Friday, February 22, 2008

Vienna woman pickets CarMax

Vienna woman pickets CarMax
By Anne Keisman
Source: Times Community Newspapers

Her mission? Taking a Fortune 500 company to task.

“Beware. Do not trust CarMax.”

“CarMax rip-off. Buyer Beware.”

With signs strapped to their chest and back, Kirstin Grish and her two friends, Nancy Antonelli and Gregory Miller, exercised their first amendment rights on Friday—and picketed the Sterling CarMax, near Route 28 and Waxpool Road.

Grish’s tale begins in December 2005, when she bought a 1998 Saturn SL2 from CarMax, one of the nation’s largest retailers of used cars, for about $8,000.

Four days after the sale, she said, the car began to stall. After that, said Grish, things went from bad to worse.

She said CarMax mechanics tried to fix the car three times, to no avail. Unreturned phone calls, slow service and unsatisfactory customer relations, she said, led her to consult with a lawyer.

Grish submitted her request to CarMax for $74,109.09, the cost of the car plus insurance, legal costs and a fee of $55,400 for pain and suffering.

When Grish decided traditional channels were not working, her aggravation boiled over and she decided to go public.

“It's not just about me getting my money back. It's about letting people know what's happening,” said Grish, as she waved at drivers turning into CarMax's lot and gave them fliers detailing her tale of car-buying woe.

She also pointed potential customers to consumer Web sites that post complaints about the company.

Trina Lee, Public Relations Manager for CarMax, said the company's mechanics made every attempt to repair the vehicle, but the car never stalled on their watch. She said they sent it to a Saturn dealership, and the car did not stall there either.

“In order to repair the vehicle, we first have to find the problem,” said Lee.

Lee said CarMax offered to exchange the vehicle for another of equal value, but Grish refused.

Grish said after the bad experience she had with the company, she didn't want another car from them.

CarMax also offered to buy back the vehicle for less than Grish paid for it, said Lee, to account for mileage put on the car since the purchase.

“Our goal is to do everything we possibly can for the customer and we feel that with all of these offers, we are doing just that,” said Lee.

Grish wants a full refund and at the minimum, her insurance and interest on her loan paid, too. She said the car is still sitting at her home in Vienna. She has since bought another car from another dealer.

“CarMax is supposed to be taking care of their customers. If they can't remember that, then someone needs to remind them,” said Antonelli, Grish's roommate who picketed with her on Friday.

The final say will be in the courts. Grish has another consultation with her lawyer on Friday and plans to picket again on Saturday.

Grish and her friends got plenty of attention. One driver shouted, “I agree with you,” as he drove out of the CarMax lot.

The small protest had its humorous moments, too. A man, who works at the Ferrari dealership nearby, stopped and said the picketers should try out one of his cars.

“I wouldn't have come to CarMax in the first place if I had that kind of money,” Grish said with a smile.

On Saturday, Grish and her friends picketed again. This time, an employee from a Nissan dealership brought them a pizza.

The CarMax in Sterling opened in 1998, part of the national chain’s successful expansion during the last 10 years. CarMax has 68 superstores nationwide. CarMax is headquartered in Richmond.

One driver Grish spoke to made her feel like she was having an impact.

“Apparently he told [employees at CarMax], 'You just lost a sale. I'm not buying anything until you take care of that girl out there.'”