Where Your Author Investigates Some Online Car Buying Services


Carvana dealership, Image: CarvanaGiven the constant hassles of Volkswagen Golf ownership lately, and how every media outlet is shouting “Highest Used Car Pricing Ever” as loudly as possible, I’ve been pondering selling the Golf to a dealer. No Facebook idiots, no trade-in for something else, just a sale.

Here in The Current Year, there are many companies that purport to give you both the best deal possible and make the car selling process seamless. I found out this week what five such companies are like in the early stages.

First, let me clarify: No, I didn’t price the Golf at every used car buying outlet online. I priced the car with five bigger names in the business. Your mileage may vary if you contact a regional service. Each one I tried is national and promises to give you an instant cash offer for your car. Most of them will pick the car up from you in the transaction, or you can bring it to a physical location should you choose. The five companies I priced were CarMax, Carvana, Vroom, Give Me The VIN, and AutoNation.

All of them required I input the VIN or my plate, as well as general expected information about the Golf. They were all interested in the mileage, if it had any hail or body damage, if the interior was clean, and how many keys it had. Other questions varied slightly but were not too exhaustive. One site, AutoNation, required me to upload pictures of the Golf to help their assessment.

Before any of this, I priced the Golf’s trade-in value over at Kelly Blue Book. I know some of you all hate KBB, but that’s just life. KBB said to expect between $19,541 and $21,394. Given the ludicrous used market right now, I figured I should be able to beat the high end of that range. So what happened?

We start with what I’d call the pleasant, professional vendors who delivered the expected preliminary experience. CarMax, Carvana, and Vroom were all easy to use. Most importantly, all three companies delivered an instant offer as promised. I’m not going to get into specifics since numbers become outdated too quickly and there are regional variables at play. However, CarMax was the lowest, Vroom in the middle, and Carvana was the highest. Carvana made a point of pointing out that their offer was higher than the KBB valuation. The other two just said “Here’s your figure, interested?” but they were within the KBB trade-in range. All sent one or two emails with my offer figure and a link to complete the transaction.

The two remaining companies offered an unpleasant, less professional experience than expected. AutoNation’s site said you could click to get a certified offer on their front page, which prompted more questions. While that was not surprising, the fact they require images of the car to complete their offer was. The AutoNation site also requires you to opt-in to robocalls and text messages to get your offer and affirm the phone number you’re providing is yours and accurate, or your offer is invalidated. Once I reluctantly entered all the information and hit submit, the site informed me my offer would be emailed in 30 minutes.

An hour and 40 minutes later there was no offer from AutoNation, but I got an email from Samuel, an Acquisition Associate. He said I should call him, and he could walk me through the process and give me a check today. I replied I was just looking for my offer, which every other site could deliver instantly and without a call. His response indicated the AutoNation headquarters was “a little backed up” and he would contact me as soon as the offer came through to review it. Not sure what we’d have talked about on the phone when he had no offer to review.

Already this was too laborious, and I thought surely within a couple of hours I’d have the offer. Nope, the AutoNation offer arrived about seven and a half hours after I submitted my request online. Their offer was almost exactly in the middle of the KBB trade-in price. Additionally, AutoNation does not offer pick-up – customers must drive to a location to drop off the car. I replied with a decline, saying the offer was too low. AutoNation left me alone after that, with just a “Are you happy?” auto-generated email from the GM of the nearest AutoNation location.

That leaves us with Give Me The Vin, which wins the award for the least professional used-car selling experience here. Worth noting, GMTV is the only one-way service that purchases used cars but has no consumer dealership side. After entering my information like the other sites, GMTV provided a range estimate rather than a guaranteed offer. Their range started well below KBB trade-in and ended in the middle of it, making it the worst offer I received. The site asked if I was declining, considering, or accepting the range, with a box to tell them why. I picked decline and said the range was too low. It’s worth noting that GMTV had the least generous timeline for accepting their offer, at 12 hours. All other services here gave at least a week, and Carvana gave 30 days.

My decline started an email and text correspondence event, where I was put in contact almost instantly with Jeff. Jeff sent me a text, and then another email telling me why their price was good. Jeff reiterated their offer, a single figure which was (now) the lowest part of the previously proposed range. It was over $1,500 less than KBB’s lowest valuation.

Again I declined and stated via email that I’d been offered more by all the competition. Jeff requested a picture of the better offer to compare, so I sent the best one (Carvana) over. Nine minutes later, Jeff replied with a very poorly-written and unprofessional email dogging Carvana, Carvana’s pricing “range” (they didn’t actually give me a range), and detailing all the red flags about Carvana. How about I just show it to you?

Concurrently a separate email from Jeff arrived restating their low offer once more, encouraging me to hurry up as I had only 12 hours. After that, Jeff responded to the question of the exact mileage, which I needed to update as I had assumed it a bit too low. I provided a revised Carvana offer immediately with the corrected mileage. Thirteen minutes later, I got another email from Jeff. They were going to “PASS” and dogged Carvana again, which apparently uses several-week outdated car pricing for reasons, and that’s why they pay too much for cars.

After the decline, I got another pass email from GMTV, a form letter that said the company seeks to make $300 per transaction (whatever that means) and they weren’t confident they could do it with the Golf.

What I learned here is that not all used car buying services are created equal. Three left me feeling fine, one seemed disorganized, and the other shady. Seller beware when you’re ready to sell your used car.

[Image: Carvana, KBB]

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