Carvana is an online-only used-car retailer that performs almost all the functions a physical dealer would offer: buying and selling cars, accepting trade-ins, and financing purchases. Naturally, the company’s site contains a thorough FAQ page, but here’s a primer on how it works.
How do I find and buy a car?
It’s as easy as going to the Carvana home page and clicking “Search Cars.” Vehicles costing from around $7000 to $100,000 are sourced from auctions and dealer partners, trade-ins, and cars Carvana buys from private sellers.
Clicking on a car pulls up the vehicle detail page. If someone else has just begun the purchase process, a pop-up displays how long the vehicle’s being held for the other customer. Photos with the “Purchase Pending” graphic have been bought and won’t be available again unless they are returned. You can sign up for email alerts for vehicles that return to the available pool. It’s also possible to save searches if the desired car isn’t in inventory, and you can save cars to “Favorites” to look at later.
Each detail page loads a 360-degree tour of the vehicle, a photo gallery, and a free CarFax report. Carvana says every vehicle is Carvana Certified, meaning it has passed a 150-point inspection, has a clean title, no reported accidents, and no fire, frame, or flood damage.
Clicking “Delivery & Pickup Options” tells you how soon you can have a car delivered to your nearest Carvana market.
Clicking “Get Started” initiates the buying process, which begins by creating an account. Prices aren’t negotiable, but the listed price is the out-the-door price before adding registration fees and optional extras. Buyers can apply for financing through Carvana’s in-house Bridgecrest Acceptance, use third-party financing, or pay with cash. They can also apply a trade-in, purchase GAP coverage, and add an extended warranty.
To finance through Carvana, the company requires you be at least 18 years old, make at least $10,000 per year, and have no active bankruptcies. Carvana doesn’t accept co-signers for financing. Pending verification of the applicant, the finance terms offered are good for 45 days.
How do I take delivery?
Whether you live in a local or non-local market can make a notable difference to your Carvana experience. At the time of writing, Carvana counts 261 local markets in 31 states plus Washington, D.C. If you live in any of those places, Carvana delivers your car on one of its trucks at an appointed day and time, usually free of charge. Some vehicles incur shipping charges even in local markets if there’s a “significant transport distance to your location.” The site offers the option to search for the same make and model without shipping charges. If a buyer pays for shipping to a local market, the shipping charges are refunded if the buyer returns the vehicle by the end of the seven-day trial period.
If you don’t live in a local market, you have two choices. You can pay a non-refundable shipping charge to have your car delivered to your door by a third-party company within a delivery window of “a few days.” The shipping cost can be added to the financing. If you return the car, you will get back the amount you paid minus the shipping fee.
Or you can go to a local market to retrieve your car, Carvana reimbursing you up to $200 for a plane ticket so long as you decide to keep the car. A Carvana rep will pick you up in the local market and escort you to your car or to a vending machine if you’re in one of the 25 markets that have them. At the machine, you’ll be given a token to feed the giant toy box to get your car. If the car gets stuck between the dispenser and the glass, the Carvana rep will kick or tip the vending machine to get the car unstuck. (We might have made that last part up.)
Once you’ve met the vehicle, a driver’s license and proof of insurance gets you a test drive of up to 20 minutes. If you don’t like the car, you can send it back right there. If you do like the car, you fill out the final forms and registration paperwork, and it’s yours to drive home.
How do I trade-in or sell a car to Carvana?
As part of the buying process, Carvana asks for details on a trade-in. If you plan to trade in a vehicle, you’ll be asked to provide standard information such as mileage, features, condition, and accident history. Based on your answers, Carvana will make an offer that’s good for seven days.
The company only accepts trade-ins in local markets, and the same goes for selling a car to Carvana. If you factored trade-in funds for your purchase, and you’re outside a local market, you need to get the car to a local market.
When it’s time to hand over the trade-in or vehicle for sale, a Carvana rep will inspect the vehicles to ensure it agrees with the answers supplied during the purchase process.
If you’ve traded in a car, Carvana holds onto the trade-in until the end of your seven-day trial period. Should you return the vehicle you bought, Carvana will return your trade-in along with your refund.
How does the trial period work?
Carvana’s seven-day money-back guarantee begins from the moment you take delivery. You’re allowed 400 free test-drive miles, every mile beyond that costs $1. Assuming no damage or modifications occur during that week, you can return the car for any reason before the week is up. In a local market, the return is free and the entire purchase price is refunded. Outside a local market, the refund will be for the purchase price minus the cost to deliver the vehicle. There’s no additional shipping cost to return the vehicle.
How do I get the car registered?
Since cars can come from anywhere, they will be delivered with temporary tags that could be from out of state. Carvana’s FAQ states, “For the majority of our customers, we are able to complete the registration process for you,” but restrictions in some states might not make that possible.
Vehicles will be registered to the home address provided during the buying process, and Carvana sends the registration and license plates. Cash buyers should receive their titles in six to eight weeks.
Is there a warranty? Can I buy an extended warranty?
Every car comes with Carvana’s 100-day, 4189-mile limited warranty provided by Carvana’s in-house company SilverRock. Per Carvana’s FAQ, it covers basic systems such as air conditioning, audio equipment, vehicle sensors, fuel systems, and major electrical components as well as the powertrain (engine, transmission, and drive train). It also provides roadside assistance. Warranty claims come with a co-pay.
This limited warranty begins from the date you receive the vehicle. When getting repairs made under warranty, there is no co-pay if the vehicle’s taken to a SilverRock preferred facility. For shops outside the SilverRock network, there’s a $50 co-pay.
Carvana offers an extended warranty called Carvana Care on many vehicles. The vehicle’s detail page provides information on availability and cost where applicable. When it is offered, you can purchase Carvana Care up to the time your car is delivered, and it starts from the date of delivery. It also provides roadside assistance and requires a $50 co-pay.
What can go wrong?
Based on posts in the Carvana forum on Reddit and on reviews left at sites like the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs, Carvana’s weaknesses fall into few general areas. People have reported issues with delivery, timing, and location. There have been registration delays. And while Carvana promises a 150-point inspection, things can always get missed. This can be easy to handle by having the vehicle inspected by your own mechanic within the seven-day trial period, then deciding whether to keep the car.
As always, when buying any used car from any person or company, do your homework. And remember that figuring out the best place to buy a used car starts with figuring out what kind of shopper you are.
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