Carvana Review: 5 Things to Know Before You Buy or Sell

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Carvana vending machine
Image Credit: Dreamstime

Since launching in 2012, Carvana has turned the business of buying and selling used vehicles inside out. Taking cues from CarMax, Carvana offers a no-pressure, no-haggle way to buy and sell cars — and does it almost entirely online.

You may have seen Carvana license plate frames on your neighbors’ cars, but is this dealer right for you?

Team Clark has explored the process of buying and selling vehicles with Carvana compared to other methods.

In this article, we’ll look at how Carvana works and what the process is for buying and selling cars. We’ll also look at how Carvana compares to its competitors on price. And we’ll give you the pros and cons of buying and selling cars there.

Table of Contents: 

  1. How Does Carvana Work?
  2. How Do You Buy a Car Through Carvana?
  3. How Do the Prices at Carvana Compare to the Competition?
  4. How Do You Sell a Car Through Carvana?
  5. What Are the Pros & Cons of Doing Business With Carvana?

1. How Does Carvana Work?

Carvana promises to offer lower prices on well-maintained used vehicles by cutting dealerships out of the car-buying process. Since Carvana operates almost entirely online, the company doesn’t have the overhead of a traditional dealership or even of competitor CarMax.

With Carvana, you can buy or sell a used vehicle from the comfort of your home on your computer or smartphone with no haggling involved. If you’re buying, Carvana will deliver your purchase to your front door. You also have the option to pick your vehicle up at one of their Vehicle Vending Machines located throughout the country.

Carvana Vending Machine
Carvana

As of 2019, Carvana said it had more than 15,000 vehicles to choose from. Each one of those vehicles has undergone Carvana’s “150-point inspection.” The company offers a seven-day money-back guarantee on the vehicles it sells.

If you’re looking to sell a car, Carvana will give you a “real, firm” offer online in as little as two minutes. If Carvana does make an offer and you accept, someone will come to you for an on-site inspection of your vehicle. If it passes, they’ll cut you a check then and there.

2. How Do You Buy a Car Through Carvana?

The buying process with Carvana is about as simple as it gets. Go to Carvana.com to “Search All Vehicles.”

Carvana Home Page

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You’ll arrive at a page where you can search for vehicles by make, model, or keyword. That means you can search for a specific vehicle — a Honda CR-V, say — or a more general category like “Small SUVs.”

Carvana Seach Page

There are also several filter options you can use to narrow down your search, or even to get started if you don’t have a particular make and model in mind. These filters include:

  • Price
  • Body Type
  • Year
  • Mileage
  • Features
  • Fuel Type
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Color
  • Cylinders
  • Transmission
  • Drive Type

Once you narrow down your choices and select a vehicle, you’ll be taken to that car’s profile page.

There, you’ll see an interactive 360-degree view of the actual vehicle in stock, along with multiple photos of the interior. The 360-view even allows you to highlight “Hotspots,” which could be minor dings or imperfections in the exterior.

Carvana Profile Page

When you click “Vehicle Details,” you’ll also see the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which you’ll want to look up to see the vehicle’s history. You can do that for free.

If you decide you want to buy a particular vehicle, you can click “Get Started.” At that point, you’ll be asked to create an account. You’ll need to provide your name, email address, phone number, and ZIP code. In my experience, the only communication from Carvana was a couple of emails checking to see if I was still interested in a particular vehicle I had looked at.

Want to move forward with a purchase? You’ll just need to indicate whether you want to trade in, pay cash or finance. Then you’ll select delivery or pick-up and complete the rest of the paperwork required all online.

As we said, if you select the delivery option, your vehicle will be delivered to your door within a matter of days. If you select the pick-up option, you’ll need to locate the Vehicle Vending Machine closest to you.

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If that’s some distance, Carvana offers a “Fly and Drive” option. The company will subsidize up to $200 of a one-way airfare to one of their machines. They pick you up at the airport, take you to your car and then you drive home.

Carvana also offers in-house financing, which you can pre-qualify for on the site. Of course, you’ll want to compare any offer you get from Carvana with other financing options, especially those from credit unions.

And again, when you buy a car from Carvana, you have seven days to return it with no questions asked. Think of this as your test drive, since there’s not an opportunity for that earlier in the process.

Your vehicle will also come with a limited warranty on all mechanical assemblies for 100 days or 4,189 miles.

3. How Do the Prices at Carvana Compare to the Competition?

To see how the prices at Carvana stack up to the competition, we compared three vehicles of different makes and model years. Obviously, these are not the exact same vehicles, so we’ve noted the mileage for each one to account for minor discrepancies.

Vehicle Carvana Price (Mileage) CarMax Price (Mileage) Autotrader Price (Mileage)
2014 Toyota Camry SE $13,590 (64K) $13,998 (60K) $13,210 (60K)
2017 Toyota Tacoma SR5 $28,990 (39K) $29,998 (35K) $31,230 (39K)
2020 Chevy Tahoe LT 4WD $36,590 (37K) $42,998 (36K) $40,998 (40K)

As you can see, with the first two vehicles the prices are pretty similar. However, with the newer, more expensive SUV there is quite a spread. That’s why it always pays to comparison shop — especially with a major purchase like this.

4. How Do You Sell a Car Through Carvana?

Selling a car through Carvana is as easy as inputting your vehicle’s information, scheduling an appointment, and having a Carvana representative inspect it at your home. Just go here to get started.

You enter your license plate or VIN for your vehicle and click “Get My Offer.”

Carvana Sell Car

From there, you’ll be asked to provide details like:

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  • Mileage
  • ZIP code
  • Color
  • Premium features
  • Accident history
  • Mechanical issues
  • Exterior damage
  • General condition
  • Loan status

If Carvana wants your car, you’ll get an instant cash offer that’s good for seven days.

Carvana Instant Cash Offer

If you accept the offer, you’ll make an appointment for Carvana to come to inspect your vehicle onsite. That could be as soon as the next day. If it passes their tests, they’ll cut you a check on the spot.

5. What Are the Pros & Cons of Doing Business With Carvana?

If you’re looking to buy or sell a used car, you really can’t go wrong seeing what Carvana has to offer. However, it’s always a good idea to consider the pluses and minuses.

Pros Cons
Easy-to-use interface for shopping used car inventory Prices may be slightly higher than a private sale
No overhead that comes with owning physical car lots No opportunity to test drive before purchase
No-haggle, no-pressure environment When selling, offer may be less than you can get in a private sale
Everything can be done online
Seven-day return policy + 100-day or 4,189-mile limited warranty on purchases

Carvana may still be the new kid on the block when it comes to used car buying and selling, but there’s no disputing the disruption it’s caused in the industry. Between the ease of use and the competitive prices Carvana offers, anyone interested in buying or selling a used car would be doing themselves a disservice not to give it a shot.

Have you bought or sold a car with Carvana? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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