks on the Mercedes forum (MBWorld.org) told me my color combo and option list was rare.  I believed them.  The car was over $120,000 new.  It was nine years old and had 50,000 miles.  It was fast and sleek and comfortable and rare and I was hooked.  And while I was corresponding with folks on the MBWorld forum on what to look out for in an AMG in the morning and driving to my CarMax in the afternoon, it was sold.  Or so I thought.  The deal fell through and 48 hours later it was back on the net.  I called my sales rep and he put an immediate hold on it.  I returned and bought it that afternoon.

But the MBWorld forum friends had wisely told me the car is crazy expensive to fix when things go wrong, and some things are guaranteed to go wrong.  For example, they said the air suspension would fail between 50,000 and 75,000 miles and it would cost thousands to repair.  I can’t do thousands in unexpected repair bills.  I can hardly do hundreds.  The warranty cost me another $3,549, bringing my out the door cost for this machine to $25,383.  It’s like I stole it.  But the $3,549 for the warranty was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, right after marrying my wife (who reluctantly approved of this illogical purchase) and driving coast to coast non-stop in a minivan with three buddies 10 years ago to have our own middle-aged Cannonball Run, but that’s another story.

493 hand built horsepower!

The warranty was good for six years, and up to 100,000 miles.  Reminder –CarMax warranties are dated from the time of my purchase, not the date of manufacture or first sale like most Certified Previously Owned (CPO) warranties.  That means I could eventually own a 15-year-old AMG with a bumper to bumper warranty! I had the option of buying the warranty through 125,000 miles and I declined to keep the warranty cost down.  Going to 125,000 would have cost another $1,500.  I have come to regret that decision.  If I had gone for 125,000, I would still own the car.  But as I said, nobody wants to own a car like this without a warranty and right from the start I said I would sell the car with 10,000 miles remaining, to make the car more sellable when the day came.  It came too soon.  I also chose the $50 deductible, the lowest, to keep out-of-pocket expenses low should the car break frequently (ha!).

Originally on a CarMax lot in LA

So what did I get for my $3,549?   How about over $35,000 in repairs at no cost whatsoever to me.  No deductibles.  Shortly after purchase the Keyless Go (smart key) intermittently failed.  Battery replacement in the fob didn’t help.   So CarMax sent me to a Mercedes Benz dealer for to replace the key fobs.  The dealer cautioned replacing two fobs would be $900 and I choked.   I called my CarMax service rep and he assured me they would cover it.  A week later the Keyless Go failed again.  Turns out it was not the fob but an issue with the central locking system.  Dropped the car off and both sets of keys to reset the system.  To my surprise, CarMax broke not one, but both of the new keys.

Back to Mercedes Benz for two more keys at $900 and CarMax never batted an eye – purchasing four keys that never needed to be bought in the first place.  Over three years we replaced the motor mounts (twice – AMG’s are hard on mounts), the air conditioner compressor, a tie rod, the pumps for the air suspension system (twice), the seat heater element, the entire digital dashboard display, the supercharger, steering rack and pinion, harmonic balanced and crankshaft damper, the rear engine seal, and a bent rim (came that way).  Some of these repairs were between $2000 and $4000 and while there would have been a $50 deductible, because I dropped the car first at CarMax I did not even have to pay that.   No charge!

CarMax once sent my car to the Mercedes Benz dealer to have the transmission control unit and whole entire rear differential replaced at a cost of $4700.  When I had a flat tire I learned the spare tire, while high performance and brand new, was a uni-directional tire which means it only can be used on one side of the car.  Of course, it was not the side of my flat.  CarMax replaced the tire at no charge.

Yes, my high-end Mercedes broke a lot.  I still don’t know whether that’s the way an AMG is or if I had a bad car.   I really didn’t care.  I loved driving it and when it broke I got a loaner car and had no repair bills.  Way more fun than owning a Honda Accord that never breaks.  Nothing against Honda Accords (wife owned one) – just way too sensible when there are cheap unicorns available.

My motor pool

I had always planned to sell Guenther around the 90,000 mile mark so a buyer could make use of the MaxCare warranty, be assured there would be no immediate car repair bills, and hopefully agree to a price slightly higher than market value to prove my point that the MaxCare warranty boosts resale value.  All of those things happened.  I advertised Guenther on Autotrader in the early spring, got a few swindlers and three interested buyers pretty quickly.  The best was a gentleman from New England with occasional business down my way and after a pair of phone calls and some email exchanges he agreed to come see the car.

I shared everything with him, including the stack of warranty repairs and the documentation on MaxCare.  I had such confidence in the car I agreed to meet him at a local Mercedes Dealer where he could test drive the car and share any concerns with the dealer since it was under warranty.  The dealer decided a ball joint needed replacement and of course this was the one time we haggled over labor rates.  MaxCare would only authorize a set amount which was less than the Mercedes Benz rate.   Ugh.  It would have delayed the sale, so I paid all of $100 to have the dealer fix the car.  The buyer and I had lunch while it was repaired and I found him to be a really decent car guy.

Car guys don’t screw car guys, so I opened negotiations by saying I refused to let him pay full price.  He countered that most S55’s on the market retailed for just under $12,000, but since I paid to have the car’s 90,000 mile service (separate from warranty), included snow tires, and was transferring a warranty with 10,000 miles, he would offer $13,000.  I said done, paid the check, and we went our separate ways.  He didn’t know I had left my old radar detector under the snow tires in the trunk, a little bonus and much-needed since Guenther was so damned fast.  I was pleased to learn the buyer had a minor air conditioner problem and his local CarMax fixed under warranty with no squabbling.  What a happy story.

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